Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Stepping it up a notch...

Oh, boy. I like calm waters. I don't like to stir things up. But I think it's time for me to step it up a notch...

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to see Rick Wormeli this week. Oh, the enthusiasm that emanates from that man! He came skipping into the room, and even asked, "Is Joy Kirr here?" (No, I'm NOT a Twitter stalker, just an admirer!)

My big take-away from the (stellar) professional development today: I need to bring these ideas back to my team. The strongest question I heard today was, "To what degree will you allow your colleagues to keep doing what they're doing, even if you think it is not right?" Team time can be difficult when there are many strong opinions in the room, and we all think we're right. I feel I need to stop staying quiet (because I get intimidated), and start speaking up.

I'm always the one that supports good ideas - I get on the bandwagon and cheer! I try to help out where I can. I'm not one to challenge others. However, Rick got me thinking. Later in the afternoon, I found myself on Twitter asking someone about their tweet & the name of a contest for students - It's called the "Smart Student Blog Contest." The name just rubbed me the wrong way, so after a three-minute struggle in my mind about whether to even go there or not, I replied to the person who tweeted it out...
As soon as I tweeted it out, I regretted it. And yet, I didn't delete it. I wondered, "What's the worst that could happen - he unfollows me?" I don't follow him (for various reasons), but he was on a list of mine that showed up on my TweetDeck - the reason I saw his tweet. Still, I wasn't looking for a fight. I looked back at my tweet and saw that it wasn't negative, just inquisitive. I received this in reply:

And I replied back, because I was still irked by the name "Smart Student..."
Phew! That tiny challenge took a lot out of me. It was time for met to get off Twitter for the day!
This morning, I saw this tweet from a very well-respected member of my PLN:
I smiled, and replied...
What ensued at 6:15am today was a valuable conversation between Jill and I about what our role is as educators. Do we want the best for only OUR students, or for ALL students?

What am I scared of? I'm worried I'll be known as the teacher who thinks she knows it all. (But if they really knew me, they'd know I have no clue what I'm doing!) I don't want to be the bad guy. I don't want to look like a jerk. I don't want to stir the pot.

Do I have a record for stirring the pot? No. I did one time, two years ago, on opening day. I remember it clearly. I asked another teacher why she would ask the teachers in the grade below her to give her notes on students before she'd even met them. I asked, "Whatever happened to a 'clean slate?'" She has just started talking to me again... I don't want to burn bridges. Heck, I want to be liked - especially where I work.

It is, however, time for me to step it up a notch. I now have Rick Wormeli's question taped to my open laptop. It's there to remind me, while speaking with other teachers in a meeting about students, to challenge ideas I don't believe in. But how? How can I do so - nicely - so as to not burn bridges and keep the conversations going? I think I'm going to start with another tip from Rick and from many others I've heard from in the last two years I've been on Twitter - ask the right question, and then let the answers go around the room. Once it's been discussed by others, reflect what I hear, and ask again, if need be. Or... is it better to have this conversation one-on-one? Hopefully my coworker who attended with me will support my endeavors.

I need your help now... How do you do find this balance at your school? Or do you not? Let's keep the conversation going and encourage each other to do the same!

Want to know more about what I learned? My notes from Rick Wormeli's session are here on Storify.


  1. Joy, I so loved your post and I think SO many people will be inspired to be that agent of change thru reading it. I finally hit this same exact point a couple years ago. I have always been honest and fairly open, however did not want to ever be unliked or burn bridges. I worried about people looking at me as a trouble-maker and then if another job opened up in the district that I wanted, would my "voiced opinions" play against me? But then as my confidence grew as an educator and my opinions were validated by those who I admire and respect, I realized I have to speak up to do what is best for the students. And not just my students, but all students.
    As scary as it is every time I have a tough conversation or send an email I know will ruffle some feathers, It has been so empowering. I think Twitter has played such a HUGE part in helping me find my voice. I find it is about finding that small entry point with people when looking at instructional change. I look at it similar to the learning process my students go through, except with adults it is so much deeper rooted! With others, I find it is about flat out having to say that what they are doing is just not what is best for students. I keep the conversations centered around students and student work so it is not a personal attack.
    Keep on pushing forward!

  2. Joy - It takes great courage to take a stand and I am so proud of you for both tweeting and responding about the name of the contest. This year I've found myself discovering my voice more in my career. I've been promoted to department head and been forced to stand up for my decisions and also to defend this promotion to those that felt they were better suited. The bottom line when I think about the discomfort that I feel in taking a stand and voicing my opinion is this: if it's for the betterment of my students, and I won't be hurting anyone, I have to speak up. Of course, presenting this opposition does take a lot of finesse and tact, which I'm continually working on. Again, I am very proud of you!

  3. Joy, I too got fired up by Rick's presentation! I came back, and felt both empowered, and obligated to stand up to colleagues who are not doing right by students.
    Homework has always been a struggle for me, both as a teacher, and now as a mom. In my school, kids who don't complete all the homework must go to Lunch and Learn, or stay after school. I understand that homework is important for practicing new skills. But, when a student is doing well on the assessments and is not turning in homework, and their grade is adversely effected, I need to speak up. I did. It did not go well in team. But, I felt strongly that punishing a student for not turning in month old homework is not productive, especially when the student is doing well on assessments, and I feel that this practice is antiquated and destructive to kids. Finding my voice has been empowering, but I am still learning how to express my opinions carefully. I think what you did was absolutely the right thing...and, you did it very tactfully. I learned from you!

    1. Oh, Jen. Why do I feel I have to tip toe around some issues? If people were like you and I, we'd just say it like it is, and agree to disagree with each other if it came down to it. But some middle school teachers seem to have that middle school mentality and hold grudges if you do not agree with them, or if you "dare" challenge a notion. When it's important to you, as the instance you noted above, it's worth it to be passionate about it, and at least that passion will come through and they'll hear your message again. I have been able to grade my students differently this year - I have said, "I hear how you feel about it, but I've already informed parents..." and I read off of my grading or homework philosophy page on our class Weebly. They get upset that the entire team isn't doing the same thing, but I ... just ... can't. Let's keep asking questions, Jen - "The first one through the wall always gets bloody..." We will heal and be stronger for it! :)