It is a clichè, but I am a creature of habit. Just the other day my kids asked me to help tune up their bikes. I had just finished my day teaching online and was thinking about making dinner. Fixing bikes wasn’t on my list of things to do during that 2 hour time period. I immediately felt anxious about having to do another thing in a small window of time. I love my kids and want to help them exercise and have fun but at the time it was too much. I pushed my kids off until Saturday.

I feel guilt pushing my kids off to another day.

Schedules can feel restricting, like something that ties us down. But, I like to think of schedules like they’re the string that holds a kite up in the air. Kids need guidance and security no matter how much they fight it. Like the wind pushing the kite higher and higher, kids feel secure when they know what is coming up and what is expected of them.

Schedules are more important now especially since kids don’t have the structure of going to school. It isn’t summertime. Kids still have responsibilities with school and maybe even work. If a schedule doesn’t exist for them and parents aren’t helping keep kids on track, kids are less likely to get their schoolwork done and waste the day playing videogames or watching videos.

How to

It’s the parent’s responsibility to help their kids get things done. Parents know what their kids need, and what their weaknesses are when it comes to working.

  1. Sit down with your child and plan the week. Write it out. Print it off. Make it accessible.
  2. Be specific. Don’t just write in a window for homework. Create time slots for individual classwork.
  3. Make time for fun things too.
  4. Check with your kids each morning. Make sure that they have what they need for their work.
  5. Be aware of what is happening. You have your work to do, but watch what they’re doing.
  6. End the day with a reflection. How did the day go? What work got done? What work still needs more time?
  7. Hold them accountable. Set expectations with rewards and consequences. They are more capable than we often give them credit for. If you follow through with rewards and punishments they will feel the weight of getting things done daily and not putting things off.

Most students aren’t self-motivated. They need guidance on how to make things happen. They need someone to help them get started.

It is a strange time

These experiences will help define who they are and what they are capable of. Our kids and students are learning what it takes to be flexible, adjust to different circumstances, make things happen, and perhaps most important, they are learning how to communicate with people about what is expected.

I know it is difficult to manage your job, and your kid, or kids’ schoolwork. That’s why scheduling is so important. The more practice they get, the more you can leave them to do what they need to.

You can do this. Your kids can do this. We are all working for the same results. We want to see our students, your kids make good decisions, learn from their mistakes, and be successful and resilient in the future.

Hang in there!

-Dave

 

I spent one whole day of my Spring Break 2020 in my yard. I know I have a lot to learn when it comes to taking care of my grass, trees, and garden. It’s not perfect but I enjoy the process. I like making things look nice. There is something about preparing, planning, planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting in your own yard. It takes work, research, and action, and the result can be amazing. One of my favorite rewards for all of this work is pickling cucumbers.

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Pickling cucumbers are different from slicing cucumbers.

I also enjoy mowing the lawn. For me, it is a mindless task that provides me time to think or listen to an audiobook or podcast. The end product is almost always awesome too! It looks so great after it is freshly cut. However, my lawn is far from perfect. I know I have patches of orchard grass and crabgrass. It is frustrating because these different types of grass grow at different rates. The yard gets ugly really quickly. I try to remember to fertilize, pull noxious weeds, and not use too much water. It is a lot of work throughout the year. It’s a big task, mostly because of how much lawn I have.

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First mow of 2020.

Procrastination

Let’s get to the procrastination part. I have seen some pretty epic lawns in the neighborhoods that I have lived in. There are people who take a significant part of their week to fertilize, spot water, and do other things to grow a uniform, level, green lawn. If I were to expect that kind of work from myself the first summer that I moved into a new house I would be very overwhelmed. I wouldn’t know where to start. I would worry about things that I don’t know how to do. I would be afraid of making the lawn worse.

Students People are the same way. If we were in my high school English class, and I want students to write an argument essay, I will have a percentage of students not start. They aren’t hesitant because they don’t know how to write. They aren’t hesitant because they don’t have an opinion about the topic. They are hesitant to start because they are afraid of forgetting important parts. Maybe they aren’t confident with providing textual evidence. Maybe they don’t know how to add transition phrases. They don’t feel like they have mastered the process.

This is where students and others freeze. They see others being successful. They see other students writing with no hesitation, no problem. They see beautiful green lawns from a distance. They assume that if they can’t produce perfectly right off, they shouldn’t even try. For them, it isn’t worth the stress and thinking that is expected. Their thinking produces anxiety and they freeze.

My lawn has issues. There are bald patches because high points are cut too close by my mower blade. There are dying patches because of rodents. I can’t stop taking care of my lawn because of those deterrents. I need to focus on what is possible. My lawn will not get better if I hesitate. It needs to be mowed. It needs to be watered and fed. I can take baby steps and see progress.

Imperfect Action

I was in a virtual meeting the other day with a professional speakers group in the mountain west. The focus of the meeting was to address the issue of the global pandemic and what we can do to share our messages when we can’t present in public. One of the panelists, Tiffany Peterson, talked about imperfect action.

Imperfect action is starting without knowing how things are going to turn out. It is believing that you can achieve your end result without knowing exactly how it will happen.

In so many ways, whether participating in personal hobbies, new business ventures, pursuing more education or participating in online distance education like students today, people are hesitant to take action.

The thing is, it doesn’t have to be perfect action. We learn by doing. We make corrections as we learn.  We adjust our process, collect more information, try new strategies, talk to people, all in hope of a better end product.

Imperfect action is better than no action. Starting with an idea is better than just sitting there. Complaining doesn’t do anything for anyone.

Identify the baby steps that you are capable of doing. Start somewhere. Don’t get overwhelmed by the size of the project. Pick something that you can do today.

Start today and keep trying

-Dave

What is education, really? The system that we use today is based on the Classical Education format called Trivium. There are many resources online that can illustrate what each stage of this Classical system looks like. Basically, Classical Education has three phases: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

Are your kids’ teachers expecting them to do assignments that they are capable of doing? I’m not saying you should challenge your kids’ teachers, just be aware of what your kids are generally capable of, and what they are trying to do in their schoolwork.

Homeschool is a totally different process with many different theories to back up every parent who chooses to teach their kids at home. The end goal, I think, is the same. Parents and teachers want to see their students be successful in whatever it is that they choose to do. The processes are different, but only in some ways.

Education is to help each of us learn how we learn, and that we can.

Grammar

Little kids learn massive amounts of information when they are young. Elementary, or Grammar school is all about memorizing letters, words, processes, steps in math, etc. Reading skills grow intensely here. Learning is generally interesting and fun. Kids love to discover new ideas and tell family members all about it. This is where some students who struggle fall behind. If they miss a skill because of illness, it is very difficult to catch up.

I don’t understand how teachers manage to continue this type of teaching remotely. Kids need so much in-person instruction.

On the other hand, homeschooling this age group is totally manageable. What do students need to learn? First of all, students need to be comfortable with curiosity. Parents and teachers should be careful to foster research when their students have questions. Everything should be discoverable. Coach kids through internet research. Guide them to reputable sources. Provide them with equal opportunities to read or watch video about what they are interested in.

Don’t get confused and try to mix the two. Maintain whatever the teacher has assigned. Keep up the best you can. If you get behind, don’t worry. Help your student in other ways. Read with them. Watch fascinating science videos with them. Have interesting conversations about things that they are wondering about. Remember, they are discovering new things every day. They find things fascinating that you have known for a very long time.

Logic

Pre-teen and teenage students are in this category of taking the things that they learned in the Grammar phase and verifying whether they are true or important. They don’t consciously ask questions, but they are validating and discarding ideas every day. These students are thinking about how what they have learned applies to them as a person of a larger societal group.

They also start to worry about whether other people their age think the same way. They are just as worried about their friends’ opinions, as they are about the rules of the world around them. They function on the if/then process. They start to see consequences and benefits to behaviors and actions. Some students obsess over what is logically correct and worry about everyone else following those rules. The best example I can think of is the student who is in charge of keeping the whole class “in line” going to lunch.

These kids are difficult to wrangle during class at school. When I taught 7th and 8th-grade students, they behaved in what seemed like chaotic ways. I think that observation is valid because they had so many different stimuli to respond to. In a single class, students could be more manageable. They understand the process of being on task and being rewarded. They understand how class just before lunch or after lunch changes their behavior.

They are the most likely student to be confused and frustrated during a switch from school at school, to school at home. They know their teacher has the skill to direct them in class. They are a lot less likely to trust parents when it comes to knowledge and assignments.

Rhetoric

High school and college students are much more manageable in the adjustment from school at school to school at home. They might not be organized enough to stay on top of assignments, but if they have been to school enough to know the teacher’s expectations and systems, and if the teacher maintains those systems, the students should be okay.

According to the Classical Trivium system, Rhetoric is the phase when students have the ability to take knowledge from the Grammar stage, and experience from the Logic phase and put them together and run them in the background while they begin abstract thinking. This is the big idea and imagination phase. This is the phase that I enjoy teaching in the most. They start to see that questions or controversies about communism (or any controversial ideology) are intricate and never black or white, right or wrong. Students can have ideas but have a difficult time trying to explain them. I enjoy talking them through their thought process. I love asking questions to see what they really mean. This is so much easier to do through the internet.

Assignments are reasonably easier too. If I have done my job through the beginning of the year, students already know what I expect and how to do the work. I can assign a research paper, provide guidelines for what sources will be appropriate, and which ones won’t work. I can have a group conversation where students can help answer questions because they have already been in a similar situation, or had a similar experience with a different assignment.

What makes a student “career or college ready”?

Little kids need exposure to a vast amount of information. There is so much out there that helps a student understand the world, and life, and people. Curiosity is the most important skill to nurture and grow. Reading and writing are important too. Can you really be successfully curious without the ability to read and write well?

Hopefully, our kids can make it through the Logic, pre-teen, and teen phase with as little emotional damage as possible. Fingers crossed!

By the time students are in the Rhetoric stage, they are learning, or have learned how to get things done. They are also learning responsibility. This is the toughest place to parent. We want our kids to be successful, and we don’t want to see them make mistakes or fail.

Success only comes through failure.

If we really want our students to learn and not permanently mess up, high school is the place to do it. They need to know what they are capable of. They need to see that they can plan their own day, and make it happen. If they miss a deadline, they need to deal with the consequences. If they can fix it, they should fix it, not you. They can do it. We just don’t let them.

I often joke with my students who want assignments to be easier, or for me to give them easy answers instead of them looking it up. I tell them, “I would love to go to college again. I’ll be by your side to answer your questions and do your work, for $50 an hour.” They kind of laugh like I’m being ridiculous. I don’t know if they’re really thinking about it. They can do it. They can train themselves to be successful. They can use their ability to think abstractly to solve problems for themselves. We need to let them.

I love learning. I want my kids to love learning. I want the students that I teach to love learning. It is supposed to be difficult, but not impossible.

Keep learning. Keep reading. Keep smiling.

-Dave

 

 

I have a routine. I like breakfast by myself. I like to think about things as the morning slowly unfolds. I enjoy the drive to work, a part of the community waking up with increasing energy.

Well, I still have my morning routine up to the point of leaving my house.

Do your kids have a routine?

Do you?

Routine is a big deal for productivity. If you know that you have a dedicated space to work in, you will find doing that work easier. Kids are the same way but they don’t have the discipline to stick to it.

It has been my experience that kids want to learn how to do difficult things. They can be nervous about the unknown. They can be nervous about doing things correctly. They can be worried about how long it will take. Regardless of all of those potential delays, kids can do what they need to with a little help.

Create a quiet space where everyone can work. It can be at the dinner table, at the coffee table, or sitting on the couch. If you have something to read or work on, you are demonstrating the process simply by sitting there next to your child. You can’t be on your phone or your student will think it is okay to be on his or her phone. If you’re reading a book, that demonstrates that it is possible to sit down and focus. If you have something to write, it demonstrates to your student that they can sit down to write.

How long should you sit and work? As long as you can or need to. One thing I know for sure, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

There is another side to being productive and working. It is just as important to take breaks and have fun. Take turns playing fun music. Spend some time singing and dancing. Have Alexa tell you some jokes.

Hard things take practice. If you get out of practice, you can get back into it.

What an adventurous time we live in. We get a second chance at building relationships with our kids. We get a short amount of time to help them develop lifelong skills and processes.

Our students will get to go back to school sometime in the future, more ready for school than they ever have been.

Hang in there! Life is good because it’s what we make of it.

-Dave

I left my classroom today, shortly after an earthquake aftershock and possibly for the last time for weeks (nope, just got word that I go in tomorrow). I haven’t seen my students for 5 days. I don’t know how they’re dealing with all of the things that are happening around us. I hope they understand my assignments. I hope they see my video and can feel how much I care.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spurred the need to send everyone home and continue the education experience over the internet.  I know that many school districts, schools, and teachers around the world aren’t ready to teach their students remotely. Many classes are nearly impossible to teach from across the city. Fortunately, at least I think so, I have been teaching students to read and write in small chunks. I have a system set up on Canvas, a multi-user learning management tool. Students know how to write responses to prompts, and have been reading almost daily from the beginning of the school year.

The problem I am worried about, with my students specifically, is whether they are doing it. I can’t be there to talk them through what they are thinking. Should I be? Would that help? Shouldn’t they be able to take the experiences and understanding that they have acquired, and apply that to today’s assignments?

Here is some context to the dilemma of teaching, both online, and in person. I was watching a documentary about Mr. Rogers. It is a very personal and insightful look into who Fred Rogers was, and what he believed about people. Mr. Rogers has been quoted as saying, “Deep and simple is far better than shallow and complex”.

Today I realized that I generally follow that philosophy. Obviously, teachers are not universally the same in any way. We have preferences, systems, strengths, and weaknesses that shape who we are and how we teach. Education shouldn’t be confusing. Learning should be challenging, but manageable. Students should express some resistance because they don’t know if they can manage what is expected of them. That is why I teach. They can do difficult things. Students can improve their reading skills. Students can improve their writing skills. Students are critical thinkers and can get better at problem-solving.

This particular quarantine situation is the perfect time for teachers to take some time and get familiar with programs and websites like YouTube, Zoom, and Skype.

I know that parents feel overwhelmed with what all of the different teachers are planning and expect from their students. Kids should know what their teachers do. For the most part, schoolwork or homework shouldn’t be any different than what has happened in the school. Systems should basically be in place. Of course, I’m thinking of high school and junior high/middle school. I can’t imagine trying to create work that elementary students can learn from.

Therefore, teachers should consider video messages of encouragement, understanding, and homework explanation. Teachers should do their best to use systems that students are familiar with. Avoid the temptation to create something new just because we have to communicate online. Pick a process and stick with it.

I know that students are going to do what they do when it comes to schoolwork. What does that mean? Some will, some won’t. Some care, some don’t. Some are dealing with things at home that they don’t have control over.

Long story short, we need teachers. We need in-person education. Some will learn just fine online. Most, however, most need to be in a room with a caring and educated adult, guiding them through their assignments (with objectives and outcomes). Teachers are more than education. Teachers are examples of behavior. Teachers are examples of problem-solvers. Teachers are examples of tenacity and courage.

Especially in the face of being asked to do more than stated in a contract, with no model to follow.

Hang in there. We got this! #itsonlyafewweeks