Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Stay Calm and...

Down time? Free time? What are these things to an educator? We spend countless hours thinking/discussing/analyzing everything from lessons to posts that will help us improve our craft. We are looking for anything that will help us create a classroom that our students want to visit daily. And when they do, we're hoping they don't want to leave.

My "down time" anymore revolves around my children. I have been coaching their sports' teams ever since they started playing seven years ago. I enjoy working with the players in soccer, basketball and baseball. Just so happens, they were the three sports I played in high school. I was fortunate to play soccer in college as well.

My daughter's basketball team played last night in a Christmas tournament that we were using as a "preseason" before our season starts after New Year's Day. If you were listening to the parents sitting in the stands, you might have thought these 12 years old were playing for the National Championship!

As soon as the game got tight, you could sense the anxiety level of the fans increase dramatically. Many began yelling at the refs for their calls, or lack of calls. They began to frantically yell instructions to the players on the court. These poor girls did not know what to do with themselves.

Needless to say, their play suffered. They began to make mistakes. As coaches, we attempted to talk during time-outs in a calming voice. We did our best to remain as calm as possible, even as fans were yelling "motivational" phrases around us.

That got me thinking about the calming effect educators must have on our students. We need to create an environment that is a distraction from their everyday hustle and bustle. Our students need to see us as the calming influence in their lives. They are watching how we handle the student(s) that just won't listen. They are watching how we handle frustrated parents. They are watching how we handle our coworkers when they come to us complaining about something.

Our students have a lot of things to deal with during the day. Changing classes. Peer pressure. Forgotten homework. Sports. Clubs. Family Responsibilities. Jobs. College applications/acceptances...

It is our classrooms that should be an escape from all of that stuff. We need to be the calming force in their lives. Students are just kids, regardless of their ages, and kids learn best when they are in a setting that is as calming as possible. Please do not confuse my use of calming to mean we should not challenge them academically. Just the opposite! We should constantly try to improve our students. I believe there is a difference between a student being uncomfortable intellectually and having anxiety. Anxious students are generally poor performing students...

Which brings me back to my daughter's game. We ended up losing that game last night. I was proud of how they battled in a hostile environment. We have things to work on during our next couple of practices. We will use that time to make minor adjustments so we do not repeat those errors. With this extra practice, my hope is they will be calmer when faced with the same pressures in the future.

What strategies/techniques do you use to help stay calm when things get hectic? Just remember, a kid somewhere is watching how you react. Be the change...

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tagged by Barry Saide...Update for Rik Rowe

I am updating this post for my Twitter-Friend Rik Rowe. Even though I have never met him face to face, Rik is someone I like to seek out to discuss a variety of educational topics. Rik has provided me with tremendous advice and guidance through our discussions on the phone and/or our twitter conversations. His guidance has helped me dramatically improve both my instruction and grading practices. I am eternally grateful that Rik is a part of Professional Learning Network.

Here are my answers posed to me by Rik:
Who has impacted your life most significantly and how?

I am going to give the cliche answer, but my parents have had the greatest impact. As I get older, I am realizing how tough it is to raise a family with good values and morals. This is something I am working very hard to continue with my own children.

What specifically do you do to have a reasonable work and life balance? 

I am at the gym 4 or 5 times a week lifting weights and running. I also volunteer in my kids' sports.

Share any event in your life that was life-changing. 

I have two: I almost lost both my wife (complications from childbirth) and my Dad. Going through these things changes a man. I would not wish it on anyone.

If you were offered the opportunity to speak to hundreds of young people, what would you say?

Quite simply: Do what you love. Be the person you want your children to become. Respect and love your wife. Everyday.

What legacy do you plan to leave and to whom? 

I want my kids to know I loved and honored their mother everyday we were married.

What foreign country have you visited that was memorable? 

When I was 15, I traveled to Europe (Holland, Denmark and Sweden) to play soccer. Amsterdam was a culture shock for a 15 year old, needless to say.

What have you learned in the past year that has impacted you? 

That my children are growing quickly into compassionate, intelligent and hard-working young people. Parenting is the hardest job around. If you do it right.

Describe your happiest childhood memory.

When my brother and I were young, we would sleep in the same room on Christmas Eve. Hands down, the best memories I have as a kid.

What is the nicest or most thoughtful gift you have ever received?

I have had several, but I had a "tough" student shake my hand after 8th grade graduation, look me in the eye, and thank me for not giving up on him. Great gift!

What famous person would you most like to dine with and why? 

My childhood hero Wayne Gretzky. I loved how he played the game of hockey; he always did it with so much class.

What are your favorite Twitter chats? 

My two favorite chats are #satchat (Saturday mornings at 7:30) and #sbgchat (Wednesdays at 9:00)

Thanks, Rik, for thinking of me.

I met Barry Saide face to face during edcampNJ in November. I have to admit, it felt like I had known him for years. I found him extremely easy to talk to. Barry has a contagiousness about him that spreads to anyone he comes in contact with. I have been fortunate to be able bounce several ideas off him since meeting him. His advice is always timely and practical.

Needless to say, I am extremely honored to be tagged by Barry for this meme. I am actually shocked that anyone finds what I have to say or write even remotely interesting. In sticking with the protocol of the meme, here are 11 facts about me you may not know:

1. I played Winthrop in my church's play the "Music Man" when I was in the second grade. I had to sing/talk with a lisp. Apparently, I was convincing enough because several people after commented that I must have a lot of confidence to do that in front of several hundreds of people.

2. I mocked my brother for months for joining "that Twitter thing." Boy, was I dead wrong about that. I have to thank him for even jumping into this Social Medium. I do not know where I would be as an educator without it.

3. I have a fear of snakes. I do not like them. Can't stand looking at them. Yet, if they are on Animal Planet, I can not change the channel...go figure!

4. I have been with my wife for almost 25 years. We are high school sweethearts. I got lucky and found her early. I have been holding on with both hands ever since.

5. Writing anything about my wife makes me teary.

6. I always wanted to be a teacher. My brother and I use to play school with our stuff animals when we were little. I am not ashamed to admit that.

7. I know the words to too many Milli Vanilli songs. If I am alone in the car, I do not change the channel.

8. I still do not like the way I write. It never sounds as intelligent as I want it to. And I think I end too many sentences with a participle...that's bad grammar, right?

9. I almost lost my Dad about 2 years ago. I never want anyone to have to go through what my family went through.

10. I have a very bad habit of judging people based on my own personal code of ethics. I am trying to be more compassionate...it is a work in progress.

11. I can not remember what my life was like before my children came along. And, you know what? I am perfectly okay with that.

Barry's Eleven Questions for me:
1. I am currently reading "The First World War" by Hew Strachan.

2. I eat a cheese omelet with toast for breakfast just about every morning. I wash it down with a protein shake. This is my first meal after a very early morning workout.

3. I am guilty of giving someone the finger once as I passed before realizing it was childhood neighbor. Example of road rage making us do dumb things!

4. My non-educational dream I always have is dunking a basketball. Being under 5'8", it will remain a dream!

5. I am not a fan of The Walking Dead. I guess I can not say that, I have never seen the show.

6. I was making some bad choices during my 1st semester at college. My Dad said to me, "You left a leader and returned a follower." Needless to say, it was a punch in the gut.

7. A few years ago, I shoveled my elderly neighbor's driveway. Actually, I did it with my kids to show them helping someone without credit or recognition is a cool thing.

8. The most disturbing thing I saw was the near death of my wife from complications during the birth of my son. Being helpless like that changes a man...

9. My wife and I sometimes "do halves" at a restaurant, but it is usually at my request. Especially if it is for breakfast. I love breakfast food.

10. I do not go to bars that much, but there is a diner by my school that we go to every Friday. The waitress knows what we are ordering. She does not even come to the table, just asks, "Getting the usual?"

11. The most mind blowing statement I ever heard was a man questioning if there is a God while holding his new born child. Almost knocked me over.

Here is my list of 11 Bloggers: (in no particular order)
1. Rik Rowe
2. Jasper Fox
3. Shawn Storm
4. Garnet Hillman
5. Jon Harper
6. Ben Gilpin
7. Tom Whitford
8. Justin Aion
9. Starr Sackstein
10. Scott Rocco
11. David Hochheiser

My Eleven Questions:
1. If you were not in education, what would be your career choice?

2. What is your favorite book?

3. What is your favorite meal?

4. What song do you not want people to know you secretly sing in the car?

5. What is your favorite movie or TV show?

6. If you were ever stranded on a deserted island, what 3 things would you want with you?

7. If you could invite any 3 people (dead or living) to dinner, who would it be and why?

8. Where would love to visit if money was no object?

9. Do you prefer eating appetizers or do you save room for dessert?

10.How do you wind down when work gets stressful?

11.What is your favorite musical band?

Thanks for asking me to do this, Barry. I had a lot of fun. To those I nominated, I thoroughly enjoy interacting with you and reading your tweets and/or blogs. Your inspiration can not be put into words. Be the change you want to see in the world...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Here's Your Report Card

Last week before break was a very busy time. Teachers were preparing their classes for end of chapter assessments prior to break. This is a common occurrence so as to not have to carry any chapters/units over the Holiday Break.

In addition to my classes winding down Chapter 4, I asked them to complete a Teacher Report Card through Google Forms. Here are the questions I asked with my thoughts on each...

1. Does my teacher hold me accountable for my actions?

I was not sure how this question was going to be perceived when I wrote it because I was not sure if my students would assume this was geared towards their behavior. I believe I solved that problem by gearing their choices around being accountable for their work.

This is an area I was confident I would score high in. My classroom is structured towards working to understand concepts. I want my students to be okay with failure and be expected to work towards understanding concepts if they do not understand something. In addition, I push students' learning by introducing "the next step" even if this might be a grade level or two above them.

89 of my 90 Students agreed that they are accountable for work in my class.

2. Does my teacher do his/her best to make class interesting?

Again, I was unsure how things would pan out. I do feel I try to bring a lesson that is both interesting and relevant. I will admit, I do not spend a lot of time creating lessons that are heavy on technology. I believe students learn math by practicing as much as possible while in my room. I work hard at giving them chances to do just that.

85 out of my 90 Students agreed that I do my best to make class interesting.

3. Does my teacher help me when I am struggling?

This was the area I felt the strongest. I have worked hard over the last several years creating a culture of learning in my classroom. Because of that culture, I give up part of my lunch time to take students that are looking to complete retakes on a variety of standards. In addition, some students use that time to get some individual tutoring. I feel this change has had the greatest impact on the culture in our classroom. I am glad to see most of the students agreed.

88 out of my 90 Students agree I help them when struggling.

4. Does my teacher allow me to regularly participate in lessons?

This was the area I was expecting the worst "score". Between reviewing the previous day's lesson, reviewing homework, introducing the next lesson and assigning homework, I know there are days I do not give my students enough opportunity to participate. I am fully aware of this and have worked on altering my instruction to allow for more participation. I am focusing post break on a more student centered classroom. I am tired of being the hardest working person in the room.

The numbers supported my previous belief: 72 out of 90 said yes; 14 said sometimes; 4 said no.

5. Does my teacher treat me with respect?

I have a confession. I do not yell at my students. I am a firm believer that yelling at middle schoolers will only lead to one massive headache for the teacher. They tune out all yelling. As a result, I use jokes and/or laughter to make my point. I do think some may see it as sarcasm. I do not use this by any means to humiliate or embarrass my students. My experience tells me students are more likely to alter their behavior while smiling than angry.

I was rather surprised to see that 88 of the 90 students felt I was respectful. Glad to see they understand my "sarcasm."

6. Does my teacher enjoy teaching?

I love my job. I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I could not imagine working in any other profession. I am confident that my students see that everyday from me. I work hard to not allow my personal life to impact what goes on in our classroom.

88 out of the 90 agree.

7. Is my teacher a good role model for me?

This one is tricky with middle schoolers. I know I push my students. I know I make them uncomfortable at times because I want them to get better. I know that pushing them can create friction between us at times. I work hard at trying to model hard work and a love for learning with my students. I share books that I have read. I have shared my blog with them as well. I want them to see learning as something that never ends.

74 out of the 90 students believe I am a good role model.

8. One thing I really like about this class is...

Here are some quotes from my students:

The work!

One thing that I really like about this class is that Mr. Cordery is always trying to get a gooo laugh for his student and try the best for us to suceed.

I always am able to improve at areas I am/ was unsure about.

its fun and he makes it easier for all of us to understand in a quick and easy way

i like how he is helpful if we dont finish something, he lets us do corrections, and he is responsible with our work
The teacher is goofy and makes class fun. He dosen't suck the fun out of everything I want to learn about. It's easier to pay attention with him teaching us.

9. Do I feel successful in this class? If not, what could my teacher do to make me feel more successful?

Again, here are some quotes:

yes he tries his best to make us fell like great students

I am successful in this class mainly because my teacher makes sure we all understand each lesson.

kind of, i could go up for recess and get help from him


I am glad I took the time to do this report card. I believe as I spend the next couple of weeks reflecting on the results even more, I will learn some more insights on how to provide a better classroom experience to my students.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Can Jump Right In...

That's it. I am jumping into the deep end of the pool. After some reflection, discussion with colleagues and enough reading about the subject to make my eyes sore, I am turning my classroom into a student-driven classroom after break. Here are my changes:

* I am going to conference with each student individually every week and a half to two weeks. At this time, students will need to demonstrate their understanding of the standards we have covered.

* Conferencing will allow me to really determine if the student understands what they are working on. They will be assessed based on how well they demonstrate that knowledge.

* I will distribute I Can Statements for each chapter. This is so the students know exactly what they are expected to know for the conference.

* I will still allow redoes/retakes, but they must RE-CONFERENCE for this to happen.

* I am hoping the conferences are a preparation for real life: either a job interview, college interview or presentation at work.

* I am wondering how my students who "play school well" will handle this change. Hopefully, they adjust quickly to this new procedure.

* I am hoping by doing this, I will no longer be the hardest working person in the room.

*Many thanks to @mssackstein @barrykid1 @WHSrowe @jsprfox for your constant feedback and support. I know I ask a lot of questions. Thank you for your patience and time.

I hate when I do this...now I am looking forward to January...and we have not yet left for break.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Teacher Report Card Time!

It is that time of the year again. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season. The frantic search for the perfect gift (which is rarely in a store for me anymore). Also, it is the time of year for making sure you wrap up your chapter before break. We all know that the students will not remember a thing when they get back; might as well make sure you are starting on new material.

In addition, it is report card time. Time for the students to see where their learning currently is for their classes. It always surprises me that some honestly do not know what grade they have. They always act like they had no idea that lack of demonstrating understanding would result in a lower grade.

However, this time, I am changing things up. I am asking my students to complete an evaluation on me. That is right! I am asking them to complete a Google Form giving me an evaluation in several different areas. I came across this great idea in a book from @ToddWhitaker over the summer. I thought this would be a great opportunity to receive an honest evaluation from the students I interact with everyday.

Yes, I have received one from the administration through Danielson. Honestly, I looked at that for maybe 30 seconds. I checked to make sure I had either 3s or 4s checked off, signed it and put it away. I wanted something that carried more weight, in my opinion. I am going to my students to get feedback from them.

I put together a survey through Google Forms with the help of three people: @mssackstein @jsprfox and @WHSRowe. I am grateful for being able to bounce ideas off of these three great educators. I was able to get a better survey by taking their advice on word choice and/or survey structure.

I am anxious to see the results. I am anticipating positive "scores" in classroom environment. I believe that is a strong point of mine. The area I could score low in is "respect" because I tend to use sarcasm or jokes with the students instead of yelling at them. I never use the sarcasm to embarrass a student, or at least that is my intent. I do not know if it is perceived that way. Only time will tell if I am correct.

I am planning on completing this survey next week with my students. I will then sort through the data and share the conclusions in another blog. I have to be honest, I am more anxious about the feedback I get from this survey than any administrative observation. Here's to jumping into the deep end of the pool...I only hope I am prepared for what the results may show about me.

I can't change unless I know what needs to be changed. The feedback from my students should give me enough material!