I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 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 my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Teachers as Presenters

As if we don't already have enough on our plate, right?

Sharing what we believe to be right and good should be our next step, right?

I've been told by many people in my presentations that "It's so good to hear from someone who's still in the trenches." That phrase rubs me the wrong way, because in my mind, a school should not be compared to a war zone, but I can see why they say these things. I, too, feel distant from those presenters who used to be educators and are now consulting full time. I know, however, that many of those same presenters should be respected for so many reasons, so I pay attention to the message, not solely the speaker.

My husband and I recently got back from a successful workshop and keynote at South Dakota State University. What a stellar group of educators there! It was a small, welcoming group that included preservice teachers and teachers up to about five years in, as well as other alumni of their REMAST program (math and science rural educators). I know the healthy grading workshop went well - especially when some educators argued over zeros for missing work and late work penalties. I know the keynote went well, as one man was crying afterwards as he thanked me. This was my first big presentation since the large one I had in January flopped. I learned a lot from that audience, and was able to make sure this audience was a good fit for me this time.

That was January, and this one was in the summer - BIG difference. First of all, I didn't need to take any personal days from work. I didn't need to make any sub plans. My students aren't even factored in. I could focus solely on my message. This trip took us six days. BIG difference. We got back yesterday, and my husband is worn out from the driving, even though we are glad we drove and didn't fly. Seeing America's small towns and landscape is enjoyable for us.

At what cost do teachers present outside of school?

What price should be charged for excursions that take so much out of us?

I then headed to ISTE on Monday to present. I did not get paid. In fact, my district paid over $400 for me to attend - for one day. I'm grateful that Carrie Baughcum texted me the night prior and asked if I'd ride along with her downtown. I was able to take the green line from half a mile away from McCormick Place to the blue line to the Rosemont station to get picked up by my husband that night. It was a massive venue, with over 600 exhibitors, over 1300 presentations, and rumor has it there were over 21,000 attendees. Presenters pay their own way, and also need to be a member of ISTE. I understand that the cost to use McCormick Place for so many days and to pay the myriad keynote speakers must be out of this world. However, I believe the cost to attend - even to present - is too much of a burden to put on educators. Consider those not from Chicago - to stay overnight in a hotel downtown? Just. Too. Much.

Oh, my goodness. The rockstar educators that showed up to ISTE. No wonder teachers clamor to go! I thought I met a few in the one day I was there - then I saw tweets from so many others! It was a day full of lines, chats with PLN outside the sessions (my favorite), lines, selfies, lines, sneaking lunch on the floor, lines, closed doors, lines, ball pit (seriously ??), lines, and genuine conversations about becoming better educators. I am grateful for being able to share part of what I've learned, meet familiar and new PLN friends, support from friends not seen enough, and star sightings of educators I've learned from for many years through the tool we call Twitter.

When does presenting become too much? Or when do teachers turn that corner, leave the schools, and consult or present full time?

I know educators who do not teach in the school system anymore. They either work for themselves, for an educational company, or they are in administration part time, and presenting as well. Some have taken to advertising only their books and presentations through social media - this could be a big source of their income (and retirement) if they don't now have a steady teaching job. I have heard of one presenter who has said, "I won't present anymore where they won't pay me." I wonder if these teachers would rather be back with us - in the classrooms - but the cost or burden of presenting during the school year was just too much and they felt that calling to share their message with more educators.

I hope to never get to that point. I have turned down applying to present at venues where presenters do not get paid when I need to travel there. If teachers are paying for a flight (or wear and tear on a vehicle) and a hotel, at the very least provide the presenters with access to the conference for free. I feel so very fortunate (and honored!) for conferences that want me to present, so they pay for my meals, hotel, travel, AND the conference - depending on where and when it takes place, that can often be payment enough!

I did not become a teacher so I could present about ideas in my book. (I still can't believe I can say "my book!")  I am much more comfortable with seventh graders. When I get a good group however, who enjoy hearing of the ideas I bring, I feel over-the-top happy. I feel like I'm in the right place. I feel like I'm making a difference. I had this feeling when I was at ISTE for that one day. Some parts of my message were impactful to some educators. This helps me to keep presenting. I will retire from teaching in ten to fourteen years from now, and I will present when I can until then. I will also still attend edcamps, of course (with my tribe)!

I think we need to give a break to educators who present to other educators.

During the school year, it's amazing that they're taking time away from students to share with adults.
During the summer, it's amazing that they're taking time away from family to share with adults.
If presenters are not teaching anymore, it's most likely because it's just too very difficult to do both.

Thank you to all those in charge of conferences that help educators share their message.
7/2/18 Update... Gary Stager's two cents
     ISTE By the Numbers - 9,000 heart tattoos I never saw... and 23,000 balls? C'mon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Not Grading - Up Against So Much

I felt the pressure - big time - this past school year.
It was much tougher to go without grades this year than in the previous two.
One upset parent was the start of the pressure in October.
Migraines made the pressure worse.
I run into so many walls.
I feel up against so very much.

  - Students prioritize other classes first.
  - We still have to condense all they've learned into one arbitrary letter at the end of each quarter.
  - No matter how much I communicate home to parents, it never seems to be enough.
  - I do not know the percentage of parents who look at the feedback I provide.
  - I do not know the percentage of students who look at the feedback.
  - I do not know if students will remember these grading lessons learned.
  - I do not know if students challenged other teachers' grading practices this year.
  - I do not know if students will challenge future teachers regarding grading practices.
  - The old ways of grading are so ingrained in our students and parents.
  - In my opinion, standards-based grading can't come soon enough to my district.
  - I have written reflections and how to go without grades on my blog, but it will never be perfect.

I'm stressed out about trying this for the fourth year in a row.

So I'll look at what I've learned - again and again...

I DO know...
  - many students stop working in May, no matter the grading practices.
  - some students wait until the last minute to revise (just like when I was using points).
  - some students often see themselves as "A" or "C" students, no matter the proof.
  - video feedback on student writing is powerful - IF students watch it.
  - there have been no requests for extra credit the past few years.
  - some students (and parents) don't understand how arbitrary grading can be.
  - some parents appreciate the feedback instead of the averaging of points.
  - some parents care more about the final grade than the students.
  - I (most likely) keep parents in the loop more than any other teacher on my team.
  - students who want to do well will put forth the effort.
  - the more relevant our assignments, the more buy-in from students.
  - 1:1 conferences are non-negotiable. The more, the better.
  - it did sink in for some students that "It's not about the grade; it's about the learning."

I'm grateful for supportive administration.
I'm grateful for a supportive co-teacher.
I'm grateful for students who say not grading made a difference for them.
I'm grateful for the lessons students teach ME about grades and feedback.
I'm grateful for the 1:1 conferences we had each quarter.

What will I change and what will I keep next school year based on how this past year went?

I am considering going back to points next year,

IF I DID go back to points...
  - There will not be 100 point scales on anything.
  - Students can continue to revise writing.
  - Comprehension checks can be deleted/excused if/when students show progress.
  - Heck - ANYTHING can be deleted/excused if/when students show progress.
  - I will attempt as many standards-based moves as possible.
     This means homework, effort, compliance, neatness and behavior will not be included. Ever. It will probably always make me cringe just thinking about including those!
  - I will continue to have 1:1 conferences - about reading, writing, progress, and goals.
  - I will continue to do my best to make the curriculum relevant.
  - I will continue to share with parents what's wrong with grades along with keeping them updated on our lessons in class.
  - I will continue to be an evangelist of using quality feedback and goal-setting over points/marks.

I am considering an "opt-in" option (to no points), although it may mean different work for me - but less stress. Perhaps I could host an extra parent night to explain the reasons why and to share how it will look with just those parents who are interested. The plan would be that this would help parents and students make the most of the narrative feedback in the online gradebook. I would love to make this meeting mandatory to all who opt in. This idea seems like too much, but maybe it's how I can make it work for certain students.

I will leave the decision open until September, because we never know how our next classes will go, how my outlook can change, and what I can learn from my PLN that will help me make this decision. As always, comments, suggestions, and links in the space provided below are so very valuable and much appreciated! I'm sure there will be more thoughts on this to come as they percolate through my head all summer - such things happen when educators are so passionate about something.

I've got to share this online binder once again... tinyurl.com/FeedbackBinder

July 15th Update - Grading Thoughts Half-Way Through the Summer

My "gradeless" resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey

Saturday, June 9, 2018

2017-2018 Digital Scrapbook

- Survived my first podcast interview with Principal Center Radio!
USM Summer Spark - left right after school got out Monday, hung out with the best Twitter peeps that night in Milwaukee, then gave three different presentations (with book signing with Jason Bretzmann at lunch!), and sped home for the second-ever #ShiftThis chat. I LOVE these people! (That's right - that's Kevin Honeycutt's badge I "won"!)

- Woke up the next day to enjoy breakfast with these lovely ladies - Marialice Curran from Connecticut, and Kristen Mattson from Oswego, IL. These two women are doing WAY more than I am to change education as we know it!
- Survived this podcast from Kelly Croy (The Wired Educator) because he was easy to speak with!

- July has us in Boston - soooo fortunate we were invited back this year to BLC17! I hosted a workshop on Genius Hour, and presented twice, with two book signings as well!

- Met Paul Solarz for dinner. We work in the same district - crazy, huh?
- Gladly joined TJ Parrish on his new podcast - he's a fan of Shift This!

- Taste of Tech (Technically July 31st and August 1st, but I really didn't do much else but vacation in August!!) At #TOT17, I was able to learn a bit of Scratch, meet wonderful educators, and provide a short workshop on Genius Hour. This was hosted at the Illinois Math and Science Academy in Aurora, IL.

- A local school summer reading group invited me to lunch at Emmett's to answer their questions about Shift This! Thank you so very much to Valerie Reils and her group at Big Hollow Middle School. 

- found me at Ditch that Conference! #DitchCon2017 was in the perfect location, had such great sessions, and I laughed and cried. What could be better? My husband NOT hitting that deer!

- EdCamp Lake County - second year, second visit! I won Kristen Mattson's new book - Digital Citzenship in Action AND Trevor Mackenzie's Dive Into Inquiry!
- Participated (by watching) in the #DitchSummit for the second year in a row. Learned that Illinois is now offering online PD credits!!

- Found me near Peoria... my biggest presentation yet. Also the first one that - I believe - truly flopped. I learned so very much from this one when I reflected on what went well and what I need to change for next time.

- I was able to present again at the ICE conference! I facilitated a session on healthy grading practices. I was also able to chat with some of my favorite educators!
I was also honored that two teachers from my own school attended my session on "healthy grading practices, and that teachers left with more questions than answers. Let's keep these conversations going!
- Two of my classes participated in our first Mystery Skype sessions!! We got to connect with Debbie Holman in Wellington, Colorado, and Meghan Deegan in Oak Lawn, IL! This was a great activity for that "extra" time two of my classes had during PARCC testing week. We're ready to do better at the end of the school year. Once I get more practice with this idea, I'll be sharing it at school more so other teachers get involved.
- Held a book study of Shift This with my own district! (Out of my comfort zone!) Although 11 teachers from my own school were signed up, four of them never made the meetings. Made me wonder... Did they not agree with what was in the book? The meetings the group had were productive, and the conversations got us thinking!

- I figured out what was causing my migraines, and the last one was on April 5th!
- Joined a personalized learning panel for ICE members
- Presented a session on healthy grading at iEngage / Midwest & got to chat with Jennifer Casa-Todd before her keynote!

- Happy first birthday, Shift This! Still surreal...
- Two podcast interviews (not out yet)

- Survived my 23rd year of teaching. It was a tough year, but a good one, overall. I loved working closely with my ELA counterpart and also my co-teacher, and I have confidence we'll do even better next year. Even though I'm exhausted, our last day is Monday (teachers only), and I'm heading to a local edcamp on Tuesday.....

Let's never stop learning and sharing!