This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Autumn Troullos and Rachel Miller
We have been on a shared journey of discovery that was kicked off by observing the needs of our students. We were fortunate to share students within a team environment with a common plan devoted identifying and addressing student needs. Although we teach different content areas (math for Autumn and ELA for Rachel) we were part of a cross curricular team that was devoted to teaching the whole child. Through deliberate conversations with our students and their families and regular meetings with our cross-curricular team, we realized how many factors outside of the school’s control negatively impacted student performance.
Being lifelong learners, we set out on a mission to help our students. Because we were only with each child within a class for 45 minutes out of a school day, we needed to find strategies that were easy to teach our students, would have a large impact within a short time frame, and could lead to a self-sustaining and lifelong practice. Taking in these constraints, our research led us to mindfulness. Mindfulness has many benefits including decreasing stress and anxiety, improving self-esteem and self-regulation, and increasing calm.
Now that we had a starting point, we looked for any resources which would help us to learn healthy coping techniques that we could pass on to our students. Specifically, we were looking for techniques that students could employ independently and in any situation. We both underwent online training through an organization dedicated to bringing mindfulness to public schools. Although we started at very different points (Rachel describes Autumn as a woo-woo hippie and Autumn states Rachel is the epitome of practical), through our trainings, we discovered that mindfulness practices were very beneficial to both of us! As we discovered the personal benefits, we were even more excited about sharing these practices with our students.
Armed with strategies and filled with enthusiasm, we began gradually introducing the practices to our students. Our students were equally excited. They immediately began reporting back to us that they were using the strategies outside of school. They began to beg for short, calming guided meditations before class began to soothe their nerves. We found that a few moments dedicated to mindfulness insured that students were more relaxed and subsequently more engaged during the delivery of our academic content.
We observed such a dramatic impact that we proposed a mindfulness elective course for the following year. Students were given the option to sign up for the class if they felt it would be beneficial. It was designed as a one semester course, and very quickly there was a waiting list for the second semester once students heard about what was happening in class. Students were introduced to
strategies such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, and mindful movement. Through class discussions and simulations, students were exposed to the concept that they often have power to control their reactions in difficult situations. It doesn’t have to be just “fight or flight.” Mindfulness gives them the option to pause and consider their reaction.
How often each day do you stop to notice what you notice? Mindfulness is simply being fully and intentionally present in the moment. Our work within the Fluency Project has touched upon mindfulness with the deliberate noticing exercise we have done. The book “How to Be an Explorer of the World” also challenges the reader to examine the ordinary. This poem by William Stafford also addresses awareness:
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life--
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?
With the craziness of the holiday season, closing out one semester, and beginning a new one, take time to reflect on the here and now.
Autumn Troullos graduated from Ohio University’s Eastern campus in 2002 with a major in Middle Childhood Education (concentration in Math and Social Studies) and a minor in Mathematics. Her Master’s degree in Instructional Communication was earned at WVU. She earned National Board Certification in 2013. Autumn began her career as a teacher at St. Mary Central. From there she taught at Warwood School and Bridge Street Middle School in Ohio County. Currently she is teaching 8th grade Math and Mindfulness at St. Clairsville Middle School. Autumn has been engaged in researching mindfulness and its benefits and incorporating mindfulness into the classroom. She has joined a National Board cohort as a mentor Autumn currently is a member of Cohort 4 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Her special interests include yoga, reading, plants, learning and her family.
Rachel Miller graduated from Bethany College with a degree in communications. After working in public relations and nonprofit management for 13 years, she finally followed her heart and earned her teaching certification from Wheeling Jesuit University. She has gone on to earn a master’s degree from Marshall University and is a National Board Certified Teacher. She taught at Bridge Street Middle School for 10 years and currently teaches 9th grade ELA at John Marshall High School. She enjoys planning travel adventures with her husband and two teenage sons, reading and talking about great books, and taking way too many photos of her dogs.
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By T-L Rogers
My focus so far this school year has been on collecting narrative data. The method I chose for my primary data collection is through a weekly check-in created in Microsoft Forms and distributed to students via Microsoft Teams on Monday mornings. The survey (discussed in my blog post from last year) asks students to complete 4 statements each week:
These statements are then followed by an optional request for a midweek check-in with a teacher of their choice. After reading their responses, I try to determine jobs students can have in the classroom (paper passer, etc. based on how they feel they can be most helpful). I also create a table of responses of those students who have requested midweek check-ins and distribute them to their respective teachers so they know what to ask about. Here are some of the many take-aways I have gathered from conducting this type of data collection:
By collecting this data on Mondays, I am trying to gauge what kind of week we may be able to expect. Some students have disclosed tensions at home that have distracted their focus while others have shared their excitement for an upcoming birthday or family event that have made them more hyper or talkative in class. While it is not an exact science, their responses give me some insight. In one particular case, a student’s response changed my entire rapport and future interactions with him.
One Monday, a young man who rarely talked to me and often rolled his eyes any time I corrected anything he did responded to his check-in that he may be distracted by his dog. After reading his answer during the very same period he submitted it, I approached him casually during some downtime and inquired further. Was it a particular situation he was concerned about or was he just going to be thinking about or missing his dog? It turns out his chihuahua had hurt his back and he was really worried about him. From one seemingly insignificant statement, I learned many things: this student had 3 dogs total, the breeds of each, their names, their ages, their current circumstances, and most importantly, that I was speaking with a sensitive and caring young man.
We had a little heart-to-heart about pets and how we often worry about them like family, and then we somewhat bonded over our shared love of animals. The next day, I asked how his doggo was doing, and his face lit up while he told me he was doing better. I think more than anything, he was surprised that I took the time to approach him and ask about his dog. That I remembered. That I cared. Since that day, he has been much easier to talk to and more compliant with my directions in the classroom. On the occasions I have had to discipline him, he has not shown the same type of attitude as he originally did.
I feel like I need to add a little *results not typical disclaimer like a promising weight loss program as I understand that not every simple question asked and answered will lead to the same breakthrough. However, if it happens even once, isn’t it worth that one simple question? I still have some logistical details to figure out moving forward, but eventually I am hoping to compare these weekly survey responses against red marks in agendas (how we track discipline issues) each week to see if any correlations exist.
The other aspect of this data collection process that I really love is the weekly check-in requests with teachers. A few of our middle school teachers have developed a little bit of a fan group of the same students who request a check-in each week (about 2-4 students per teacher). Their responses to the other questions may be dynamic, but they typically want to see the same teacher each week. It is also interesting to see a new student request pop up and inspires me to analyze their other answers more thoroughly to see what might be going on that prompted the request.
While I got a late start on conducting these weekly check-ins this school year due to the late rollout of the 5th grade iPads, I am thankful we finally do have the opportunity to use data collection measures such as this as often as we desire. When the schedule gets crazy or we have professional days on Mondays, the students are always quick to remind me that they need to do their check-in for the week. I believe it is something that many of them look forward to as a way to communicate with teachers that they might not otherwise have the time, opportunity, or motivation to do on their own.
T-L Rogers graduated from Arizona State University in 2008 with a B.A. in English. She pursued a career in education through an alternative pathway via the Phoenix Teaching Fellows in 2010, assuming her first teaching position as a K-3 Special Education teacher at Percy L. Julian School in Phoenix, AZ. T-L completed her M.Ed. in Special Education in 2013 from Arizona State University and has since begun coursework toward an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in Special Education through Grand Canyon University. T-L currently is a member of Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). T-L’s special interests include dancing (a previous career) and various animal rescue efforts such as volunteering, fundraising, donating hand-made blankets and other supplies to local rescue groups, community education, and adoption.
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Jason Hanson
Entering the second year of the Fluency Project I could not help but be excited by the prospect of teaching an Innovation and Entrepreneurship class at Bridgeport High School. My principal approached me earlier this Spring and asked if I would be willing to try it out. After all, we saw the work of Don Wettrick and all the cool things that his students were doing. We Skyped with Mr. Wettrick during an after-school leadership class. He even came to speak with members of the Fluency Project. How could I refuse such an opportunity?
After confirming that I would, in fact, be teaching an Entrepreneurship and Innovation class for the 2019-20 school year I immediately went on Amazon and purchased the paper-back version of “Pure Genius” by Don Wettrick (already had it in digital). I went a step further and purchased the book “Empower” by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. All summer I sat on the porch reading all the great ideas contained on the pages of these authors.
Soon it was time to create a curriculum map for the school year. I searched the internet for examples of how other teachers around the country structured similar classes. Borrowing from various teachers who were inspired by Wettrick’s work, I cranked out a curriculum that I felt comfortable implementing.
There is an adage that says, “Man plans, God laughs”. Well the joke was on me. I received my class roster. Having previously taught all the students on my roster who “signed up” (or needed something 9th period), I felt discouraged. Several of them struggled in my American History class as freshmen. Instead of complaining I looked at this as a new start. This was an opportunity to get to know these students in another way. Perhaps American History was not their thing. Throwing caution to the wind I was prepared to begin my first Entrepreneurship and Innovation class.
Understandably students had no idea what they were in for on the first day of school. Heck, neither did I. That was the cool part of the whole process. I made it clear to them that I did not know what I was doing or where we were heading. In other words, we were all in a car together moving forward, but not really knowing where the destination would be. As the syllabus was handed out, I let them know that each quarter they would focus on one project individually. Taking some advice from Wettrick and Juliani, I made the first 9-week project something school based and then the following quarter would be a passion project. Quarters 3 and 4 would be either refining past projects or starting new ones. Students submitted proposals, they had a weekly blog and they presented their progress.
I was underwhelmed after the first several weeks. Where were the great innovations? No interviews with Bill Gates or Warren Buffett? No attempts to curb world hunger or clean the oceans? What I got instead was one student who wanted to do a photo essay of his town. One student wanted to create a better morning routine for students. Another sought to create a digital archive of the alumni room and another student wanted to promote the theater department. I soon realized that my expectations were just that...MINE. These other issues were important to my students. Who was I to come in and minimize them?
One day as a class we went over to the alumni room and by pure coincidence one of the most active and knowledgeable members of the alumni association (class of ‘61) was just finishing a meeting at the administrative building. He gave us a very intimate tour of the alumni room. Students got to hold a class ring from 1902, they viewed old report cards from the 1930s. They saw old play bills from past BHS productions. This was a powerful moment of old teaching new. Following that encounter, one of my shy students (the one whose every morning was “awful”) asked how she could help the other student with their alumni room project. The student who wanted to promote theater now wanted to incorporate the school’s rich history into his recruiting campaign and the student who wanted to do a photo essay now shifted his focus into finding ways to tell the story of past graduates by creating a virtual “Wall of Fame”.
Looking back at this experience thus far, I feel foolish that I didn’t appreciate the small things that occur in education. My best laid plans have meandered into a learning labyrinth. As we enter Christmas Break, I realize that my students have learned to communicate with people outside of the school. They have interviewed people from earlier generations. They researched the culture of our school. They have archived, they collected data from students, they interviewed their peers and created signs and logos. Finally, they came to appreciate the talents that each one has. I have come to the realization that I have not lowered my expectations of my students, instead I have simply changed them to ones that give them their voice and not mine. The little things are truly the big things. However, an interview with Bill Gates would be amazing.
Spencer, John, and A. J. Juliani. Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. IMpress, 2017.
Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the next Level. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2014.
Jason Hanson graduated from The Ohio State University in 2000 with a major in Psychology and a minor in Geography. He earned his Master’s in Social Studies Education from Ohio State in 2001. Jason began a career as a high school Social Studies teacher at Bishop Donahue High School in McMechen, WV. He began his fifth year of teaching at Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, OH where he is still currently teaching in his 18th year. Jason has coached numerous sports including baseball, football and girls’ basketball. Jason currently is a member of Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Jason’s special interests include drawing and reading.