Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Moving just a little closer to the edge....

Today marks the end of my formalize classroom education at UW-Stevens Point, and within the next 30 days I'll be walking into a new setting as I begin my 5-1/2 month tenure as Student Teacher at Weyauwega High School. I leave behind a university that I've come to love, the interaction with young adults who often see me as a parent-figure, and a wealth of seasoned educators. Now I begin the process of transition from theory to practice and design to application. This is when I am able to tap into my real-world experiences and combine lesson outlines with new technology. I acknowledge that I've yet to meet any individual my age who is raring the charge for his first classroom with the liking of a 16-year old driving for the first time, but this is a special time in my life. It not only fulfills a dream, but unleashes a groundswell of hope and optimism for where all of this might take me. It's a time filled with opportunity, yet uncertainty. In moving just a little closer to the edge, there's a element of eager anticipation of what awaits me in the weeks to come.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Missed Opportunities

Doug Buehl came to campus the other night as a guest of the UW-SP Social Studies Club. Despite a somewhat mild December evening, the room was filled with lots of empty chairs, and I feel my fellow uuniversity students missed a wonderful opportunity to gain thoughtful insight from one of the nation's best-qualified literacy instructors. His 90-minute presentation was filled with fresh perspectives on ways that we read and comprehend information, be it within the subject of history, music, science, math and other disciplines. His opening salvo about reading the inner sleeve of his classical music CD was as realistic as it gets and I instantly identified with what he was saying. And while this event was sponsored by the Social Studies Club within the School of Education, I questioned whether students from the other disciplines saw this as a "reading affair" rather than one of THE BEST learning events of the school year. After all, the topic of reading only deals with those who are English Majors, right? I doubt whether future doctors and lawyers need to know how to read. Scientists and engineers will never recognize an instruction manual, much less write one. And musicians and artists rarely comprehend text in their professions. As I noted, there was a huge missed opportunity by students from within the entire campus of UW-SP last week. Next time I hope people recognize this for what it really was...a vast goldmine of unquestionable knowledge and wealth!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thoughts on Veterans Day 11-11-11

This morning I volunteered ten minutes of my time to read some of the many names of fallen soldiers from the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was part of a project put forth by the UW-SP Veteran Club, and it provided a stark reminder about how these individuals gave their time and life in the cause of freedom. It wasn't until I stepped behind the podium that I began to think of how they impacted others, for they sacrificed everything for us. In our world this group of fallen soldiers would no longer experience love and family, they would never again see the faces of friends and community, the smiles of their loved ones, and the joys of father/motherhood, and everything else we often take for granted.
There was no crowd of students listening to what I said, but rather most individuals kept to their paths of going to or from the DUC. There were one or two people who paused to offer their respect, perhaps a prayer or moment of meditation. The roll of names was steady and consistent, no elevated pitch when emphasizing Private First Class, Sargent or Special Forces. In God's eyes they were His children fallen in battle, and I know He was there with open arms when their lives passed from our world to His.
As I read each name, I saw a face and imagined where they might now be had there been no war. There were moments when I choked back emotion, trying to maintain my poise and respect. Both my father and father-in-law were Veterans of WWII and the Korean conflict respectively, and I wondered how life would have changed not only for myself and my wife, but also my son had they not survived those wars. It put their sacrifice into a whole new perspective. Today was a sobering experience and one which I will long look back on. It defines who we are as a country, community, family and most of all, individuals who care to make a difference in the world. To all the veterans, be they living or deceased, I am most grateful for your service to our country. You are not...and will never be forgotten!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Collaboration In My Future Classroom

The word "collaboration" is apparently getting a lot of press today, and the Journal Sentinel reports that teachers are going to be partially assessed on their collaboration with one another. I consider this to be a worthy attribute, but it is important to remember that teacher collaboration goes beyond the immediate walls of the school and draws upon interactions with educators in other facilities. It goes beyond the water cooler and into the ocean of ideas which transpose education. I like the expression 'Knowledge Garden' as it relates to the concept of collaboration...walking amidst a range of topics and conversation...sometimes engaging, sometimes interacting, and sometimes just observing. My knowledge garden is grounded in my community. Mike McMaster said it well when he noted our sense of fit, of competence, of belonging comes from being "of community." Those individuals who understand this concept see themselves as having an identity grounded in their community, having the ability to expand into other communities with little difficulty. So often this is the result of collaboration with others. We live in a time of unlimited sources of electronic and social technologies, and the level of our intelligence and wisdom could be magnified many times over if we would only let go of some of mundane routines which have become traditional 'habits' of themselves. Collaboration allows us to learn from others in ways which are truly special. Stay tuned for more....

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reflection, Inflection, and Connection

The words of reflection, inflection and connection are composed of prefixes which imply the concept of self and the need to ponder one's actions in life. Regardless of our profession, there is great strength to be had by pausing to think how we impact our surroundings in a positive or negative way. While many imply this is a way of second guessing ourselves, it provides the opportunity to question the path we travel...whether we change our ways or stay the course. Change is not something to fear as long as we remain committed to being positive in our everyday actions and personal resolve. As an future educator, how can we not teach our students to embrace change if we remain stuck in teaching styles which were formulated and styled for classrooms which were constructed 30-plus years ago? We know the answer for what it is and it all begins with a conversation about being the best we can be.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It Never Happens by Accident

Throughout my life there have been times when little things happened, but I never thought twice about the 'how' and 'why' of their occurring. I recall a winter day in my adolescence when I accidentally released the parking break on my father's truck, only to be saved from a certain death by a tree which stood between a steep hill and the patch of land he parked on. Then there was the summer night as a twenty-year-old when I stayed home to read, only to be visited by a veteran of the Vietnam War which led me to a lifetime in Wild Rose. Later in life there have been moments when I pushed myself to learn new ways to learn, either with technologies or by delving into a challenging book. Each "decision" changed my life in ways which I never appreciated at the time, but would later recognize in life as a monumental step.
I believe that I live in a world where we are provided freedom to make individual decisions on the personal judgement and direction of our life, but I also acknowledge that there are moments when something happens not by accident, but with the hand of an unknown force. It impacts us in ways which change the future for all those around us, yet all too many people are unable to recognize it for what it is.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is the "art" of conversation dying?

We live in an age of rapidly changing communication in both the media and means by which we interact with one another. Whether we e-mail, tweet, blog or transpose our thoughts in a consortium of ways which satisfy our ego for the moment at hand, all too often we accept all of this as the best way to interact with one another. However, I question how we have allowed ourselves to escape open and honest dialogue with one another...often replacing it with text messaging and blurbs of anchronized retorts such as LOL, ROFL, LMAO, FML, and WTF. Some will say the world is becoming smaller, but I tend to see it as a deteriorating ability to interact with others in a verbal and civilized manner.And worse of all, it may very well widen the generation gap at a time when important lessons from those of an older, more experienced generation would be well deserved. As a society we have a wide assortment of tools at our disposal, yet we ignore one of the more meaningful...the way in which we sit and converse with one another, exchanging opinions and pondering new ideas. Rather than focusing so much on ourselves and being concerned about expressing our own likes and dislikes, let's take the initiative to actually listen to what others are saying.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Teaching with my strengths

Whether I am the receiver (as student) or the giver (as teacher) of information, I am amazed at how the human brain works in regards to learning. While growing up, I often experienced teachers who always taught their classes in the same way, never varying in approach or style, regardless of their intended audience. While some of my classmates "got it," there were many others who sat in a state of total confusion. (Most likely I fell into the category of the later.) Had I stuck it out with my original plans of completing college in the mid-70s, I surely would have become the type of educator who force-fed my students with a one-size-fits-all attitude. Thank goodness fate intervened in my behalf and I've now become aware of past errors by others. But I'm also told by neurologists that by the time a person reaches 25 years of age, the construction work on our human brain is pretty much all done. The neural connections, be they slow and narrow or broad, fast, and easy to navigate, will take us where we need to go. These "roadways" within the brain determine who we are in the way of our personal talents, each person being blessed with skills which are unique in their own way. A recent reading encourages me to work to my strengths, rather than attempting to fix my weaknesses, primarily because when trying to fix a lesser talent, I am simply ignoring my far more effective talents, perhaps even ignoring some fully developed strengths. In the early years of my selling career, I ignored any thoughts about building upon my strengths in favor of attempting to trying to fix my implied weaknesses. Now I'm being told that weaknesses are my brain's "rough roads and overgrown paths, and trying to make them useful usually isn't worth the effort." In other words, working on my weaknesses means that I keep doing, with dogged paid and determination, what I don't- and can't- do well. And so, with all that effort, I am being told that the best I can hope to become is mediocre at these so-called weaknesses.
A good portion of my emotional drive is based on the heavy allotment of German blood which flows through my veins. Some refer to it as persistence, others (my wife included) call it being stubborn. Regardless, I am always attempting to correct personal flaws in my human character, and I'm not yet willing to concede on this until my last dying breathe takes place. I feel it is important to know one's personal strengths and weaknesses, not so much so I can learn to run the 100-yd dash in record time, but understanding what it takes to become a disciplined runner. It's not about finding out how I can make fortune in real estate, but developing the means to inspire all of my students to higher levels of thought. It's not about taking advantage of the latest opportunity in business, but seeking ways to repay the many acts of kindness provided to me over the course of a lifetime.
It's knowing what I'm good at....and getting even better at it, knowing these strengths are what got me to this point in my life. It's knowing what I need to get better at, not so much that I can excel at those traits, but so I might find subtle ways to seek improvement with my personal and professional performance. Good teachers don't necessarily set high expectations, but they certainly set the right expectations for each student.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lessons from "Special People"

Time has become a precious commodity in my life. Not so much that I don't want to try new things, but rather the result of my plate being full with upcoming events: my 40th Class Reunion, a couple of Wedding Showers, my mother-in-law's 80th Birthday Celebration, Relay for Life, Kiwanis, our son's wedding, a small part-time job...and not-to-forget summer school. This is all good and I feel most fortunate to have excellent health and a state of mind which allows me to stay active, but there are also times when you have to call for a "timeout" and pause to spend a day with someone who needs a friend.
My wife's nephew, John, is one of those "special people" who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. He is the same age as our son, Jacob, and I recall his early years of life when he was filled with anger and rage. His parents chose to ignore the symptoms and over time his condition deteriorated to the point where he could not make good decisions. Since he cannot live independently on his own, he now lives in a group home almost 2-1/2 hours south of us. John enjoys calling us whenever he can, and often this is 4-5 times per week. In our mind those conversations are redundant, but to him they represent a connection with "family," providing an outlet for him to stay in touch with his immediate family and maintaining his positive outlook on life.
Yesterday we made the trip south to spend the day with John, and we all went to a local community fair in Lake Mills, one with carnival rides and games. John had a blast enjoying the simple pleasures of eating a corn dog, tossing darts at balloons for stuffed animals, shooting basketballs at the hoop in hopes of winning a poster, sitting on the park bench while the local folk band played songs from The Eagles, walking the midway, finding pennies on the blacktop.....all of this brought out the BEST in him....and ME! It reminded me of how important it is to stop and smell the roses of set more time aside for John and all the other "special people" in the world. They represent innocence and love. They have need for the company of family and friends. The greatest gift we can provide is our time and attention.
By the end of three hours John was ready to return to his home, greatly in need of a nap and quiet time. He gave us a hug, thanked us for coming, and encouraged us to return for another visit before the end of the summer. His comments and smile reminded us of the lessons we can learn from the "special people" of the world. To keep a little room on our plate open for them. To take a day every now and then to enjoy the simple pleasures with all the John's who need us to be part of their life.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reflections on Strategies for Reading and Writing

Sitting on the bank of a river, my first impression of the water is how it moves along in what appears to be a uniform and unchanging pace. Whether one was found on the surface of the stream or riding the bottom, whether one was in the heart of the river or riding the shoreline, there was but one speed for which we were aware of. But knowing how it really is, the waters swirl with varying currents, anything but constant and perpetual. I would imagine that there was a time when it was assumed that everyone read and write at the same pace, placing demand on the learner to keep pace that was set by their teacher. Sink or swim. One pace. One expectation. One size fits all. Regardless of what we “see” at the surface, the river is a churning current of liquid, always changing, always altering its true shape and mass. It is multidimensional in the truest form, and can never be mastered for its simplicity.
The world of education is an amazing place, one filled with new experiences in ways that exceed my imagination. The past two weeks have deepened my passion for learning new ways to help those who struggle with reading and writing, knowing that once they learn to use some of these new techniques, they will strengthen their capacity to learn. These practices add a new perspective to classroom learning, helping both strugglers and achievers to improve upon their skills.
Much like the river for which I hold great respect, my classroom is never one dimensional in nature. Using the variety of instructional strategies provided to me, I play an important role in a student’s development of critical thinking, problem solving, and performance skills. The works of Tovani, Buehl and others have a proven track record of success, and these will be instrumental in how I work with young people in education. These strategies are there for the taking, but if they aren’t used, they cannot be further developed or enhanced to their total capability. It requires responsibility and accountability on my end, to open up that tool box and look for more than just a hammer and screwdriver. I have a wealth of specialized tools at my disposal and each of these was created with a purpose. It is more than understanding the content of what I am teaching, but also appreciating the tools which can chisel a unique flavor of charismatic character.
Monitoring my progress requires ongoing reflection of personal and professional practices, always looking for ways to improve upon individual skill sets. Written reflection represents that “day with the ducks” and assures that I stay the course of my true potential. It is thinking aloud about my wonderings, evaluating myself, and then identifying ways to grow as a professional. This is the road on which my journey now continues, one with curves to maneuver around and potholes to avoid, but best of all, my toolbox grows in dimensional depth and fortitude.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The View From Up Here

Another semester has come to a close, and its time to return to my electronic blog. For the past few months my efforts have been focused on writing by hand, sort of the old forgotten way of placing one's thoughts on paper. Nonetheless, that requirement for English 394 has ended, and I want to pick up from where I had left off.
Having written personal reflections on two classroom experiences this semester, I want to single out two exceptional teachers for whom I had the opportunity to work with. Ann Marchant is an ESL Teacher at Stevens Point High School, and she allowed me to tutor a small handful of her students on a weekly basis over the course of almost three months. Ann is a wonderful person who incorporates current events and grammar into her daily lesson plans with students of the Hmong, Chinese, and Hispanic cultures.
The second person is Julie Vargas from Tri-County Middle School in Plainfield. Julie is a strong advocate for Hispanics in her community, and she provided me with 2-1/2 hours of weekly reading "fun" with her groups of 6th and 4th graders. Some of these students are second language learners, and this practicum solidified everything UW-SP has taught me in the way of working with young readers. THANK-YOU ANN & JULIE!
The semester ended on a strong note, and I am most grateful for the outstanding educators who graced my classroom schedule over the past four months. I stand in awe of the work they do, and little are they aware of how much they impact my life as an educator. Looking back on the teaching careers of people like Frank Douglas and Adeline Curl, I'm proud to be moving in the direction I'm headed. And as much uncertainty there is in this world, I stand confident with my present game plan. The realization that my life-long goal is now within sight is an awesome feeling, and the countdown to May 12, 2012 has now begun with eager anticipation. It's much like a mountain that has been climbed...viewing the scenery which is now unobstructed and clearly within sight. It truly is a wonderful view!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When Stones Go Unturned

I find fieldstone to be particularly interesting for the character which is captured in each rock. A number of years ago we landscaped our yard, and needed to acquire a couple of pickup trucks of fieldstone. My father-in-law's farm near West Bloomfield became a logical destination; after all, farmer's are constantly scrounging their fields to gather them as the earth churns them to the surface. Gene had a back pasture peppered with a variety of stones, but I quickly discovered this parcel was a natural phenomenon. Rocks were not transported here by him as a dumping ground, but left behind in a glacier melt many thousands of years ago. I found the 'rock garden' as something wonderful and unique, but to Gene it was just a field of rocks. As I surveyed my find, I took notice of how many fieldstones were still buried in the ground with only a portion of their surface exposed, almost like an iceberg in the ocean's water. Taking my shovel, I removed some of the soil to reveal more of the rock's hidden side. Like a kid in a candy shop, I was in awe of the variety and number of stones which were available to me, but yet there were hundreds of other stones which would never be touched by my hands nor examined by my eyes.
As my life journey continues, I often reflect on Gene's field of rocks. As teachers, we walk amidst a field of students everyday, often neglecting the character and uniqueness which each holds inside. We touch the minds of a few, impacting their life in special ways, yet there remains a pasture full of unturned stones. While we may see their faces and acknowledge their presence, there is an overwhelming portion which sits below the surface, much like those fieldstones, waiting for someone to come along and relish in their character...and to place them in a setting where they will add to the character of humanity.
Last evening I was the recipient of phone calls from two individuals for whom I was able to turn their stone. After rugged starts, each of these young men have moved forward in special ways which are almost beyond belief. Their lives suddenly have purpose and meaning, and I sensed their enthusiasm for where they stood in their journey. Most likely I did not realize how I could make a difference so many years ago, but now I stand in the field and see all those unturned rocks that still need our attention.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Applying Pressure

We live in a time when pressure is plentiful. Politicians applying pressure on citizens, citizens pushing back with higher expectations. Financial institutions under pressure to keep their financial house in order, families feeling the weight in making ends meet. Students under pressure to stay up to date with readings and assignments, teachers under strain to complete the syllabus as it was outlined at the start of the semester. Soldiers feeling pressure to eliminate an enemy that few are able to comprehend, and governments forcing their will upon others. Pressure is plentiful and often destructive in nature, but can also result in the creation of one of the world's most beautiful substances...the diamond! Diamonds are rare, beautiful, and hard, yet they consist of the same material as coal. Apply pressure to coal and you get dust. Compress coal with the hardest of pressures and you get diamonds.
Yes, these times are extremely challenging, and the ride is far from over. There are days when my brain hurts from all the pressure and the body aches from stress of deadlines, finances, and commitments. But in the long run I have the feeling there will be something wonderful waiting at the end....not just for me, but for everyone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Did I ask a good question today?

As an educator, one needs to always be prepared with a good question. As a student, one needs to always be prepared with an it right, wrong or indifferent. (saying "I don't know" can be interpreted as a response, too) As a youngster in the classroom, the questions asked of me were usually literal in nature...simply answer yes or no, true or false, provide a date, name two individuals, identify the country, etc, etc.... Never did the teacher say "tell me about whether you believe our country is right or wrong about fighting in Vietnam," or "explain to me why 18-year-olds should be allowed to vote." That would have opened the door to controversy....and a lively discussion of feelings, attitudes, perceptions, and justifying of choices. You never want to let that genie out of the bottle! (...or do you?)
We've come a long ways in the past fifty years, and the process of good questioning does promote good literacy amongst people of all ages. Good questioning results in students learning how to think, relect and in turn, inquire further with more questions. And once the flood gates are opened up, look out below....
Perhaps some of the problems we're dealing with today are the direct result of when past generations asked questions with that narrow perspective which too often required the lowest level of basic skills in their response and autonomous learning. So tomorrow, and everyday hereafter, I'll begin every good conversation with a good question. One which will provoke thought and deepen my understanding for others.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Notebooking versus Blogging...Or both?

I spent the fall of 2011 in the committed relationship of 'blogging'. It was a unique experience, and while few needed to notice, I was energized in my writings. It required a weekly discipline, reflecting on weekly assigned readings and tech lab discussions. Being a committed educator (and learner) in the 21st century, this was THE 'new' technology to embrace, communicating thoughts and actions in a means which demonstrated skill sets for today's social media.
No sooner had I become acclimated to this regimentation than I am introduced to the concept of 'the writer's notebook'. This concept requires daily contemplation about one's life; not in the style of a diary, rather a personal reflection for any number of topics. The intent is to continually write....a flow of ongoing thoughts without never let your mind pause to lose where its place feel the undercurrent of the moment....pulling words from the deepest part of the soul and not to break the ongoing current that transposes the imagination as when we were back in grade school sitting in front of the teacher, listening to her ramblings about good penmanship....and knowing mine was not at the top of her list..... (get my gist here?)
The writer's notebook has a valuable stake in classroom education as it provides insight on WHAT my students are thinking about. One recent reading compared it to opening all the doors and windows of a house so the winds could pass through and all obstacles would be transparent. It generates creativity on the part of my students, and sheds new light on mindful ponderings of young people. Having personally put this practice to use over the first two weeks of class, I am amazed at what avenues my mind wrestles with. Yes, I can see benefit in this concept....but I still like my blog for what it is. Therefore, I see great value in doing both!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Respect for Teachers

While I avoid making political commentary in my blog, I'm most attuned to the overtone associated with the world of politics and education. I applaud our President's words about parental responsibility when it comes to developing their children's love for learning. Yes, we often need to turn off the TV and eliminate the many distractions in order to cultivate a more nurturing climate for learning. Yes, teachers are entitled to respect by everyone in society....but from a young age I was always taught that respect is earned and not automatically dispensed. Looking back to my days in high school, I always respected good teachers; and to those who were great, I not only respected, but held in high regard. The same held true in the workplace for which I involved myself for 37 years. If I worked with an individual who showed desire to not only do their job, but raised the level of expectations for everyone around them, they were provided respect and appreciation. It didn't matter whether they were at level-entry or a seasoned veteran. Respect is earned by one's actions and regards for others, not a commodity to be given out to others as a result of a directive from a leader.

I make these comments in respect and admiration for the outstanding educators found throughout it in the classroom, assembly line, boardroom, or halls of Congress. But I also recognize that there are individuals who refer to themselves as teachers that are not in the right profession. Having secured the title of "teacher" does not earn respect in itself; rather it is proving oneself in the classroom by instilling a yearning to learn and delve deeper. Witness the basketball court when a referee makes a horrifically bad call, not just a judgement call, but one which is clearly a lack of knowing the rules or showing outright bias. Is he or she shown respect or disdain for their actions? Good refs will occasionally blow a call, but in the long run they are highly toted and respected for their work on the hardwood.

Let the discussion about respect continue so there is a greater understanding for the magnitude which this word so worthily reserves.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back to Learning Again

I love the holidays! They provide an opportunity to celebrate the true reason for the season; but also time to reflect on where we've been the past year and contemplate on the necessary changes for the New Year. As much as I enjoy all of this, I consider Epiphany to be the true day of transition. Now that I've paused and pondered, I'm ready to rev my engine in 2011. Knowing that the next twelve months will carry all the more uncertainty for many friends and former associates, I know it holds many challenges and exciting opportunities for myself in the way of academia.
This past weekend I enjoyed the movie "The Ron Clark Story", very much inspired by his determination and perseverance. His website displays creative teaching at its best. We should also remember that not everyone should attempt to duplicate his work, but retain their originality and true self. I've picked up a copy of his book "The Essential 55" and can't wait to dive deeper into his classroom environment. Meanwhile, the journey continues....