All posts by Beth Eyres

A Fly on the Wall

     In my previous classroom, I kept a fly swatter in the shape of a flip flop. The students loved it and often volunteered to take out any annoying, flying anything that happened into the classroom. And there was much excitement and cheering and relief at the death of these little creatures. So I know to wish to be a fly on the wall on campus is a potentially dangerous risk. I would be willing to take on the risk, though, because the benefits would be great. Note: This scenario assumes I could then switch back to myself as teacher and not have to live out the rest of my life as a fly.

     I know that "fly on the wall" usually has connotations of wishing someone could observe something secretly, that there would something scandalous gained from listening in on a private conversation or watching some tantalizing situation. I am not using the phrase in that sense at all. Were I to be a fly on a wall, it would be purely to observe and gather an intel of sorts. I would be more like a tiny thief. In fact, if I could, I would choose to be a fly on the wall of every classroom on campus.

     I would take notes on a tiny pad of paper with my tiny mechanical pencil. Additionally, I would listen to every word uttered and then watch the reactions of the students, studying their faces to gather data on how they perceive the information or tasks. I would visit all classrooms regardless of discipline, and I would listen to the voices of hundreds of teachers.

     Ideally, at the conclusion of my life as a fly on the wall in classrooms across campus, I would be able to return to my previous life as a teacher. But I would be a new and improved teacher, a beautiful pastiche of all the best of each teacher on campus.

2 P’s of Inspiration

Sometimes I have to self-start inspiration. These times come near the end of semesters, week four of the semester, and other times based on life circumstances. I remember one point last semester when I busily ran from day to day and desperately needed something to inspire me.

It was late November, and I had not planted my fall/winter/spring flowers. I wondered why, but I couldn't come up with a reason other than being too busy. So one weekend, I headed to my favorite nursery, picked out some flowers--bright red petunias, lobelia, a couple of rose bushes, and dahlias--and potted them all in one day. I felt instantly better. I really did. I repeated this the weekend after in the back yard. Planting and nurturing those plants drew me outside, away from the distractions that don't really feed me to a quiet place where I can think and plan. Even though I was busy with work, I put that work aside to have that meditative time. Those couple of weekends with my hands in the soil (gloves are for suckers) really fed me.

And now those plantings are still bring me some joy. When I sit outside and watch them grow, my mind opens to new ideas. When I periodically get my hands busy, pruning the dead from the living, I prune the old from my mind to make room for new thinking.






Frequent Formative Assessment

     At the end of class one day, one of my students uttered, "I learned that I didn't know what I thought I knew." It was such a perfect statement that I actually scrawled it down on some scrap paper, so I wouldn't forget it. The statement came at the conclusion of a round of Kahoot (thank you, Caryn) on APA formatted in-text citations. Students had already been assigned some readings and a SoftChalk lesson on APA.

     The game was low stakes, and they played on teams--the same teams they are in all semester. They were currently working in the final days before their paper was due, so the game was supposed to be review with a few special circumstances thrown in that I knew would come up in their papers--things like a source within a source, the ampersand in parentheses for two authors, the title of an article with no author.

     The more frequent formative assessment I've been adding in to my courses with intention comes on the heels of having read Make it Stick: The Science Behind Successful Learning by Peter Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. One of the points made in the book is that frequent, low stakes assessment lets students check what they know and don't know prior to a summative assessment. It gives them insight into their learning. This review that I used did exactly that for almost all the students. The student who spoke the phrase which could have been quoted from the book recognized that he thought he knew more than he did. He now had a starting point to work from while editing his paper. He got a chance to make corrections to his knowledge and application prior to the summative assessment.

     I have the sentence taped to my computer now. I want to remember the value that more frequent assessment has for my students. I'm using it as reminder to give my students more opportunities to check their own understanding prior to finding out they "didn't know what [they] thought they knew" on a more significant test or essay.


Two P’s of Inspiration



     Sometimes I have to self-start  inspiration. These moments come at the end of semesters, week four of the semester, and other times of life that are filled with stress. I remember last semester being so busy and looking for something to inspire me. 
sage


     By late November, I had not planted my front, winter flowers yet and wondered why without coming up with a reason. I planted every year--why not this year?  So one weekend I went to the nursery, picked out some flowers--bright red petunias, lobelia, two rose bushes, dahlias--and potted them all in one day. I felt instantly better. I really did. I repeated it the weekend after with the backyard. Planting and nurturing those plants drew me outside, away from the distractions that don't really feed me, to a quiet place where I can think and plan. Even though I was busy with work, I put it all aside to have that meditative time. Those couple of weekends, with my hands in the soil (gloves are for suckers), really fed me.
petunias


     And now those plantings are still bringing me some joy. And when I sit outside and watch them grow, my mind clears and is open to new ideas. When I periodically get my hands busy with pruning the dead from the living, I prune the old from my mind to make room for some new thinking.



Everything Is Assessment

     True/False quiz. Final exam. Furrowed brow. Essay test. Ticket out the door. Socrative. Questions posed to students. Body language. Summary of lesson learned. Poll Everywhere. Reflection. Leaning in to see what a student has written. Conversation. An assignment. In class activities. A math problem. Writing a sentence. Types of questions asked in class. KWL. A team competition. Canvas course analytics. Research papers. Listening to students in groups. Student presentations. Quiz at end of class. Midterm exams. Benchmark tests. Observation. Self assessment. Think pair share. Clearest point, muddiest point. Projects. Conversation right after class. Office hours. Thumbs up, down, or sideways. Ranking from 1-5. Clarifying questions. Socrative discussion. 3-2-1. Conferencing.

Keys of Leadership

Today's leaders have to be more cooperative and transparent than ever before.  How many of us have lived through scandals involving leaders at all levels?  How many of us have lost faith in some form of leadership--local workplace leadership and local, state, and national political leadership?  I'm sure we could all make a list of leaders who have fallen short.  Why do some leaders cause their people to lose faith? Why do some leaders fail?

Looking at successful leaders, it's easy to see why they have remained trustworthy and admirable. Michelle Obama said, "When they go low, we go high."  Leaders go high without letting injustices off the hook.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail" went high, but he still shared his disappointment with fellow clergy and white moderates for their indifference.  Interestingly enough, the second sentence of his letter reads, "Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas." While this might seem like he turned a deaf ear toward critics of his vision, instead he explains that he would not have time to get the "constructive" work done if he responded to those opposed to him and his methods. He listened, but he maintained his vision and continued his work toward justice.

In education today, we have to continue to work toward what is best for our students even in the face of criticism, sometimes disguised in the form of budget cuts or other subtle acts of devaluing education. Educational leaders continue on.  Classroom instructors continue on.  When the noise gets too loud, we focus even more intently on our classroom and students because this is the daily work that really matters--helping students progress toward their dreams and goals.

   Finally, leaders emphasize input and cooperation from a chorus of voices. It's tough to know which words any of us say that may open up a great idea or shut down dialogue--though it's a bit easier to figure that last one out. Being authentic and kind allows all of us to take more risks.  In taking risks, we are able to achieve beyond what was thought possible.

The Three P’s of Inspiration

     Alisa Cooper--If you have not had the opportunity of learning from Alisa, you're missing out.  A true mentor, Alisa has taught me not just directly when I have a question, but also by modeling her own courses which she generously lets me look at and materials she lets me borrow.  She has inspired me to "Alisa-Cooper-my-courses," a phrasing I'm sure she doesn't like.  I feel like my online and hybrid courses get better and better because I have her models to follow.  Her level of achievement pushes me to work harder. Yes, an old dog can learn new tricks, and I'm learning a lot of mine lately from her.

     GCC Students--Every day when I walk into my classrooms, I am reminded that our students are here to improve themselves.  I save many of them in my memory--those who have really impressed me with their grit and courage, those I see a semester or two later who are still truckin' and sometimes telling me about their upcoming graduation.  I see Mary*, a single mother who started out doubtful and questioning her decision to attend school and make a life change, who is now closer than ever to her goal of becoming a nurse.  I see Nick*, a veteran, who is looking to start a second career after gaining the degree he needs.  I see Tammy*, a student who lived in foster care as a child and now wants to advocate for changes to the system. How could I not be inspired?

     Family--Now I know that my family is not at GCC, but they strongly inspire me to be the best employee and teacher I can be when I'm at GCC.  My brother, a strong advocate for public education and an assistant superintendent, struggled in school as a child.  He has since outpaced me in getting two master's degrees and a doctorate degree. He has worked harder than just about anyone I know,
Holly and Andrew
and he inspires me to work hard.  Likewise, my wife continues to challenge herself, taking on new leadership roles and job experiences, stepping into unfamiliar territory. I admire her and learn more from her than any other person. She is apt to take risks and courageous to the point that sometimes I am just in awe.  She left a cushy classroom gig to enter administration and then left her familiar, safe district to lead a high school in a new district.  Her example inspires me to take on challenges that I might otherwise say no to.

     What do they all have in common?  Possibility.  Passion. Permission.  Their work and achievements demonstrate what is possible.  Their passions buoy them to the next achievement.  Unwittingly, they inspire me to say "Yes" to the Universe and its challenges.
   


*Names have been changed.

The Circle of Learning

     As an online and hybrid instructor, I'm always glad to learn something that can help to improve my classes. One of our adjuncts in English, Paul Moore, first made me aware that after embedding YouTube videos in our courses, students can be face with "related" videos that may come from a browsing history. They may then continue to watch videos inside your course in Canvas. I think if any of you have spent some time on YouTube, you understand that the term "related videos" can be interpreted quite broadly. I really don't like the thought of my students watching something "related" inside the Canvas course as if it were supplied by or endorsed by me. And I know how easily I can be distracted by cat videos, so the last thing I want to do is make distraction easier for my students.
   
     Paul emailed me a short video he made explaining how to eliminate the related video by adding in a bit of html code to the embed code that YouTube provides.  I thought this was great to know since I do use a few short videos in my online class, Survey of Gothic Literature.  And I thought I was done. I learned something pretty cool from Paul--who made it really easy to understand--and I could go in and change all the embed code in any YouTube videos I used.
   
     But I wasn't really done. Shortly after hearing from Paul, I noticed that our CTLE posted Paul's video on Twitter. Since I liked it so much the first time, I retweeted it and noted its importance for online instructors.  Done and done. But then I got a reply to my tweet.  Cheryl Colan, from our CTLE, gave me another handy tip on the same issue, even easier than Paul's.  And so just today, I embedded a YouTube video for my students, and I applied the new tip. It was so easy to shut off the related video that shows after a video is done playing.  As Cheryl's tweet says, when you want to embed a video and you select "share," if you click "embed" and then you click "more," you'll see some boxes where you can select/unselect certain features: related videos, player controls, video title and player actions, and enhanced privacy. Easy.

     I have to say I was pretty satisfied by the whole experience involving embedded YouTube videos and related content. The instruction came to me via email, tweets, video, and more tweets. I didn't seek out any of this new learning, but it found me because I make a small effort to be connected and because my colleagues like to share what they know. The synchronicity is sweet.

Professional Development and Reflection

     I have always been a reflective learner and thinker.  When I began teaching, I had a long drive to and from work, and I used that 45 minutes to think on the day and its lessons--my lessons--and how students had learned or become engaged.  So when reflecting became a mandatory part of our teacher portfolio each year, I thought No problem.  This is amazing.  And did I ever reflect.  I liked knowing that the person who evaluated me was getting to see such a valuable piece of teaching that was beyond the reach of a classroom observation.  And I'll just say right now, this is one reason why [NERD ALERT] I like writing my IDP.  I want my colleagues and evaluators to know more about my teaching.  Reflection is a critical part of teaching that takes place all behind the scenes.
   
     And this takes me to professional development.  I've always liked professional development, including the time we played with marbles or had to put on skits and even the time I had one of my most embarrassing moments with all the English teachers in the district present.  Nope, not getting that one out of me.  But the key to professional development, for me anyway, is having time to process all the learning, to really anchor it in with my current knowledge and understanding.  I'm sorry to say I haven't always had that time.  I'm lucky to have been able to work in two districts that so value professional development and really lucky that the second one allows me more time to do the reflecting.
   
     So when I attended Mary and Jennifer's LearnShop on Friday--Developmental Education: Teaching Learning Strategies and Critical Thinking--I was happy to get time to think and reflect during the time there, on the drive home, and over the course of the weekend.  I already applied what I learned to one of my courses.  As my friend Alisa Cooper said, "Learning is my passion...[and]...I want to learn new things."  I will continue to take advantage of as much professional development as I can and, if able, share it with people who want to hear about it.

The Curse of Week Four

     What is it about week four?  I arrived at work bright and early on Monday, eagerly anticipating the day.  But it just felt odd.  Stressful?  Already?  It's only Monday, I thought, determined to figure out why this week had me on edge.

     There were a few pieces of old business hanging over from the previous week: the Write6x6 blog post (ahem), some work coming in from students, some planning I had not finished. And there were thoughts of what I had to do coming up, one item not until April that I was worried about. Then there's that one troublesome student who seems determined not to learn from me all while I try desperately to learn from her in hopes I can actually find a sneaky way to teach her.  Maybe all of this unease is the settling in of the semester for all of us, students included. Yep, the semester really did start. Yep, weekends are now mostly about grading or doing homework.  Maybe now is the time to really work on balance. Yes, today I'll work on balance and get rid of some of this unease.

     This plan might have panned out at some point had Wednesday, the day some refer to as hump day, allowed me to have the time to think about balance. Instead my wife texted me to say we were overdrawn in the checking account (we just got paid last week). "What happened?" I texted. "We're supposed to be rich."

     "I don't know.  I lost track.  Bills.  Students loans.  I bought some clothes."

     Dollar signs appeared before my eyes. I imagined trucks pulling up in front of the house, delivering racks of clothes. How much could someone spend on new outfits?

     This bump in the hump was just a bit of a slow down midweek, but it was not awful, just perplexing.


     Shortly after arriving home, later than usual, I greeted the animals with sweet talk and lots of pets. It was just a few moments later that I realized our cute and sweet Lila was having another bout of diarrhea. It wouldn't be so bad if she weren't long haired and if she didn't curl her tail under herself in the catbox. I grabbed for some paper towels and then grabbed her tail--it's never a good idea to grab a cat's tail. She
tried to run, and she hissed. Her hind claws caught my toes which were only protected by socks, one of which has a hole in the toe I noticed.

     This was a job that needed more than just a dampened half paper towel. I grabbed and wetted a wash cloth and went in again. After much hiding under tables, running, hissing, and clawing--both of us--I got her to a spot where I could really hold down her tail and wash it, and surprisingly she let me do it. I think she was just tired. She's having a week four, too.

     I'm not sure I'm the only one having a week four, but it is certainly my challenge to work out the rough spots this week. I need to find a way to sand down the edges. There are two things that sometimes work for me:

1.  Read a book that has a little depth.  Right now I'm reading When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd. It feels a little heavy for what may just be a strange week, but books like this challenge me to wonder about the big picture and, in doing so, I can generally put into perspective the little things.

2.  Do a brain dump and prioritize.  There's a formula I use for this. (I've had students do this at high stress times of the semester, too. Takes about ten minutes in class, maybe a few more if you talk about it.)   Here are the steps.  Math ahead.
   a.  List everything you can think of that you have to do that you can't stop thinking about.  (Here's where I'd make my list and actually put down that thing I have to do in April.)
   b.  Give everything a number from 1-4 based on when it has to be done (1=in the next day, 2= in a few days, 3=within two weeks, 4=long way off).  Rule?  You may not give everything a 1.  Rule?  Don't put down eating or sleeping.
   c.  Give everything another number from 1-4 based on how serious the consequences are if you don't do it (1=jobs lost, people die, you get the idea; 2=serious, but not life altering; 3=even less serious; 4=who cares?).
   d.  Multiply those two numbers together to give all items a new and final number.
   e.  Rewrite the items from 1-? and then cut the list in half.
   f.  Work on the top half.  Forget about the bottom half for now.

     This might seem obvious to everyone else, but I find it really helps me to focus, and maybe that is the key to conquering the curse of week four--to focus on what really matters and let the little things go.