Thursday, July 31, 2008

Journal 4

Norman Kunc and Emma Van der Klift
“Being Realistic Isn’t Realistic”
10th Annual Summer Leadership Institute
Cal State San Marcos

My most personal connection during the Summer Institute was with Norm. He made clear that the last cob webs of my preconception concerning people with disabilities have cleared away. I will always remember that he was so joyful when he said that he as a person with a disability was in our (educators and others) lives to make it messy. That is something I have been experiencing personally with my husband, who is a person with a disability, and it has taken me a long time to appreciate it. For many years I was guilty of, on some level, trying to “fix” him. I now try to embrace that messiness and the manner in which it separates us from others is no longer worrisome.

Norm’s rebellion and in your face advocacy is inspiring. Political advocacy has always been a large part of my life and seeing him do so on behalf of people with disabilities makes real all that I have been processing over the last several years. In NYC, my certification did not include working with people such as Norm and I am very hopeful that I will be able to do so in future. In fact, it is one of the most exciting parts of the process of redoing my certification here in California.

Norm stated that the disabled often have to think like Houdini. Houdini created more and more difficult escapes for himself to perform. People said he couldn’t do it and time and again he proved them wrong. As educators we must believe that our students with disabilities can do ‘it’. We must believe in them. We must allow them to create their own lives because we cannot possibly understand their unique perspectives. Norm believes that if we simply untie the knots for ours students that the ropes which we perceive as binding them will untangle themselves.


Can I allow students who are disabled to untangle themselves?

I know that I have control issues, who doesn’t, but I also respect my students and I allow that respect to govern me when making decisions about who will decide - my students or me. I hope that I can continue to involve my students at every level of decision making about their educations and their transitions. I know that I learn from my students. I hope to learn even more now that I have processed Norm’s point of view.


Who will you feed the happy dog or the mean dog?

Norm summed up my leaving the practice of law and going into education brilliantly with this story: “there were two dogs ‘happy’ and ‘mean’ the leader of a tribe of Native Americans asked the young people to go contemplate who will win in a fight- the happy dog or the mean dog.
They came back with their answers and the reasons for them and the chief said that they were all wrong because they could not know who would win because- the one who wins is the dog you feed.” I knew I had to get out of law because it was feeding the mean dog. Can I feed the happy dog in education? Yes I Can!

Journal 3

Richard Villa - keynote
10th Annual Summer Leadership Institute
Cal State San Marcos

Dr. Villa spoke about the current state of education. He stated that one of the greatest barriers to school reform is the lack of a clear vision.

If we envision the future we have a chance to get to it. If we do not how can we possibly get there? Hopefully, I will join a community (school) which shares this vision. If not, I will attempt to (as I had done in NYC) disseminate this vision to others in an organic manner during each phase of the school year. If I address the vision in terms of the best needs of the students, my colleagues with few exceptions, react positively. All teachers care about their students growth and development.

When I began teaching, I believed that I would focus on only one group of students – those who in my opinion and personal experience had been disenfranchised. My destination has changed. I want to reach out to all and include those who had inspired me to begin teaching.

Equalence in education (equity and excellence)
Democratization of the school system must be accomplished in the future of inclusive education.
Self-actualization of each student based upon their strengths and finding their zone of proximal development must be addressed in every classroom. I find the paring of excellence and equity a uniquely perfect blend as far as education is concerned.

Equity and excellence are powerful when combined. I am hopeful that I will establish this in my classroom, my school and my community. A lot will depend upon whether I can get all of these things: Vision + Skills + Incentives + Resources + Action plan = Change. Dr. Villa stated that they are all necessary to achieve it or confusion will reign. I unfortunately know about the confusion part. I had spent the summer as a Teaching Fellow preparing for a very technology rich learning environment. That was not to be. In fact, I had to spend quite a bit of money simply providing books and other resources for my students including maps, globes, art tools, photos, films and a lap top for the class.


How will I adapt if one of these is missing in my classroom? I know that if something is missing there is confusion and anxiety because I had a lot of anxiety that my students were not receiving the resources they needed to promote change. So what will I do if I am in the same situation? Can I adapt? I honestly don’t know the answer to this. I no longer have the means to simply try to bring in the resources myself. I am guessing that I will have to write grant proposals and call upon my fund-raising skills. Of course I am assuming that only resources will be missing from the equation above. I could also be working in a district without an action plan. If that is so I know that I can use my interpersonal skills to get a movement started because I did that in NYC. I made small incremental changes toward a greater inclusive classroom. But will I be patient enough this time? I don’t know. A year out of the classroom is a long time and I may have to wait even longer to get back there. I have a great sense of urgency and it has not abated. It is the passion which gives me strength to try to accomplish great change but it also makes me very impatient and that has only been exacerbated by this forced sabbatical.

I will try to remember that it’s all about the students.

“The most untapped resource is children themselves”

I will keep this foremost in my mind when I teach. This concept was something I tried to implement in my lessons and home fun. When I came to a method for reteaching or homefun that my students responded to I continued to use it. I often asked my students what they needed from me in order to gain mastery. This included rewriting the text book in world history. The most frustrating aspect of teaching at Martin Luther King High School was that there was no library but we went on field trips to the public library when time permitted and of course I used my finances to embellish the classroom library. This was one example of a “lack of resources” that I found astounding. Another was the lack of technology available to my students who, I started to notice were, due to scheduling, kept out of the computer room as often as possible, probably because of inappropriate behavior. Students often showed up after several weeks absence and had to be kept in the loop regarding the work we were doing in the computer room. There were times when it didn’t go well. Sometimes they had abused drugs before coming to the computer room as well. It was a difficult situation for all concerned. Eventually, I had to drop students off at the “office” when we were scheduled to go to the computer lab. Not my favorite memory.

“It is justice not charity that is wanting in the world.” Mary Wollstonecraft.
In New York City I came across many master teachers who were suspicious of the motives of all the NYC Teaching Fellows. As fellows, we were sometimes viewed as elitist, over achieving, white people who had come to ‘save the kids from the ghetto’. The issue of our pity response was often discussed. I understood that this was not what my students needed. I understood that my students had strengths that were somewhat unimaginable to me and I treated them as such.

We must create “A culture of artistry-If you work with your hands your head your heart and your soul you are an artist.”

• Culture where character counts
• Culture of collaboration
• Culture of creativity and courage
• Culture of differentiation
• Culture that values diversity


Can I create a culture of artistry?
I believe so. I will know that I have arrived at this culture of artistry when I can look at my classroom and see that germination of the seeds of the above cultures have occurred and are growing. I hope that they blow away in the wind and grow out into the school and the community.

My students will come into an environment where they can succeed as people because they will be giving back to the community, because they will be developing good citizenship and because they will feel as though they belong, they are accepted and they are loved.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Journal 1

ShiffletToledo, RenaCheri (June/July 2).Extreme Makeover: Updating Class Activities for the 21st Century. Learning & Leading with Technology. 35, 34-35.

The article is about using Web-based applications which are social in nature and enable users to collaborate and publish. Students can use Zoho writer to collaboratively create a newsletter and the final product can be published to the web. Students can use wiki’s to create collaborative research based materials and other projects.

The article warns of the dark side of these applications as well. But hopefully the authors state that this will be an opportunity to teach responsible and ethical use of collaborative tools. Activities should be designed to use the tools for constructive purposes.


How would I design a project so that students will use the collaborative tools for constructive purposes?
I would require student input into the creation of the project. If students choose their own project in a carefully guided atmosphere of course they are more likely to utilize the technology for the advancement of their own mastery of the content and use of technology.

Mader Smith, Jared Ben (June/July 2).Blogging Right Along. Learning & Leading with Technology. 35, 36-39.

This article focuses upon what it takes to become as successful science student. The students in this science class regularly demonstrate their learning through participation in classroom activities, experimentation, demonstrations, and lecture. Students also blog about their learning using iweb on a daily or weekly blog. They use a variety of media to demonstrate mastery of the material.

This allows:

  • teachers to identify that the objectives of the lesson were met
  • absent students direct access to the material
  • serves as a time line of classroom events for content review
  • Peer to peer assessment of assignments can occur
  • allows reflection of the process by teachers


How would I use a blog in my classroom?

Of course I believe that it would depend upon who I was teaching. But I certainly would make the creation of a blog a collaborative process. I would assess my student’s technological savvy first and be sure that the ELL students were not too tied to text based assignments. I would be sure that guidelines were clear for blogging and that students understood their ethical responsibilities for creation of this community online.

Journal 2

McFarlane, Sarah Heller (Summer 2008).The Laptops Are Coming! The Laptops Are Coming!. Rethinking Schools Online. 22, 1-7.

This teacher writes a reflection about her first year using laptop technology in her high school social studies class. She addresses the ethics and power structures involved. She reflects upon how we can create a learning environment which tracks the impact of technology on the "cognitive, social and emotional development" of students and educators.

It is interesting to see how a "dream come true," the provision of each student with a lap top created problems for her as an educator and for her students as well. She found that the introduction of the technology and the time required to implement to made it difficult to simultaneously analyze what was happening. Additionally, the mandates from her district such as professional development time, use of email, online attendance, grade entry and substitute request programs and eventually web site creation for all teachers, posting grades online and use of technology in class frustrated her because it took time away from teaching.

She found that her adolescent students were becoming disconnected from each other and the content of the course as well. And that her ELL students who were less technologically savvy and who were less adept at the text laden assignments because resentful of the lap top program. These problems were in her opinion based on a lack of social justice and equality and negatively shaped relationships and learning.


How would I handle a similar situation in my classroom?
I watched the videos available on the ISTE website when doing the Power Point Presentation and saw students working in groups on projects with "real life" experience (such as collecting data for the science project) and placing the data into prearranged programs on their lap tops. This will alleviate the student alienation and have students interact between the online world and the real world. Students would have to talk to each other as a result they would increase their social skills thereby alleviating the author’s concerns about alienation.

How can the use of technology in the classroom increase social justice and equality?
Using the web to increase social justice and equality would be an easy task if students were focused on sites such as "taking it global". Decreasing the amount of text laden assignments would also help ELL students to feel competent. And finally, using the technology to work in groups would allow students with various strengths and needs to support one another.

Check out the link to Digital Youth Network referred to in the article as a program that works!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Introductory Letter

To begin at the beginning I was born near Gracie Mansion in NYC (that's where the mayor lives) but I lived way uptown (the Bronx) for 13 a great accent there... Then the folks took me really way up town to Westchester County which was like going to Mars. So I of course went to college there since I wanted to be able to pass as a Martian anytime I needed to.
But after college I lived in NYC for 10 years because the air there was more natural to me.
Then I went to law school and practiced law for almost 15 years. But I got tired of having to be mean all the time so I decided to change and while I was trying to decide I taught some students and while I was doing that I realized I was happy again... so I morphed into a teacher.

Then I won a fellowship to become a NYC teacher and spent a year teaching in high school in a self-contained class in 9th and 10th grade and I was very happy, when my husband of 9 years said he couldn't breath anymore and some people on the west coast offered him some breathing apparatus. And so kicking and screaming I left for Cali where no one had ever heard of me and so pretty much ignored me for a while - a year (except a cute little stray dog who came to visit my husband and I and our 2 dogs and decided to stay) :) And so since reading Jackie and Rich's book changed the way I thought about Spec. Ed I came to Cal State where I feel included.

All of my experience with technology is self taught. I use a PC because it was what most lawyers used 10 years ago. I can usually figure out how to do anything if I am in a patient mood. I ran my business using a lot of technology for calendaring and putting together large documents, always being connected with a palm pilot etc. I have used google documents a lot. I have always used the Internet for research - lexis - Nexis (since 1990) etc... for legal stuff. My school in NYC (MLK HS) did not have computers in the classroom and since I taught a self -contained class with ED students sometimes going to the computer lab was trying (I taught 9th and 10th graders). So I am anxious to begin using the computer in whatever job I get. Did I mention I am looking for a teaching position? :)

Creating an Inclusive School profoundly changed my view of how to proceed as a special educator. I hope that the teaching position I obtain allows me to be collaborative but if not I know that I can collaborate with other teachers in an informal way as I did at Martin Luther King HS. I have been committed to social justice since I worked for McGovern. Being a part of an institution whose mission statement commits to diversity and equality and social justice is a very natural place for me.