Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Under-trained and unqualified: Teacher as Therapist

Today has been one of those days, and it's only third hour.

It started with one student we'll call Sara.  Sara's best friend died this summer in a tragic car crash, with her in the car.  She's been having a rough time dealing with it, but has been doing as well as a senior can do.  She's writing letters to him in a journal, she's talking about the "good times" with friends and family.  Yesterday, though, she experienced the anger stage (if you are unfamiliar with the K├╝bler-Ross stages of Death and Dying, they are here).  She is a self-proclaimed positive person and is not quick to anger...and yet, there she was.  How do I know this, you ask?  Because I am a teacher, so therefore I am also a psychological counselor.

The next hour, a student comes in crying. We'll call her Rose.  Rose is upset because she was just diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and she is scared of what that means. She has been told she needs psychotherapy - which makes her feel like she's crazy (think: psycho).  So is she really crazy? Is she the only one? She looks up to me for an answer.

I am under-trained and unqualified to be a therapist.  And yet, here I am. I assume that you are here with me, too.  And the funny thing is that I am more trained than the average teacher, as I have a degree in psychology.  All teachers are therapists. We get one or two classes in adolescent (or child) psych, and then we are expected to solve ALL OF THE PROBLEMS.  This is not practical. It is not fair. But it is.  And as with anything, it is what it is, but it will be what you make it.

So, what can you do?

Well, I'm no expert, but based on my studies of psychology and my ten years of experience as a teacher, here's what I know:

1. Listen
Sometimes, a student just wants to be heard. They don't want advice, they just want to know that you care.  This is the easiest - and at the same time, the most difficult - thing that you can do for a student.  My students know that my door is always open. They are welcome to talk any time.

2. Give advice only when asked. And even then, very carefully.
Sometimes a student does want advice. Be careful here. It's one thing if they ask you about a college, but it's another if they ask you about depression. Have the numbers on hand for the depression hotline (1-800-273-TALK). Have them make promises to you (Promise me you'll be in class tomorrow - I have something really important to tell you.), and then talk to a school counselor/psychologist.

3. Follow the student's lead:
If the student wants to cry, let them. Cry with them if you are like me. :)  If they want to just sit quietly, let them.  I know that different teachers have different policies on hugging a student - and for good reason.  Personally, I am never where other people can't see me, and I only hug a student if they hug first.  I would probably not hug a boy unless it was a special circumstance (death of a parent, graduation, etc), but that's just me.  You know what you are comfortable with and what you aren't.

4. Direct them to the appropriate people, if necessary.
If they need to talk to a counselor, direct them there.  Children have access to free psychotherapy in most states - so direct them to a therapist if necessary.  Have them call the hotline.  Whatever they need - make sure you have a directory of numbers somewhere accessible.

This is probably the most important.  Make sure your students know that you are there for them whenever.  My students know that they can talk to me any time during the school day, and that I answer email rapidly after school.   I am available all the time to them.  Beyond that, though, be wholly present when the student is talking to you. I view it as an incredible privilege every time a student confides in me.  I know which teachers I would have shared things with when I was in high school and how highly I thought of them. If a student chooses you, it's because you mean a great deal to that student.  It is an honor to hear whatever it is that they have to say.  So, don't sigh loudly. Don't check your email. Don't look at your phone. Don't check out. Be wholly present with that student.  Make sure that they know that for the amount of time that they are with you, that they are the most important person in the world to you.  Keep in mind that you may be the ONLY adult that they believe feels that way about them.

So...what did I miss?  What is necessary to counsel students?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Power of the Network....or yelling into the void?

When I first joined Twitter, it was a fledgling enterprise.  I joined in May of 2007, just a little over a year after the launch of the site.  It was just starting to get recognition in the ed tech community.

And it was a powerful thing.

I would do presentations and ask for a shout out from my Twitter Network, and boy would they come through for me!  They would immediately start saying "hi" from wherever they were located.  It amazed the educators for whom I was presenting and really showed the usefulness of such a device.

More than that, though, if I had a question, I knew that I could go to my network and have an answer - or a collection of answers - in a matter of minutes.

Things have changed since then.  Now there are hashtags and lists.  People that used to follow me are now followed by thousands.  I think it's amazing how fast it has grown. I can't wait to see what the next big thing will be.


There's almost too much information out there now. I know that I can't keep up with all of the tweets. I certainly don't read them all. Who could?  And thus is the problem.  Today, I was asked to make a dream list of things I would want in my classroom. If money was no object, what technology would I get?  Now, I've worked in education long enough that I have made many of those lists and never seen anything.  But, with what little hope I have left, I am determined to make a comprehensive list just in case I can get even one thing.

But what to get?  1:1 technology, obviously. An interactive whiteboard would be nice. Good headsets so that I don't hear the kids recording and listening to their dialogues.  But what else?

So I turned to my network. My trust PLN will certainly help me, right?

Not one response. I even posted it a few times, just in case it was getting lost in the shuffle.  Nothing.

It reminds me of a song from a marginalized band from the 90's, Burlap to Cashmere:
Whoa....is there anybody out there?
Does anybody care?
Are the people really there?
Whoa....is there anybody seeking?
Does anybody see?
Or are they deaf and dumb like me?
Is there anyone out there anymore?  When the Twitterverse was young, people used it as a means for a brief conversation. A way to get quick answers or to end up in discussions.  But now....do we just use it as a platform to tell other people what we think?

I've been doing a lot of soul searching since my mom passed, and I've come to realize that I do far too much talking. I'm working on being a better listener - both as a teacher and as a person.  I absolutely still voice my opinion, but I try to listen to others before saying anything.  And I am learning so much.

The power of the network was one of the most awe-inspiring things I've ever seen. But now?  I wonder if it isn't just down to a few select people who are "special" enough to be heard.

So I urge you - retweet things (use the hashtag #celebratewisdom), engage in conversations. We are not alone. We are not in this alone. We are not competing for attention. Everyone - no matter how few followers they have - should feel like they are a part of the conversation and that people are there for them to answer questions, too. Imagine on how much wisdom we could be missing out on. Our PLNs don't seem to be what they used to.  How can we get them back?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Flop in the Classroom: Using Google Classroom to Flip a Lesson

As I said in a previous post, I flipped my AP Psych class last year, to tremendous success (94% pass rate on the AP test, anyone?).  Not to toot my own horn, but...you know...TOOOOT.  :)

I decided to try to do more flipped assignments and units in my intro to psych class.  I had great plans to start this day one - and then my mom passed away.  The best laid plans, right?  So last week, I was beginning to get my feet under me again, and I decided to do a split lesson. They had me for the first half of the hour, and the second half of the hour they were required to go online for the rest of the lesson. They didn't have to finish the lesson that hour, but they had only until midnight that night to submit it.  This is very rapid for an online assignment for me, as I often will try to give 2-3 nights to work on something online, since they may not have access at home.  This time, instead of using my Google site to submit the assignment, I tried it on Google Classroom.

Talk about a flop.

I imported students the night before. Super easy. Kind of a pain, but it's a one-time thing, so no big deal.  I put the assignment up.  Awesome.  Honestly, I was so excited to give out this assignment. It looked awesome.

Only 17 of my 28 students that hour could figure out how to submit the assignment.  One submitted it as a separate post in the stream. (There is currently no way to turn off the students' ability to post in the stream, by the way.)  Two submitted it (cut and pasted) in the comments of the assignment itself (also no way to turn off comments).  One handed me a paper copy. One emailed it to me.  Several didn't bother doing it for one reason or another.  What a mess!

I thought it would be intuitive.  Read the assignment, then hit the big blue "turn it in" button.  It is NOT intuitive to all students.  Do take the time to go over how to submit an assignment.  For this, you will need to have a student log in so that you can project what they see.  As of right now, teachers can't see what it looks like from the student perspective. I hope this will change soon.

Grading-wise, I love it.  All of the papers in one place.  didn't get 1700 emails (slight exaggeration) as the students shared their assignments with me.  I could even grade it right there and submit with comments to the student, so the student is alerted to when I have graded it.  Of course, then I have to submit grades into my grading program...but that's a different issue.

I think that Google Classroom will be good. I think it will be the go-to for most teachers. I'm really excited about it. I'm just also reminded what "beta" means - and that it will not be as easy for others as it is for me.

So this one didn't work out.  Should I just give up?  Of course not.  I will be trying again. And again. Until I get it right. By covering basics out of class, I have time for the application piece.  Google already knows facts. The kids need to know what to do with them - and flipping the classroom allows me time to do that.  So I will keep on keeping on.

What about you?  What happened to you when you tried to flip the classroom? What about your thoughts on Google Classroom?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

On flipping the classroom, flipping out, and flipping in general.

So much has changed in the last few years...where to begin...

On a personal level, I have divorced and remarried since I last posted here. I have 2 more children than I did. I have taught at 5 schools simultaneously at which I taught 5 different preps. I finally teach an AP class.  My mother has passed away, and my father is now a permanent, daily fixture in my family.  So much change. So much stress.

And yet.

I am throwing myself into my work and am remembering how much I really love what I do. I love having students appreciate what we do for them. I love to watch them learn. I love to see former students who excitedly tell me what they're going into - and how what I did, in some small way, encouraged them to do it.  I love making a difference.

I, like other teachers, am being asked to do more with less.  I am teaching 2-3 classes simultaneously for the bulk of my day.  I can't do what I used to and expect to be successful. I am remaking my classroom.  Last year, I flipped my AP psych class to grand results.  Of the 17 students that took the AP exam in May, 16 of them passed the exam.  Of those 16, 8 received 3's, 4 received 4's, and 4 received 5's.  It was a grand success.  While I am tweaking my AP program, I will leave it as a flipped class.

Now it's time to revamp intro.  I want my intro to psych class to be fun and innovative.  I'm coming up short on activity ideas, however.  I want to make it different from AP.

So...what do you do?  How did you flip your classroom?  What classroom activities have been successful for you?

It's good to be back.