Sunday, March 15, 2015

Uncommon Techniques for Unique Challenges

We know more challenging students are present in school systems and individual schools with a high concentration of students that come from impoverished homes, minority races as a majority of student population, and difficult backgrounds. However, how do these schools put systems in place and have constructive conversations to pursue the idea that all students are expected to succeed and do better? How does capacity trickle down from leadership to individual educators? How is parent involvement or voice being used? Are community resources being utilized? Is the school aware of home-life issues or events?  Do teachers/ multi-disciplinary teams have tools and strategies to deal with uncommon problems and situations?  All of these questions are important and must be dealt with if we hope that ALL students, including challenging ones succeed. I personally believe these students just need some extra love and creative student-centered support. All kids want to be heard, cared for, and know they are seen as important in someone's eyes. A person must be willing to have patience, listen, counsel, and provide effective support systems to guide and ensure that the student makes progress. It's been a while since my last blog post, however my students come first and we have been very busy at school. I have been very occupied the last 2 weeks trying to make sure some of my 8th graders have a smooth transition to high school. It is very important to me that my students know I care about their success in high school and I am willing to support them in the future. I have worked so hard to get one of my 8th graders to change his behavior and participate in his future high school's football program. I finally got him playing after calling the coach 3 times and offering to pay his fees, get his sports physical done, and I bought 3 fund-raising shirts. I guess I'm trying to send the message that I am willing to do anything to get him connected and be successful( even if that makes me broke). I told him that I want to attend all his games as best I can and want to check-in with him until he graduates. Some students really do need extra love, tough conversations, and support. Without a doubt, I try to support all my students, hold high-expectations, and have all parents as allies in their education. However, some students really do need something extra. Relationships and taking the time to get to know the student, the student's family, and the student's perspective on life is crucial to helping that student reach their academic potential and harnessing their inner best person. Some kids have gone through very traumatic life experiences such as fathers/mothers being deported, witnessing family violence/drug abuse, and living in poverty. All kids need to know they are cared about and know they have a consistent person to depend on when times get difficult. I want all my students to know I am willing to be that person. I have a student who wouldn't work for me for anything. However, after taking some time to reflect and assess the situation, I was determined to really get to know this person. The student now comes early in the morning ( sometimes before I walk in the door) and we share breakfast and talk about life or school. I know some people might think offering used Jordans might be too much of a reward, but I urge them to think about what their life was like. Not all kids have the same life experience. Some kids have nothing to look forward to at home, at school, or outside of both. I wanted this student to realize that life has wonderful opportunities and he can access these rewards by doing good in school and maintaing a positive behavior. So far, I am happy and satisfied with his overall progress. I know I have to use a variety of techniques to get buy-in from students. I differentiate supports like instruction with my students.  Some students play basketball after doing well and others just draw and use their artistic abilities to calm them down for 10 minutes. Each child has an unique interest and personality. We as educators must recognize these personal characteristics and utilize them to harness and motivate the students. After all, we can't instruct and engage in rigorous material without the student willing to participate and be authentically engaged. Also, we are going through PARCC right now. These tests are college and career ready ( obviously because they are some of the most difficult tests I have ever seen for public schools). My students are in special education, and therefore people already know that this test is going to be an extreme challenge for them. I tried my best as a first year teacher to prepare them, and knowing that most of them are severely below grade level. I knew it was going to be a very tough mountain to climb and overcome. However, I do not accept defeat. I am proud of my students overall, because 90% of them put 110% effort into the tests and tried their best. I only ask my students to do their very best and use the resources and strategies they learned/have. I already have a lot of new ideas to make next year even better! I want my students to work on computers more often and save all work to a classroom drive where I can see their work/add academically focused descriptive feedback. Additionally, I want to cheer them on to do even better and get them to respectfully critique each other's work! My students need more time and involvement with computers and use their strategies on rigorous assignments that add to their preparation and exposure to PARCC like questions/simulations. Additionally, if students actually showed evidence of building their strategy toolbox and using them all comprehensively, then they would internalize it and use it on the next test. I don't feel like I would be teaching to the test, because I want to make sure all my lessons are culturally relevant and connect to my student's interests. Finally, I'd like to add on a high note that I am proud of my middle school team. We collaborate a lot and it is so easy to communicate with my fellow co-teachers. Although, I think we could have more cohesiveness and cross-curriculum alignment, I am proud that we really do talk everyday about what is happening in our classrooms and share ideas. Next year, we are already preparing to ensure we have similar strategies/documents on our walls/with our students to make sure our students use them effectively in a variety of settings/ways. Here is to another week of testing and another chance to build relationships/set up our students for success!

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