Friday, July 26, 2013

Teachers Can Be Bullies Too

Ok.  I completely buy into the whole positive energy thing and try to remove all negatives from my life whenever possible, but sometimes a subject keeps popping up and gnawing at the back of your mind until you just can't ignore it.  I blame Akevy Greenblatt for sharing Justin Tarte's blog post via Facebook this morning. (LOL. Just kidding. I adore Akevy) Justin Tarte's watch out for 'that group' just won't get out of my head.  You know, "that group" of teachers who are a cross between Mean Girls and the Dementors from Harry Potter.

Then I read an article about Joe Bell whose son, Jadin, killed himself because of the relentless bullying at school for being gay.  The two articles connected in my head-"that group" and bullies.

THEN I watched an episode of New Girl about bullying where this was part of the dialogue:
Jess: I am so sorry, Tanya.
Principal Tanya: Don’t be. I love it! Jess, you’re a real teacher now.
Jess: What?
Principal Tanya: You’re a kid-hater. You’re one of us.

Almost every school district in the nation has something in their mission statements about providing a safe, nurturing environment for students.  How many of these schools consider the behavior of teachers in this statement?

So, let me lay it all out on the table now so that you can see why all of this has struck such a raw nerve in me.

I can't even begin to emphasis enough how, as educators it is imperative that we keep our personal, political and religious beliefs at home.  I live in the deep south where Jesus, the Bible, church, casseroles and strawberry cake are what everyone lives and breathes; right?  Every other day I read about and hear conversations about the need for prayer in our schools.  My question is (and this gets me on the bad side of "that group") whose prayer do we need in school?  Baptist prayer, Catholic prayer, Jewish prayer, Muslim prayer, Mormon prayer, Wiccan prayer?

My earliest memories of school are a nightmare to me.  My family, living in rural Alabama, was one of three families that practiced our religion in our town at the time.  I clearly remember that in first grade a "Christian" prayer was said together over the loud speaker and the teacher would read to us from the Bible.  Because my religion didn't support either of these things, I would have to leave the room during these times.  The teacher treated me with contempt and taking the lead from the teacher, none of the students wanted anything to do with the "strange devil girl".  Certainly that doesn't happen now, you might be thinking to yourself.  Think again.

In just the past week, Carolyn Starkey, president of the Alabama School Library Association, published a blog post regarding book challenges in Alabama's public schools.  This blog post relates to the topic at hand- "that group" and bullies.  I was involved in a challenged book situation this past school year.  In the spirit of transparency (see Gwyneth Jones: Transparency is the New Black) I blogged about the process so that other school librarians in a similar situation could learn along with me.  "That group" emerged and I eventually was pressured to alter and eventually to remove the blog post.  Needless to say, I resigned my position with that district for that and other reasons.  In my search for a new job I encountered a disappointing amount of "disguised" bullying and censorship.  Several school districts I interviewed with made in clear to me that, if hired, it is understood that "we don't put books on our shelves that they  have in New York or California.  You know, about gay people and such because we are a small, conservative town".  Really?  There are no gay students in your schools who may be struggling with their identity and may need to read a book that helps them know that it gets better so they don't end up like Joe Bell's son, Jadin?  And are these school districts whose central office personnel are relaying this message really providing a "safe and nurturing environment" for its students?

Does all this mean that you can't have personal, religious or political beliefs?  Heck no!  I am crazy political (I have a serious, bordering on obsessive crush on Jon Stewart).  I just don't bring that junk to school because of the message of acceptance or judgement it may convey to my students.  I don't put political statement stickers on my car nor do I buy special politically/religiously charged license plates.  If I have a "choose life" plate is the student struggling with an unplanned pregnancy going to confide in me? If I have a Bible sitting on my desk (even if I don't read it out loud in class) is the gay student who is being bullied going to ask me for help?  

While we are on the topic of unspoken messages to students, what about the messages spoken and unspoken we send to our fellow educators?  It's the beginning of the school year and teachers have just received their class rosters.  Have you ever had a teacher come look at your roster and start telling you the good, the bad and the ugly about the kids you have in your class?  Think cliques only happen in high school.  Look around your school--see any teacher cliques?   Have you ever heard teachers talking about other teachers?  Do you exclude other teachers because they don't go to the right church, live in the right neighborhood, wear the right clothes, vote the right way?  Think the kids can't pick up on this?  

I guess the point of this post is to beg you to examine the unspoken messages you send to students on a daily basis.  Kevin Honeycutt in his keynote speech at the Alabama Educational Technology Conference this year broke my heart as he recounted the teacher who let him know without any words that he was unlovable.  Personally, I think his speech should be required viewing for every teacher in the country.  

As an Alabama educator am I concerned about the blow back this post may generate? Yep. But if this post can help even one child I can live with it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Power of 140 Characters

The topic of #EdChat on July 23, 2013 at 7 pm ET was: If connectedness is so important to education, why haven't a majority of educators connected? How do we connect them?

During the Bill Price, a technology and ESL Instructor from Pittsburg, PA, tweeted the following:

My answer way a resounding, YES!  You can really make great personal and professional connections with just 140 characters.  The connections I have made 140 characters at a time have altered the course of my professional life and enriched my personal life.

Example 1:  

Three years ago I attended my first ever EdCamp event in Birmingham, AL.  After attending EdCamp Birmingham I had to get more of this amazing PD concept.  I looked to the Atlanta area sure that there must be an EdCamp in the capital of Georgia.  To my disappointment there were NO EdCamp events in Georgia.  I began tweeting about looking for other innovative educators who were interested in starting up an EdCamp event in Atlanta, GA.  Dan Callahan  Foundation Chairman and Co-founder, saw my tweets and connected me to Wanda McClure who, unknown to me, was tweeting a similar message.  Wanda & I communicated through Twitter which then lead to phone conversations and face to face meetings.  When we had solidified our plans for an EdCamp event in Atlanta we tweeted out an invitation to educators interested in assisting with getting this event off the ground.  We tweeted a date, time & place to meet.  Below is a picture of the educators who showed up, some of who have become my best friends.

Read more about the inaugural EdCamp Atlanta here.

Yes! Great personal/professional connections can be made 140 characters at a time!

Example 2:

Having caught the Twitter chat fever through participating in #EdChat sessions on Tuesdays and as a board member and social media liaison for the Alabama School Library Association (ASLA) I began a twitter chat session for Alabama School Librarians.  This chat attracted not only librarians from Alabama but around the nations and the world.  Two years into the chat sessions for ASLA, Joyce Valenza proposed a chat for the Teacher-Librarian network through the TL Virtual Cafe organizers. Through tweets with Joyce we merged ASLA's Twitter chats with the emerging TL Chat and am proud to be a part of the moderating team for this empowering chat for teacher librarians. Without 140 characters I wouldn't have been awarded the AASL Bound to Stay Bound Grant to attend the National AASL Conference in Hartford, CT this November.  The icing on top is that I will be rooming at the conference with the amazing Tiffany Whitehead (aka: The Mighty Little Librarian) all arranged through 140 characters on Twitter.

Read more about #TLChat sessions here.

Yes! Great personal/professional connections can be made 140 characters at a time!

I have many other examples of how 140 characters have changed my life, but I'd love to hear from others about the power of 140 characters.  Please add your examples to the Padlet below:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Blogging in Education-Answering ?'s about Who, What, When, Where, Why and How!

Catch our LIVE ON AIR Google+ Hangout today (July 2, 2013) at noon ET.

Missed the LIVE Hangout?  Watch the discussion below.

Links and resources referenced in the broadcast:

Here are 20 questions to ask yourself about your school year. Some of these would also make good discussion questions for a staff debriefing or for student teachers/interns.

Here are 20 questions to help you and your students reflect on the school year. You could use these informally for discussion when you have a few minutes or for a more personal reflection experience, take a few of your favorites to use for a survey or as writing/journal prompts. 

Obvious to you. Amazing to others. - by Derek Sivers

Great video about why you should blog.

Teacher Reboot Camp
30 Goals 2013- by Shelly Terrell

The Prophets In Your Land | The Principal of Change - George Couros 

“What areas do you believe that you can share with the staff to help them improve in their own practice?”

“What does your school do to promote the sharing of your expertise?”

Challenging Ourselves to Engage Our Students

Care and Feeding of Your Blog by Sue Waters
We've all been there, either we've started a blog and neglected it - feeling some deep-seated internal blog guilt or we've started a blog and sometimes just don't know what to post or how to make it grow. Sue Waters, the Edublogger herself, is here to the rescue!

Giving practical tips on how to get a blog started, how librarians and educators use blogs, and how to maintain and nurture a healthy blog without stress or guilt.