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Monthly Archives: July 2012
We are pleased to announce the first kick-off of our new (northern hemisphere) school year opportunities for 2012-13. Professional development – Are you looking for something different this y…
I came across a secret note in my classroom desk yesterday from a student. She must have hidden it there at some point. It was the typical style note you see in 5th grade, folded, stapled shut and written in red pen. On the front it said:
Do Not Open Until May 2018!
Well, I did what any self-respecting adult would do; I opened it immediately. It had one simple line: Dear Mrs. Roman. Thank you. You have truly changed my life. This got me thinking. Don’t we all change the lives of everyone we encounter? I can look back at seemingly insignificant interactions with people who totally changed the course of my life, sometimes in just a few words. “You’ll never go back to college. Once someone quits, they don’t go back,” from someone I only saw once when I was 19 years old in a group of us eating pizza at Joe’s Italian Foods in South Pasadena. I had quit school at St. Thomas University in St. Paul and moved to Los Angeles, every parent’s nightmare. Another time I recall was in a train station leaving on a trip with my then three-year-old daughter. I was gripping her tiny hand and we were scurrying along in my usual hurried way when an older, gray-haired woman came up to me and kindly said, “That is an awfully quick pace for those little legs,” as she looked down and smiled at my daughter. As I sat on the 8-hour train ride, my anger at her rudeness in a matter that was none of her business melted away as I sat looking out the window at the blur of passing phone poles.
I also recall some very specific interactions and relationships that I realized at the moment would most certainly change my life.
Scanning through interactions with people in my life that I can recall, some positive, some negative, most neutral, and surely millions gone from memory forever, I get the feeling that each one of those exchanges had the potential to impact my life or someone else’s in some way. Is it really important that we recognize each interaction that affects us or each time we have affected people we encounter? There are thousands of times this kind of thing happens in our weaving in and out of each other’s lives. Was it crucial that the guy in Joe’s know that he angered me enough to propel me back into college? And was it important that the woman in the train station realize that her comment pushed me to shift my way of being in the world in such a way that the quality of not only my life, but also the lives of my children, was significantly improved? It would be nice to know those things, but in most cases we wont. That thought sure makes me see the every day in a different light.
Cozy sitting in my favorite chair in my pajamas with a cup of coffee, my laptop, and my favorite fluffy down comforter, I settle in, along with teachers from around the world, to attend the launch of The Global Classroom 2011, a network of over 90 teachers worldwide committed to global collaborative education. http://globalclassroom2011-12.wikispaces.com. I stopped to question, “How did I get here?”
It started about 4 or 5 years ago after having a few conversations with our then new school principal, Andy Barrett (Twitter @andybarrett2000). We discovered a common interest: the nature of cultural understanding. We both came about it from different angles, but in its essence, it was the same. It took us many conversations to even understand our questions about it, and many more to try to figure out how to attempt a direction to pursue it from an elementary school perspective. We did not always agree or even understand each other, but our passion remained parallel. Andy decided to make a school improvement goal of it, and our formal quest had begun. A team of great teachers in our school joined his effort as the Global Perspectives team. This turned out to be a much bigger concept than our group had anticipated. As we were trying to hone in on what exactly we were trying to achieve and how we were going to do it, I continued on my own quest.
I was suddenly propelled forward with an email to our group. It said something like, “Hey gang, this looks cool. Let me know if you’re interested.” It was a link to the Flat Classroom Project developed by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay (Twitter @coolcatteacher and @julielindsay). These women are true pioneers in the field. I joined A Week in the Life project,http://aweekinthelife.flatclassroomproject.org and off I went on the rich and diverse path of global collaborative education. This project, and the group of world-class teachers I worked with, sent me on a higher and more rigorous path.
Another link Andy sent the group was to www.iEARN.org (International Education and Resource Network). I subsequently received a scholarship to attend their annual conference in Taiwan this past July. (See my prior tumblr posts http://tiny.cc/74a50, http://tiny.cc/74a50, http://tiny.cc/8bqfk,http://tiny.cc/ce71t ) This is another incredible organization. I was able to meet face to face with teachers from around the globe in an amazing effort to connect and form bonds of professional commitment to our students.
I hear teachers say, “How can we fit that in? We have way too much to do already!” This is not an additional thing to fit in. It is a way to teach. Just like any teaching strategy. Using the state standards and the school curriculum, teachers choose projects that align with their content. Excellent teachers are continually looking for richer ways to teach content.
Let me see if I can outline a few things I have taken from this past year:
· I have had the opportunity to work with some of the absolute best teachers in the world.
· I have had to step up to keep up with these teachers, and it brings out the excellence in all of us.
· Challenging ourselves as a group is like climbing a mountain together. We all feel empowered, invincible, humbled, and honored, and it makes us all stronger. We are tethered together and are committed to success for all.
· The world is changing and anyone that is responsible for children can help them by giving them tools to work in a global society.
· There is no going back. Technology is here, rapidly changing, and crucial in our lives. We can use it to our advantage, and we can teach our kids how to use it responsibly.
· Collaboration, as opposed to competition, is the skill of the future. Let’s teach our kids this skill as we live as examples with the other professionals we work with.
· In any field, pushing ourselves to learn and grow wherever our passions lie brings out the beauty and power in each one of us, and that is so radiant it transforms the people around us.
I will forever be grateful to my friend and colleague Andy Barrett for our synergistic conversations. Anyone that knows him understood that he would not stay in that position forever. He is now the Director of Curriculum and Instruction in CUSD 304. I miss our conversations, but I am hopeful that we will find something to work on together in the future. In the meanwhile, my quest continues both with our Global Perspectives team and with my fellow travelers on the wireless network. Learning and growing with the some of the most powerful men and women pioneers in education is humbling and exhilarating and a true honor I am grateful for.
You know that look you see on someone’s face when they witness something astonishing that they have never seen before, and their mind is trying to make sense of it while they are filled with awe? That totally unguarded flash of amazement? We hardly see that look anymore. We live in a time when if we haven’t done it ourselves, we have seen it on TV or youtube or something. Well, I had an opportunity to witness that look the other night, and every time I think of it my eyes start tearing up. Some kids in my school have been working with classes in other countries on a project. They have had a bit of interaction via something similar to email, but that’s it. One of the teachers in Taiwan and I arranged a Skype video meeting one night last week. The kids all arrived and sat in front of the large projector screen. When I called Wen Ya elementary school in Chia Yi City and the life-size video of their class came into the room at Mill Creek elementary school in Geneva, Illinois… and there we were face to face…that first second when the picture came into the room… I saw that look. Wow. That was the coolest thing I’ve seen in a long time.
Ahhhh…elementary school student council. My colleague and I have done it a variety of ways over the years, but in an effort to provide meaningful, hands-on experiences for each student, we have opted to try to find organizations that will allow kids to actually do something rather than just donate something to put in a collection box at school. This is not an easy thing to find. We have located a couple: Share your Soles and Feed My Starving Children (FMSC).
Today was our trip to FMSC with 73 third and forth graders and 22 of their parents. This was an undertaking. First, we needed a 1:3 adult/child ratio. We managed to get the adults needed, but just barely. We figured out the bus transportation, all the permission slips and arrangements for pick-up and day care, and medication, and rosters, and emergency information…we were finally all set. And then the emails for chaperone cancellations started coming in…ten in all within the 24 hours prior to departure.
In the midst of the chaos, I emailed my colleague and suggested that maybe we should hand over the student council reigns to someone else next year. We both agreed that we were exhausted and not up for the loud bus ride. I somehow ended up in the 3rd row from the back, and for anyone who remembers riding on a school bus, the back of the bus is reserved for the extra rambunctious, chanting, hat-throwing crowd.
So we got there and everyone got situated, and we started working. My colleague and I were working in the back making and taping boxes. At one point, we stopped and looked out into the area where they were packing the food. It was amazing. Every single kid was engaged and doing his or her job…not just doing it, but immersed it in. The music was turned up and a few people were singing…they were cooperating and making it happen. Parents were smiling, and it was an amazing scene.
In the end, we worked together to do something meaningful for people we would never meet, and we left with a feeling of being part of something bigger…the human race. We felt connected to people we never thought about before. We, people who never have to go without, could now connect with these families that went hungry. We were one in the same…the part that received food to eat and the part that benefited from their graciousness in allowing us to walk with them for that short time as fellow human beings.
On the bus ride home, my colleague and I discussed how we were going to add an additional grade level next year.
Image from: FMSC Meals Helping Japan Disaster Survivors pitchengine.com
A recent summer adventure included a trip to Eastern Europe with two teacher friends. Since we were going to be only a few hours from a school we’ve worked with collaboratively in the iEARN Holiday Card Project, I arranged a visit with Maja Kovacic of the POS Socka Elementary in Slovenia, a small village school of 31 students. My father’s family was from Slovenia, so I was especially excited about visiting the country for the first time.
The day of our school visit started with hot and sunny weather, windy mountain roads, signs in Slovenian and a GPS that didn’t recognize any streets. After sporadic laughing at the crazy situation, the back and forth and round and round in turn abouts, a dead-end in a farmer’s yard, help from friendly people who didn’t speak much English, and a rescue from Maja at a pizza castle (yes, a castle turned into a pizza restaurant), we were headed to the school.
By now we were late, so the students were all waiting for us. They started right in singing a song in English and then launched into a lively Slovenian Dance, complete with authentic costumes and an accordion player. I was so over taken by emotion that I was fighting back tears during the whole thing. I’m not sure if it was the amazing opportunity to meet with these wonderful teachers and students half a world away, or if it was the fact that my family’s roots were in this absolutely beautiful country, but that was a moment that I will never forget.
The teacher’s lounge was set up for us with freshly baked potica, a bread my grandmother made often. Touring their cozy and welcoming school, and meeting the gracious staff and students made me fully realize the value of our interactions in the iEARN project. The festive holiday cards sent to us so carefully crafted with glitter and pine trees were made by the hands of these smiling students in front of us. Here they were in a small school on a Slovenian hillside, and there we were in a suburban town near Chicago, IL, now face to face as friends, colleagues, and work partners…talking about teacher’s unions, budget cuts, class size and curriculum. So similar, yet so much to offer each other in view-point and experience.
What an amazing opportunity for sure.
In the past few years, my classes and I have been on a journey across the globe using the internet. We have interacted and collaborated with classrooms across the world by working with excellent global education organizations such as Flat Classroom™, iEARN, and Globalclassroom. We have emailed, Skyped, snail-mailed, and used so many online Web 2.0 tools I have lost count.
As a parent, teacher and member of the human race, I think that being comfortable in a global arena is not only the key to the economic success of our country, but the key to any kind of stability in our world. The world we live in now is much smaller with technology, and will continue to get smaller. There is so much misunderstanding, fear and distrust between nations, religions, races, and cultures. I experience that separation dissolve when human beings interact on a personal level as students, parents, teachers, sons, daughters, husbands, wives…as just people.
On a recent trip out of the country, I appreciated the fact that many people around the world are making an effort to learn English, but it also made me sad for the missed opportunity we as English speakers have. As a person who speaks Spanish as a second language, and not perfectly even after 20 years, I know the difficulties I can have trying to convey a message or to conjugate a verb properly, and just how frustrating and exhausting it can be to communicate.
To have that experience makes me more understanding and tolerant of those trying to learn and speak English. Struggling with another language goes a long way in building a bridge between what I know and what I am unfamiliar/uncomfortable with. It gives me a depth of understanding that not many others things do. It is impossible for me to convey that to my students as we work with children from other countries that are attempting to speak English.
As our country works to align our schools’ curriculums with the new Common Coree Standards adopted by 45 of the states in the US, I believe that it would go a long way toward global stability, economic success, and overall tolerance if we also considered the importance of teaching a second language throughout all of the school years, as it is apparent that others countries are doing.
Graphic from: American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.