New Series: Building an Ethic of Caring in the Classroom

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Starting this week, I will launch a weekly series that focuses directly on practical strategies on building a caring and supportive classroom for teachers. My goal is to equip teachers to build positive, meaningful relationship with and among their students with the implicit goal of support students’ academic performance and socio-emotional needs. The activities, projects, and group work strategies will largely pull from research I have done, but will also pull in personal experiences, including the voices of some of my former students. The series will explore identity, agency, literacy, policy, and related topics that impact teaching and learning. Really, if this series develops as I hope it does, then a teacher following the series should build a strong repository of classroom strategies and hopefully build on their capacity to reflect on their own teaching practices, which should hopefully embed an ethic of caring in much of what they do.

The series will truly be meant for all subject-area teachers and not just a language arts or humanities teacher. Each post will use Nel Noddings’ theory for an ethic of caring as a foundation, where rather than “only those acts performed out of duty (in conformity to principle) should be labeled moral, an ethic of caring prefers acts done out of love and natural inclination.”

Love and inclination, or a person’s natural tendency or urge to act, I posit, should be the universal foundation for any classroom–no matter the teacher, no matter the subject. This series will explore that possibility.

Look for these posts every Wednesday starting August 15th.

Have something specific about foregrounding love and care in the classroom you want discussed? Reach out to me on Twitter and share your thoughts! @theprofjones

A New Kind of Pre-Planning

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In Georgia some kids are already back in school as I type this, but many are headed back to the classroom next week, which means many teachers across the state are spending this week pre-planning. For the first time in 12 years, I am not in the trenches, attending staff, team, and district meetings, preparing for parent/student orientation or for the first day of school. Honestly? It’s weird.  Continue reading

The Story so Far: Learning to Live in the Gray

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As happens from time to time on this blog, I have been absent for a bit. This is in part because I took some time to be with family during a very sudden life change. (Rest assured all is well, but time time with my wife and daughter were restorative!) The absence is also in part to my new (and still pretty shiny) role as an instructional coach. While I had hopes that my Summer PD series would last longer than two posts, the reality is my opportunities to lead sessions with teachers were going to be limited this summer and for good reason. I have a good deal to learn. I am on a new team with new norms and new talents and skills that surround me. I am already in awe of the work my new colleagues do each day. They make it appear effortless. So, I have found myself learning to live in the gray this summer. Continue reading

Open Letter to the Lanier Community

Dear Lanier Family,

The last four years serving as a teacher at Lanier High School have been a true blessing in my life. Because of my colleagues, my students, and Lanier’s administration, I have thrived as an educator, and I had so many opportunities to grow as a teacher leader. Over the course of this past year, I made the difficult decision to apply for an instructional coach role out of the Academies and Career & Technical Education (CTE) department at the Instructional Support Center (ISC). My decision was never based on any unhappiness or disconnect I felt at Lanier. On the contrary, every year I have become more endeared to the Lanier community and our cluster of schools. My decision was entirely motivated by the desire to see and know more–to grow through a new experience. In practical terms, this new opportunity would allow me to work alongside and help train teachers across multiple schools, which is an exciting prospect for me. So just a short time ago I was told I was being offered the position, and I accepted.

All that said, this letter is not about me. It’s about my students, colleagues, and the Lanier community. This is my chance to thank and praise you. Although I know I won’t be in Lanier High School’s hallways everyday, my experiences here have prepared me to make (hopefully) a bigger impact and continue my personal growth. For that, I cannot thank you all enough!

To My Students:

My first year teaching at Lanier was magic. It revitalized me as a teacher and really all because of you all–the students I first served starting the fall of 2014. You all challenged me and reinforced in me that my teaching philosophy could thrive here. Those of you preparing to graduate are a special group to me. For one, you’re my last full group of students I have taught, but more importantly I had a blast teaching you! Your freshman year was my most experimental year (which for better or worse you may have been aware of); I challenged myself to provide you all with more authentic writing opportunities and really refine the way I provided feedback. I wanted to make my room as participatory as possible and invite you all to explore who you were and what you were becoming. I’m sure I didn’t achieve what I was after everyday, but what stands out to me is so many of you were willing to buy into the work we were doing together in class. I am so proud of each of you, and calling your name aloud at graduation will be an honor!

There were many of you I had a chance to teach either in the Teaching as a Profession (TAP) class or as a Work Based Learning (WBL) intern. You are all quite special to me as well. You all were my first foray into CTE, and I loved working with all of you. As my recent WBL posts from students demonstrate, there is so much pride to take in the amazing work you all did this year. To the students in my TAP class last year, thank you for exploring world of teaching with me. You will go down as one of my favorite classes who genuinely wanted to explore teaching as an art and profession (most days)! I hope at least a few of you enter the field. We need great teachers.

To the rest of the student body of Lanier, I want to say thank you for embracing me as your academy coach for three years. I tried to improve your knowledge of college and career options and open up opportunities to you that simply do not exist most places. I hope you saw and felt that. You all are Gwinnett’s best kept secret–you are creative, critical, diverse, leaders, and community-driven. This secret won’t keep for much longer, though; it is just a matter of time before everyone knows just what Lanier students and alumni are capable of achieving. Your worth goes so far beyond state and county tests–many of you will lead the way in business and industry, and I feel secure knowing that a Lanier graduate really is ready for a world where in reality not everyone goes to college or completes college; rather, you all understand there are a profound number of professions that do not require a four-year degree. That knowledge is so powerful. I hope you know and understand that!

To My Colleagues:

First and foremost, I want all my Lanier colleagues to know I am not running away from anything! I love Lanier! That love is first and foremost because of our students, but you all are right there with them. The core of Lanier’s staff is amazing, resilient, and so passionate about this community. You simply cannot find that everywhere. I loved coming to work everyday because I knew I was working alongside the best teachers.

When I first arrived as an English teacher, the department welcomed me with open arms, and I immediately felt the camaraderie and collaborative spirit of the group. While some of the great teachers in this department have come and gone, I have continued to be in awe of the work you do as a group. While there is always room to improve, this is a group from the moment I stepped on campus I knew would do whatever was best for kids and would collaborate with anyone anywhere on campus. You are consummate professionals always seeking to get better–I will always admire you for that.

When I become the school’s academy coach, I was suddenly exposed to the wide range of amazing teachers we had in each department. While I know I didn’t always see eye-to-eye with everyone, I always felt you respected me, and please believe me when I say I have the highest respect for you. I am so thankful this position permitted me to work closely with teachers outside of my own content expertise. I especially loved working with my peeps in science. You all are amazing! Some of the best teachers I have ever witnessed are in the science department, and you all were first to give my crazy project based learning (PBL) ideas a chance. I also have to give a shout out to my CTE department, which I had the honor of leading this past year. You are wonderful collaborators, and I admire your work ethic and the relationships you build with students. Many of our students come to Lanier just to be in your class! I’m not many teachers can say that. I hope you all feel I did right by you this past year.

I have purposefully avoided giving specific shout outs, but there are a few people who I abolutely have to say thank you to in this letter. First, Mike Reilly–the man, the myth, the legend–I am so thankful I called you four years ago to ask what was going on at Lanier. That phone call literally changed my life. I now owe you double for that–once many, many years ago when you introduced me to PBL and again when you shepherded me into Lanier’s hallways. To my academy leads and closest confidants, Bill Smith, Randy Crutchfield, Margaret Rohrbaugh, and Steven Pryor, thank you for being part of the vision to create an academy school and advocating for the model and your students. You kept me sane most days, and you sticking around year after year with me meant the world to me. To Collin Jones and Glenn Rhoades, two colleagues I feel I had a chance to collaborate with and mentor a bit, thank you for believing in me and your help at every turn. You both are very special to me and my story as an educator, and I hope you both know that.

Finally, to the administrative and clerical teams I have had the honor of serving alongside for the last three years, thank you! While my experience is limited, I cannot fathom a better team of administrators or clerks. You are each about kids first and foremost, and you do your jobs with excellence in mind. You are collaborative, respectful, and do your jobs at a high, high level. I am so thankful I had a chance to work with you. You each have taught me so much about what it takes to run a school, and you reminded every day to never lose sight that what we do is and will always be for our students.

To the Lanier Community:

Much like I wrote earlier to the students, I feel that the Lanier community is one of the best kept secrets in Gwinnett. You are deep and rich with love for our schools, our neighbors, and our city. Having a community so connected and caring is so very rare. Moreover, to see how genuine that connectedness and care is–that is truly very rare. You are comprised of amazing parents, church-goers, city employees, small business owners, and community leaders. I am thankful and humbled that I have had a chance to work so closely with so many of you.

While Lanier will not be my home base or sole concern any more, please know I am still very much part of this community. I live in Sugar Hill, and I believe in our city and schools. Trust me, I am not going anywhere!

I’ll close with a final thank you to all who have supported me, gently corrected me, and pulled me up when I was down. I could not thrive and grow without the time and care you have given me. You are all truly special to me as a professional and as a community member.

Hook ‘Em Horns!

The Parkland Conversation: Caring & Empathy in Our Schools

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In honor of the nationally student-organized Parkland walkouts today, I am posting this today.

Take heart reader, by in large, this is not a politically charged post, but it will serve as a call for change as many of my colleagues and the students I speak to each day are clamoring to see happen. I have spent hours since the February 14th tragedy wrestling with the realities of continued shootings in schools, the emotional fallout, political discord, scared children, attention-seeking adults, and the list goes on and on. I have started and stopped this post in my head many times, but as you can plainly see, I have decided my thoughts and the solutions I will try to convey are worth sharing.

Let’s start with what this post will really be about–I want to posit not only the need for our classrooms to be caring and empathetic in general but also the need for building caring and empathetic classrooms from the inside out, starting with teacher preparatory programs. While I am all for some extended gun laws and restrictions, this post will concentrate solely on what we as a society, in our little nook of it, can do to curtail or even prevent these events immediately.

Before we dive in, I would like to invite any educators who read this post to comment on it with their own use of care ethics and responsive classroom techniques and more specifically where and when you encountered those techniques. Continue reading