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.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Half-Way Through This &*%! School Year


I'm shifting once again.

We're sent a letter saying that starting as soon as (could be) tomorrow, we may have students coming without masks. We're provided a Q & maybe A session after school to share our myriad questions about what this might mean - for student attendance, behavior, angst... Not a lot of people asked about staff concerns. We are truly concerned for the students - as is our role. As is our lifestyle, really. We've got concerns for ourselves, but they're always pushed to the side. Ooop! Now it could be next week. Whatever. This isn't anything I can control. I need to focus on what I can control.


Pandemic concerns aside (since that is what others not in our profession have decided)... I wanted to document a shift in my grading practices that happened as a result of our 1:1 end-of-term grading conferences I had with students this past quarter. I collect each student's evidence for reading comprehension and writing skills, we discuss their preparation for class, how much they read in class and out, and their participation, and then students come up with what they think is a fair grade based on our discussion. The first quarter I had some students who said they deserved some sort of "A," even though their comprehension was in the "C" range. I said something along the lines of, "I get it - you tried hard, this is new for you, you didn't know how all this goes... so let's focus on getting your comprehension up by reading more, slowing down, etc." And these students got the A- they suggested - with goals to help them the second quarter.

This (second) quarter that just ended Friday, I had some of the same students do the same thing again. Even with the added writing piece not looking like "A" work (and not revising it when provided the time in class), some were still not reflecting on their skills. After all, they "always" get As and Bs in ELA. I was bummed, to say the least. 

Then I reflected. I have not provided them help to can keep track of their own achievement. Sure, it's all on PowerSchool in the comments section, but do they know how to put it all together? Are any of them doing the math in class every time we have scores but don't let the computer average them? Since averages aren't the best, shouldn't we just go with the last couple? What if they're the same types of scores as the first few? 

I don't have enough scaffolding for the kids who aren't doing "A" work. And I'm not going to put in that effort this year. I thought the year would get better, but we're half-way through and it has not. In fact, I'm going to make things easier on me - and on them. About seven students and I have decided to put their points into the grade book to let the grade book average them - just like all their other teachers do. This way, they can see where they are throughout the quarter and look at the comments on PowerSchool to see how to revise, should they wish to do so.

If I was not concerned about masks, distancing, cleaning, disrespect, hallway behavior, vandalism, earbuds, phones, parents, apathy, students who will only work with certain other students, seating charts that crash and burn every time, then maybe I'd be more invested in making this "no-grades-until the-end-of-the-quarter" thing work for ALL students. This year is NOT that year.

I'm grateful for the students it works for - many seventh graders are reflective enough for me to agree with them and feel comfortable / justified with the grade they chose. I'm grateful my system this year is actually back in place (I skipped it last year) and our documenting is improved from two years ago. And I'm grateful I can go back to "traditional" grading (still more fair than my grades were years ago) for the students that are not reflective - yet.

And I still have some flicker of hope. Our Middle School Standards-Based Grading Committee is planning to once again meet in February. Our last meeting was in February of 2020. Maybe we'll have SBG at the middle school before I retire. Maybe. The last two years, I've learned to not count on anything when it comes to my profession. 

Today I feel I can't turn left, right, go forward or even go backward. I can shift things, however. It's better than last year, right?! For sure. Day by day. Step one: Stay physically healthy. Step two: Take care of your mental health. Step three: Connect with the kids you can. Day by day.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

My first self-help / how-to book of 2022 was SPOT ON.

Parts of it reminded me of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown.

Parts of it reminded me of what I learned from James Clear (during the #DitchSummit with Matt Miller), author of Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.

And it was the introduction that got me started on making tiny changes that have ALREADY had an impact. I started it on January 1st, and I finished it on the 16th. Considering my #OneWord for the year - PRESENT - I've tweaked some of my tiny habits to work really well for me - and that's the entire point. The habits you start - that are linked to your aspirations / big goals - are tiny. Very easy to implement. And something you WANT to do.

Some quotes that I KNOW are true, after only three weeks into the year:

The easier a behavior is to do, the more likely the behavior will become a habit. This applies to habits we consider “good” and “bad.” pg 26

…treat your life as your own personal “change lab” - a place to experiment with the person you want to be. pg 37
When we match ourselves with behaviors that we already want to do, … there is no need to fuss with motivational tricks. pg 61
Taking the first step, no matter how small, can generate a sense of momentum that our brains love. Completing tasks gives us a boost of confidence, and this increases our motivation. pg 93
Using someone’s behavior as a prompt for a healthy response as opposed to a self-defeating one is a great idea that can work for all sorts of situations where we feel powerless. pg 122
…habits can form very quickly, often in just a few days, as long as people have a strong positive emotion connected to the behavior. pg 137 …when something makes you feel successful, you want more. You engage. You make it part of your life. pg 141
…what if we could easily make it more likely that we’d do the behavior again and again? What if we could quietly build on the moments when we’re being our best selves until we are our best selves? pg 153 …you are getting better and better at being nice to yourself. You start looking for opportunities to celebrate yourself instead of berating yourself. pg 155
The type of person you are now can become whatever type of person you want to be. pg 157 

Here's the book:

Saturday, January 1, 2022

My One Word for 2022

In 2013, I caught the #OneWord bug, and I decided my word would be "GRATITUDE." I wrote about it here, and I've kept that word each year since then.

A lot has happened in the last two years, and I've learned a TON. Gratitude has been engrained in my practice of mental health. I don't feel the need to keep this word central in my life, as it IS a daily practice for me, and it is part of what I want to focus on more next year.

In 2022, I want to be more PRESENT. I want to live in each moment. 

I asked my Twitter PLN for suggestions for my one word, and I thought that writing about it would help me process better and choose a word I can work with. I'll start by collecting here what my educator peeps shared:

As I was reading the suggestions, I kept thinking: FOCUS. ATTENTION. LISTEN. OBSERVE. MINDFUL.

I want to do my best every day - even if I mess up. I want to slow down, take deep breaths, not be on a roller coaster of emotions, and be a better listener.  I want to stay off my phone, look at people when they're talking, not have to ask, "What?" because I was multitasking, not snack just because it's something to do... All of this comes into play if I can be present in each moment.

Now that I'm writing about it, thinking more about it, and talking with my husband about it (I love that he asks, "If you don't have one by midnight, will you turn into a pumpkin?"), here are other words I'm considering: Awareness. NOW. HERE. AQUÍ. (Aquí is "here" in Spanish, and it makes me think... it's the KEY to being present...)

Being able to be present in each moment, paying attention by observing details all around me (and what I'm doing) right here and now, aware of what's going on (and what I'm doing or how I'm reacting) right here and now, is truly a GIFT. It's a gift to myself, allowing me to be grateful for all I have and all I can be or do, also allowing me to stay off the emotional roller coaster, and it's a gift to those around me, as they'll be affected in a positive way if I'm at my best right here and now, listening and giving them my full attention.

If I play with that word, "GIFT" as one possible definition of "PRESENT," I can see the gifts in my mind: large and small, decorated, ribbons, bows, tags, and quiet. Thinking of it as an actual box waiting, I can see myself not talking as much, not spouting off on social media, not putting my foot in my mouth, not saying something I might regret later... I can also see it as something to give to others. My time, my focus, my energy - away from distractions such as my phone, towards learning more about them instead.

If I play with the word PRESENT as a verb, I immediately think of presenting in front of groups - like I did before 2020 came crashing down, and like I will starting again in February of 2022. (There's a "however" after this one, though...) However, I want to be sure presenting doesn't mean I'm not listening and learning. What the verb could mean is that I present a better me to those around me and to myself. I present a calmer me, a better friend me, a better listener me, a better teacher me, a better sister and wife me... I'm liking this word more and more.

----------- hours later ----------- in fact, the next day ------------  January 1, 2022

I'm sticking with "PRESENT." 

I'm going to do my best to be in the moment. Right here. Right now. I'm going to do so because it's the key to what I want for myself (and for others) - I hope to be a better listener, regret fewer things I say and do, soak up the good times, view the difficult times as more of an observer, focus better on one thing at a time, take more deep breaths, not have such an emotional ride of extremes, and live with more purpose in 2022.