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.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Boston Full

I have one of the best lives... I was able to make it to Boston for the third time in my life this past week. (My lessons learned from the other three trips are posted under the tag "BLC.") It may seem sad to some, but Alan November says we need help if we think of BLC as a vacation...! We love learning from other passionate teachers, and I have found many people from my tribe here. Of course, Hubby came along and enjoyed the history of Boston - and helped me brush up on history lessons my own teachers didn't make stick!

I'm just going to share quick take-aways, or this post would be ten times as long... I'll try to not share all the great stories, but if you want to hear them, let me know!


Tuesday -
My Passion-Based Learning (Genius Hour) workshop this year had 19 participants! Oh, it was so great to have many voices sharing with each other. I enjoyed the four hours, and felt I was able to convey many messages, and share the myriad resources I've collected. Let me know if I can host this workshop somewhere near you! I've been invited back for next year, so put it on your calendar!

We then spent many hours in the North End! Cannoli, "One if by land...," a peek at the water, and a talk with a mailman about the relay boxes still in use.

Tuesday evening was a quick meeting for presenters... here are some of the presenters at this conference: Kathy Schrock, Kathy Cassidy, Kristin Ziemke, Karen Lirenman, Joyce Valenza, Reshan Richards, Laine Rowell, Amy Burvall... How did I get here?!

Wednesday's keynote -
Dr. Eric Mazur - Ask students to apply concepts, to DO the teaching, and get out of lecture mode as quickly as possible. He shared a great tool - Perusall - that ANY teacher who uses text in their teaching can use, as long as students have tech at home (or give them time in school).

Wednesday's sessions -
After the keynotes I presented twice today - and I learned from my audience! Mary Lou Buell came up to be at the end of my sessions, and thanked me for sharing the struggles I've encountered with Genius Hour, including the parent that thought it was "crazy," the students that hurt your heart because they'd rather "learn from the teacher," and the teachers who ostracize you. I was also very fortunate to meet and chat a tiny bit with Michael Albert (Al?!), as well - he's the only one in his school who's trying Genius Hour, and he, too, has the same issues. These are my people!

I needed a way to advance my slides on Google presentations, and I hadn't purchased a clicker. I downloaded and worked with Demobo at home. It didn't work on game day. My phone did not like the same wifi that my laptop liked. I asked Brian Mull what he used in his presentations, and then ordered this clicker before Friday's keynotes. Another issue I had was that my videos didn't stream beautifully the first round, but worked fine during my second hour. I received a tip from Jim (tech help!) I can use next time - download the videos first onto my laptop. (I hope I can do this with my two videos from TubeChop, as well.)

We then spent many hours at Fenway... what a blast! Red Sox won big against San Francisco.
Big Papi
Thursday's keynotes -
Prior to the keynotes, I was able to chat with Sylvia Tolisano once again - she updated me on her amplifyEDucation site - such possibilities!

Homo Sabet Tavangar - I need to find out where her grandparents are from - she told us an amazing story of their rebellious acts that led to her mother and herself being able to read and succeed. We need to learn other people's stories from around the globe so we can promote empathy.

Mike Pennington - He's a "wasabi mix of all the people's ideas here... at BLC." YES! Aren't we all a mix of the people who we surround ourselves with? After a shooting at his school, Mike started worrying so much about his students' frustrations that his teaching took a nose dive. After a few more months of dealing with this stress, he decided he had to move on and become an administrator. My take-away: Teach kids to notice and create perspective. Every child will struggle. Let them struggle, and teach them how to overcome struggles that they will encounter.

Kristin Ziemke - Listen to children. You need to know what's going on in their lives so that they can actually learn when they're with you. First grader Diego's blog post and father's response meant that they "preserved our next 7 hours" of class together, as Diego's fears were alleviated. What are our students thinking while we just go on with our curriculum? Even I was worried about when/where I'd get lunch on this full day! Destiny, another of Kristin's students, came up with this six-word story after reading about Ruby Bridges - "Segregation seems like it's never-ending." LISTEN to children's stories. They can teach US every day.

Jordyn Zimmerman - Attends Mentor HS in Ohio. Before attending Mentor, she'd previously struggled throughout her educational career at other public schools. Jordyn has autism, and has difficulty expressing her thoughts through speech. She has since been introduced to an app on her iPad that can help her communicate. She used this app to give her presentation. Some of her speech is on this Periscope, but the tears in the audience and the standing ovation proved how moving her message was. I had a tough time when she said she was suspended multiple times and then moved to a new school where she was being asked to touch her nose and head and given candy if she complied... This was AFTER she had mastered certain skills at her schools. She shared about many of her feelings in school, which were mostly a "combination of anger and devastation." Her five lessons for teachers: 1. Students want to learn. 2. Don't assume you know how your students feel or what they think. 3. Have high expectations for ALL students. 4. Always be kind. "Special" should never mean "separate." Say hello in the hallways, even if you don't know the student or the student doesn't respond. 5. Know one way or another, you will be a part of your students' lives forever. I was fortunate to thank Jordyn in person at the airport. She needs to know she matters!

Again and again, we were reminded of the significance of practicing empathy in our schools. I had a good cry with Rik Rowe after these four speeches!! Oh, so great to see this friend in person once again. Lesson - Take TIME to talk with children and listen to their stories.

Thursday's sessions -
Aaron Polansky - GeekSox: Beyond the Curriculum - When we focus on connections, test scores improve. Connection drives attendance and learning. The most important letters are: R. U. O. K. ? He told us about a freshman's story of eating by himself, and what his school did about it. In his school, they have three rules - Be kind. Be honest. Improve the situation. We should all walk around with bags over our heads so that we judge people by the exchanges we have, not by how they look. May your insides always outshine your outsides. (Our outsides could change in a moment.) When fear stops showing up in your life, it's because you are nearing your true self. ~Brendan Burchard. Treat people as if they're good. ~Todd Whittaker

Starr Sackstein - Empowering Learning Through Mastery - I'm on the right track. Others feel the "fingernails on a chalkboard" when they are surrounded by teachers who still use points as punishment and rewards. We come to BLC and are surrounded with teachers "just as crazy as us," and teachers who deal with the same struggles. Dan Welty and Rik Rowe were in this session - my tribe!

Brian Mull - Making Thinking Visible with Nearpod - I can now see the uses of this tool and would love to try to implement this type of instant feedback in class! I'm also thinking of using this in my next workshop or sessions on Genius Hour.

Sara Wilke - Q2 - Don't have "bogus inquiry" lessons - give students time to pursue what they want to know! Books to read: Make Just One Change, A More Beautiful Question, Blink, and Thinking - Fast and Slow. We go too fast. Stop. Listen. Ask questions. Ask more questions. Sara led this the way we should lead all sessions - if we want our students to learn / do in a certain way, our leaders need to do the same. I need to learn how to incorporate more DOING in my one-hour sessions about Genius Hour.

Friday's keynotes-
Bob Goodman - Get there early! (And borrow furniture!) Do not deny students science and math.

Linda Liukas - There is always something else to get excited about! Girls can do anything! Linda's character Ruby teaches kids about coding! Computers can never give an opinion or have a feeling.

Then it was time to go home... and I was drained. (And FULL!)

My big take away...
This year will be my best yet. I've come to realize my angst doesn't come from the classroom very often. Yes, I struggle with many things, but I see those as challenges, and I work on decreasing those struggles. My true angst comes from teachers (who are never IN our classroom) who don't think what I'm doing is right, or even best practice. I realized this week that I haven't taken the time to sit with them and explain the reasons WHY I still have Genius Hour or WHY I'm not grading my students' work and only giving feedback instead. That's on me. I cannot expect them to buy in to ideas or think I'm sane if I don't take that time to explain. I focus on the reasons why in the classroom so students can buy in, but I haven't done so with teachers in my own school. Instead, I react - and often with frustration. I know I let other people's opinions get to me. I have for years. It's become a habit. Well - I'm ready to break that habit. I am doing what I'm doing for the KIDS, and not to please the teachers. My goal for the upcoming year? When working with adults, do what I do with my students: Listen first. Take the time to process. Take the time to plan what I'm going to say, if anything. Say what I hear them expressing, then say what I feel/need slowly, and perhaps in question format to get them thinking further. If I cannot do this, I will ask that we finish a discussion on another date, so we all have time to think about certain aspects of it for a bit more.

One theme I work into my workshop = Let It Go. I advise participants to do what you know is right for the kids, even if other teachers ostracize you. I will be taking my own advice. I will work to find the balance, so that I do not end up being one of those veteran teachers who hide in her room all day and stop talking to anyone because we don't see eye-to-eye. Instead, I would still like to be a person who leads by example, and question other ideas. If other teachers are condescending and are open to discussion about the reasons why, I'm ready and willing to take time out of our busy days to share. If not, I'll just let it go, and be happy I'm able to do what I can to make my classroom culture of trust and inquiry thrive.

Find all of the session notes here.

Want my tweeted notes? There are some gems / quotes in my notes here in Storify.

Thank you to November Learning and administration in my district for supporting me on this journey! I've been asked to come back to host another workshop next year, and if you need a nudge to begin something like Genius Hour, I hope to see you there!

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