The Starfish Pin

So in my last post I mentioned that the starfish pin was part of my realization that I was finally at teacher, time to explain.  Rockwood School District is where my first student teaching experience was, it’s also where I had the job of Title 1 assistant.  All of the teachers in Rockwood had a starfish pin.  The district gave these out to new teachers in the district, new to teaching or new to the district.  Along with the pin came this story (which is currently posted on the wall above my desk, I laminated my copy when I got it and it has been posted in every classroom I’ve had). You may have head this story or a version of it elsewhere but here it is again:

There once was a wise old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.  One day as he is walking along the shore, he looks down the beach and sees a human figure moving like a dancer.  As he gets closer, he sees that it is a young man and the young man isn’t dancing, but instead he is reaching down to the shore, picking up a starfish, and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

“Good morning! What are you doing?” asks the wise man.

The young man pauses, looks up, and replies, “Throwing starfish in the ocean.  The sun is rising, and the tide is out.  And if I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

“But, young man, don’t you realize that there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish all along it.  You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man, listening politely, bends down and picks up another starfish, throwing it into the sea past the breaking waves.  Turning to the old man he modestly replies, “It made a difference for that one.”

~inspired by the writing of Loren Eiseley

This story struck a chord in me then and still does today.  Yes I want to reach every child in my room but if I reach just one I know that I have done my job and done it well.  

The day I received my copy of the story and my starfish pin was a proud one for me, just more proof that I’d done it.  I wore that pin for years, unfortunately somewhere along the way, in our multiple moves, I lost it.  I have looked for a new one but haven’t found one yet, if you see one let me know please where I can get it.

This story also goes well with a short saying that I have seen in many teachers’ rooms, on school signs, and in day cares as well:

One hundred years from now

It will not matter what kind of car I drove

What kind of house I lived in

How much money I had in my bank account

Nor what my clothes looked like

But one hundred years from now

The world may be a little better

Because I was important in the life of a child.

Excerpt from the poem Within My Power by Forest Whitcraft

This is a poem I think all parents need to take to heart too.  This is yet another one I have posted above my desk.  I have five other inspirational or teacher oriented sayings on my wall.  I look to them occasionally, particularly in times of frustration.  They renew my spirit in low times just as the random kiddo hug in the hallway or the smile as they walk through my classroom door do.  Maybe I’ll share some of those others another time.  


One of those YES! moments

So today I had one of those YES! *fist pump* moments.  There is a student that I work with who is a big perfectionist, if it’s not done right the first time frustration sets in BIG time, face gets red, fist hits hand, or hand hits head, chairs can get knocked over, muttering begins.  I have struggled to find a way to help this student.  I want Student to be successful in school and life, having this super low frustration level can be a huge detriment.

We began a project today and Student made a mistake, I saw the red face and the fist begin to curl.  I’m not sure what it was but I remembered my Conscious Discipline training, at least some of it.  I asked the student to look at me and tried to get him to take some deep breaths.  I talked to him about where his brain function was and that breathing, getting oxygen in to move back into the frontal cortex.  None of it was really working, but I kept trying, bugging Student to breathe slowly, finally I said “I’m not going to stop bugging you until you do this,” and got a laugh.  Breakthrough, not sure what actually worked but Student got back to work and had a successful class.  Now to keep that up.

For those that don’t know Conscious Discipline is a brain based approach to discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey.  In the building where I was trained CD sort of followed, Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Dr. Foster Cline, it was the school equivalent though I know L&L has school programs themselves.  If you like the brain-based approach but CD and L&L seem a bit young for the classes you work with check out Behavior Intervention Support Team, also known as BIST. Now personally I don’t use all of CD, I stick with parts especially the calming deep breaths, safe spot.  Other than that my personal classroom management favorite is 1-2-3 Magic For Teachers, I’ll write more about it another time as I seem to have gotten off track here. Not a big shock huh?

I hesitated to post this but I wanted to celebrate and share what worked for me.  Trust me there are plenty of UGH moments in my teaching as well, I may even share some of them.

When I knew I was REALLY a teacher or My First Teaching Job

I graduated from college and applied to a few districts, well two for sure though there may have been others.  I’m not sure if it was naivete that led me to thinking that was all I needed or simply that I had student taught in those districts and already had a comfort level with them.  Now I apply everywhere because I am not that naive and I’m more confident in my skills and abilities to teach and find my place in a school.  As I graduated in December there were very few teaching positions and the substitute list had already been filled.  I took a temp job while I waited to continue looking.  I was fortunate in March to be called for a Title 1 assistant position.  I worked with 13 students one on one improving their reading.

Over the summer I went on a few interviews but always got the call that they went another way, usually with someone with more experience.  This left me frustrated as I simply did not understand how they I could get the experience they clearly wanted me to have without someone hiring me so I could get experience.  What I see now is that principals want someone who has been a classroom assistant or substitute who has covered whole classes, in other words they have some whole class experience beyond their student teaching.   This makes sense to me now but what did I know then. LOL

I continued in my Title 1 assistant position for another year, and being an early reader it was probably one of the best ways I could have started my career in education.  I never had to really pay attention in reading/English classes the way I did in science or math to learn how to do it.  I didn’t know how to help struggling readers.  Fortunately in that position we had weekly trainings, I walked away from the job so much better prepared to work with struggling readers.  That summer I taught summer school my first “classroom.”  Again I interviewed, I was even offered a position but due to the way the salary would have to be split from different sources the district didn’t approve and I was back to my T1 job.  

Then about a week into the school year I received a call for an interview, a middle school interview.  I went in the next day at 7:30 a.m., at 12:30 that afternoon I got the call offering me the job and telling me to report to that building the next day.  I went in and met with the communication arts curriculum coordinator who gave me the enormous curriculum binder and walked me through what I needed: sixth grade com arts and sixth grade challenge com arts.  I met the other sixth grade teachers and was happy to see a familiar face.  One of the SpEd teachers was a girl I knew from high school; we had played volleyball together our freshman year.

I went home with the material know that when I went back on Tues (it was Labor Day weekend) I would start teaching.  Anxiety struck, I was in a panic no idea what to do.  My husband asked me what was wrong.  I told him I had no idea how I was going to do this, this is not what I’d trained for.  I had, still have but you know when writing in past tense 😉 and Early Childhood degree, all of my field experiences and student teaching had been in the younger grades K-3.  I hadn’t even been in a fourth or fifth grade classroom for more than a few hours observing.  He looked at me and said “You can do this!  You’re a teacher!”  Not sure if it was because he was so emphatic or if it was simply his belief in me but I could suddenly breathe again.  I sat down and started to write out lesson plans.

Tuesday morning I went to work, stood up in front of the class, introduced myself, let each of the students introduce themselves, then began teaching.  I think the moment it really hit me that I had reached my goal, that I was a classroom teacher was when I was able to answer the first student question, well that and the starfish pin but that’s another story.

Ok so teachers reading this, what’s your story?  When did you realize you were really a teacher?  Anyone else, what about you and your career, what was that I’ve done it, I’ve made it moment for you?


Repair Kit Study Guide: timeliness of information and determining final grades

Picking up where I left off last time with Criterion 4 on appendix B: Considering most recent information.  Anyone care to take a guess where I landed?  Yep beginning again. All assessment data is cumulative and use in calculating a final summative grade.  No consideration is given to identifying or using the most current information.  Maybe I’m just confused because this comes across to me as we only count the most recent score for each standard to calculate the grade all previous

scores are just tossed out.  I’m not sure how this would work. The “fluently” descriptor helps a bit: Most recent evidence completely replaces out-of-date evidence when it is reasonable to do so.  For example, how well students write at the end of the grading period is more important that how well they write at the beginning, and later evidence of improved content understanding is more important than early evidence.  Like I said a bit of help.  The idea as I understand it is to really only look to the most recent scores.  While I understand that I think it’s important to still look back at the progress to date.  I’m just not sure that only counting the most recent score gives the best picture of the student’s knowledge over time.  Maybe when I get to the chapter talking about this I’ll change my mind.  We’ll see.

Criterion 5:  Summarizing information and determining final grade.  This criterion is broken into five descriptors.

5.1: I don’t fall anywhere on this scale, they reference ABC, percentages, + or -, rubric scores all being in the grade book with or without reference as to combining them to calculate final grade.  My grade book has always been in points, points the student earned out of total points with the final grade being total points earned out of total points possible.  Wait looking at that maybe I fall into the fluently category: The grade book may or may not have a mix of symbol types, but there is a sound explanation of how to combine them.  Hmmm what do you think?

 5.2 This descriptor set is about rubric scores being converted to percentages or using a decision rule.  Ummm okay, I’m not sure if they’re using rubric scores in the same way that I usually think of it or use it.  A rubric to me is a scoring guide and mine are always set up again by points.  So I’m not sure if I fall anywhere in the range here.

 5.3 Ah finally one I’m pretty sure about where I fit in.  Developing: Final grades are criterion referenced, not norm referenced.  They are based on preset standards such as A = 90% – 100%, and B = 80% – 89%. But, there is no indication of the necessity to ensure shared meaning of symbols i.e., there is no definition of each standard.  As per school/district policy I have always assigned grades by the grading scale.  This is another time I’ve never thought about standards needing to be defined.  On individual projects I give scoring guides that show what an A would be, and a B, and so on, but for overall grades I haven’t and I’m not sure where to start so I’ll be interested to see what the book says.

 5.4 Back to the beginning category here: Final grades for special needs students are not based on learning targets specified in the IEP.  I have never done this that I can recall, however I have also had very few students with IEPs with specific learning targets in the areas I was teaching.  I did make the accommodations called for in the IEP and then the grades were calculated just like everyone else.  So naturally now I’m wondering if I should have been doing it differently.  Well should I get a classroom position for next year it is certainly a discussion I’ll be having with the special education teacher.

 5.5 This descriptor talks about using various measures such as mean, median, and mode to accurately describe student achievement.  I have to admit I’m totally at a loss here, I have no idea how I would use median or mode to calculate grades.  Guess I’ll be learning something new.

 Well I think that’s enough for one post, next time I’ll take a look at criterion 6 & 7.  Any comments on the criterion or descriptors from today?

Repair Kit for Grading: Study Guide

I mentioned in my Why Blog post that the idea for this blog came from reading the book Repair Kit for Grading and going through the pre-assessments in the study guide.  Today I’m going to start the posts fro the study guide.

As my notes for this activity in the study guide are at 11 pages and counting this will be broken into several parts.  The purpose given for this activity is to think about and record one’s current grading practices for later comparison purposes.  I assume this means that at the end of reading the book I will go back and look at the assessments again to see how my feelings and opinions on grading have changed.

 Activity 1.1 starts with Appendix B the rubric for evaluating grading practices asking: where am I now? (Now when I did this pre-assessment I actually did Appendix C first because B just did not want to print correctly, but I’ll post them in the proper order). It is broken down into a number or criterion and you are to pick where you are on the scale beginning, developing or fluent.  I will put the criterion descriptors in italics and then my responses will be back in normal print.

 Criterion 1: Organizing the grade book.  Beginning seems to be where I am according to the descriptor provided.  The evidence of learning (e.g., a grade book) is entirely organized by sources of information (e.g., tests, quizzes, homework, labs, etc.). The other descriptors include using specific content standards in the grade book, something I have never done.  I have included content standards in lesson plans and even on end of unit assessments, usually leading students to ask me what all those strange numbers and letters are but I have not ever used them in my grade book.  I’ve never even thought of using them in my grade book, however now that I think about it, it seems like a great way to really see how students are progressing.  This might take a different grade book than the standard though, and electronic grade book that would allow me to sort scores by type, by standard, chronologically, etc.

 Criterion 2: Including factors in the grade.  This section is broken down into four descriptors.  The first I fall in the beginning category again: 2. 1 Overall summary grades are based on a mix of achievement and non-achievement factors (e.g., timeliness of work, attitude, effort, cheating).  Non-achievement factors have a major impact on grades.  Now to be clear I don’t include effort or attitude in my overall grades, however I have by personal policy deducted points for late work and by district policy given zeroes for cheating.

 2.2 This descriptor is about extra credit work being counted in final grades.  I rarely if ever gave extra credit assignments which means I fall nowhere on this scale, not sure if this is a good or bad thing though.

 2.3 Finally in the developing category instead of the beginning: Cheating, late work, and missing work result in a zero (or a radically lower score) in the grade book.  But there is an opportunity to make up work and replace the zero or raise the lower score.  While by district/school policy cheating has as far as I can recall always led to a zero with no chance for make-up, late work is counted at 10% off, and missing work is allowed to be made up again for up to 10% off.  I would go into detail about my feelings on this but I know I did so thoroughly while taking the appendix C pre-assessment so have no fear I will share my thoughts on consequences for late work.

 2.4 This descriptor is about borderline grades and how they are handled.  As I have always used a set grading scale from the school/district I have never worried about borderline grades, they are what they are.  They round up or down according to standard rules of rounding.

 Criterion 3: Considering assessment purpose. Ah here I am back in the beginning category again with the descriptor: Everything each student does is given a score and every score goes into the final grade.  There is no distinction between scores on practice work (formative assessment or many types of homework) and scores on work to demonstrate level of achievement (summative assessment).  I’m not sure I have a problem with being in the beginning category here as the fluent descriptor includes the sentence: Grades are based only on summative assessments.  In other words grades are based only on test scores?  Um ok problem!  What about kids with test anxiety whose test scores don’t accurately reflect their learning?  Again something know I went into more detail on in appendix C, so I’ll stop for now.

 There are four additional criterion subdivided into ten descriptors so I’m going to stop with these for today.  And leave you with a few questions.  Parents how do you feel?  How do you want your child’s final grade to be calculated?  Teachers how do you organize your grade book?  Do you give zeroes for cheating?  Are you in a ZAP (zeros aren’t permitted) building?  I’d love to hear others thoughts and opinions.

Lockdown part 2: my thoughts on the Kirkwood High School/KSDK situation

I posted about the lockdown that occurred at a local high school last week and didn’t share how I felt about what happened.  I wasn’t going to comment, really wasn’t going to but the more I find out about what happened the more I felt I had to say something.  Since the Sunday St Louis Post Dispatch came out with this column by Bill McClellan I’ve just been unable to get this out of my head.  You may not agree with me and that’s fine as I tell my students everyone is welcome to their own opinion, just please be sure it’s an educated opinion and I think that’s where this starts for me.

My first reaction when watching the story from KSDK channel 5 was that I was appalled at the fact that it took so long for someone to speak to the reporter, that no one asked who he was or why he was there.  Every school I’ve worked in for the past several years has been on that is locked, you have to ring the buzzer to gain entrance.  Even staff members are required to ring the buzzer and identify themselves.  Now I know Kirkwood High School is different than most schools, it is laid out much more like a college campus with several buildings connected by breezeways but not hallways.  This makes it a challenge I’m sure for security.  Students go from one building to another during class breaks meaning the doors stay unlocked. I’m sure there are ways to handle this, and I’m also sure that this week the Kirkwood School District is looking into this.  I was also bewildered by the fact that they lost sight of the reporter when he left the office after asking for directions to the bathroom and going in the opposite direction.  Again most buildings I’ve worked in over the past several years have video cameras in the hallways.  Maybe Kirkwood does not, or maybe their cameras don’t record so they can’t track the hallways.  I don’t know as that was never addressed in the various stories about this incident.  I’d love to know what the intruder or stranger in building policy is for the school.  I went back to wondering how no one saw this man in the hallway and spoke to him, then I thought about it as a teacher and not a parent.  Most teachers were probably in their classrooms teaching, if they were on plan time chances are they were in a classroom planning, grading, in a meeting, in the workroom, somewhere other than the hallway.  It’s not as if teachers that are not teaching as just standing in the hallway standing guard.  If the reporter was walking the whole time it’s not unreasonable that it would take him several minutes to come across someone.  Now I am bothered by the fact that when he found a teacher and asked for directions to the office the teacher or staff member did not ask who he was, why he was there, or walk him there, they simply gave directions, but then again I know nothing about their emergency preparedness plans, I know nothing about what they have been told, maybe only certain people are supposed to engage strangers, maybe the person was just really busy and policy slipped their mind, it happens.  I’m not excusing this but rather saying I need more information.

I saw online that there were people angry with the school for what happened, concerned about their students, and wanting to see changes.  I can totally understand this and while I can say that I agree with what little I know, I also know there is information missing and again I say it’s hard to make a judgement without that information.  If I knew a member of the Kirkwood High School staff I might ask them some questions, see how things are run there but I don’t so I am left with what is reported.  For safety their security policies are not published online, it would not help the school stay safe for that information to be available to anyone, hence the missing information.  I did go to the Kirkwood High School Website they have two notices that caught my attention a Message from Dr. Williams about the Lockdown and Dr. Havener’s Follow-up to the Lockdown.  I applaud the district for their calm response to the situation and for taking this opportunity to review their policies and make changes, this is definitely a sign of a responsible district.

Other people were furious with KSDK who has apologized for causing alarm but defends what they did.  I was bothered that they seemed to be going out of their way to make news.  I would be surprised if they didn’t purposely choose Kirkwood because of the set-up of the school.  I did not reach the level of furious until I read about the phone call between the school and the news station.  Concerned about where the reporter had gone the school called the cell phone number left, the reporter did not answer, I’m sure part of the “investigation”, the voicemail identified the person as an employee of News Channel 5, so the school called the station for confirmation, the school informed the station that if they would not confirm that this was their employee a lockdown would be put in place.  Here is where I get MAD, the station refused to confirm this was their employee.  They were supposedly testing the security measures of the school, yet when those measures were put in place it was not enough, we had to allow the school to go into lockdown?  Really?  I don’t think so, you got your story!  There was no need to scare parents and students, no need to have police called out to the school rather than be available for other emergency calls.  All you had to do was say yes, he is an employee, we’re working on a story on school security and we’d like to talk to you further about this.  Allowing a lockdown was irresponsible and in my eyes unethical.  This was going too far!  Like I said they have apologized for causing alarm ok that’s a start how about apologizing for allowing this to carry on when it didn’t need to.  When other news stations began reporting the lockdown and they stayed silent that was unacceptable.  I know they have lost many viewers in the St. Louis area, too bad that won’t change their practices.

Warning, Disclaimer, something like that ;)

If you’ve been reading so far, you may have noticed I have a way with run-on sentences.  I will do my best to edit my blog posts but I do not promise perfection, as a matter of fact I can guarantee that at some point there will be mistakes.  When I start typing or writing I often get carried away.  I’m also not nearly as good at catching my own mistakes as others may be. This would be why I edit students’ writing after they self- edit, and I also ask students to find a peer-editor.  I took Creative Writing in high school; my papers came back frequently covered in big red ROWC (run-on with comma).  This is my biggest weakness in writing, and even being aware of that does not always keep me from making those mistakes.  I ask you to please just keep this in mind as you read.  Thank you!

Also just so you know I will be starting to post about the book A Repair Kit for Grading which was my original reason for starting an education blog, interspersed will be posts about other things that may catch my attention or that simply come to mind.  I hope you enjoy!