Friday, July 22, 2016

Day 9: What Do We Do with a Problem?

I know these posts are meant to be more of a description of the day’s events, and I dutifully took notes for this purpose throughout Thursday’s session, but when I sat down to write an account of our day, I was struck by the need to say more.  My writing group partners should find this statement ironic.  If there is one thing I’m known for it’s that I’m a person of few words.  I sketched a quick outline of Thursday’s major events and began to summarize, but the right words wouldn’t come.  I had to set the work aside after a short while because it was time for our Local School Council to meet and approve next year’s budget.  I went to the meeting and listened to the preview of the difficult times ahead.  On Friday, there is an optional follow up meeting to share this same information with the faculty and to address questions we might have.  I decided that the best place for me to spend Friday would be with our workshop.  I find our time together too rewarding to pass up, even if it means sacrificing a chance to get some clarity on how next year is shaping up.

When I returned home again to work on my blog post, what I wanted to express about Thursday was becoming clear.  I wanted not only to describe the events of the day, but also to express their significance.

Amanda reads from What Do You Do with a Problem?
We welcomed Iris back today!  Her warmth and positivity are defining characteristics of this group. Amanda started Thursday's events with a read-aloud that featured excerpts from three texts: Kobi Yamada’s children’s book, What Do You Do with a Problem?, Markus Zusak’s YA novel, The Book Thief, and Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s novel, Fish in a Tree.  One common thread among the three choices was the characters’ struggles to overcome obstacles, a theme that resonates with us as we plan for the challenges that await us in the coming school year.  As we enter the final days of our workshop, I think it’s so important to reflect on the reasons that brought us together in the first place.  When Jan and Amy posed that question on the very first day, I wrote that I wanted to learn from other teachers, to improve my own practice, and to try something new outside of the usual PD offerings.  While this program has more than satisfied those three reasons, the most important piece that I will take away from our three weeks together is the feeling of empowerment that a strong community brings. 

What do you do with a problem?  The answer should never be “nothing.”

When we updated each other on the status of our inquiry projects, we had a dozen answers for what to do with a problem.  Trying to list them all in this post, I found, did not do justice to these ideas or to the hard work that we have invested in them.  Our ideas seek solutions in many different ways, and they shine with such great potential.  Despite these differences, they are all rooted in the strength of the community we have built this summer, and they will, in turn, strengthen the communities we return to this fall.    

After we reported on the status of the class, we shared resources with each other.

The discussions around our work spread throughout the library.

Madeline transitioned us into the afternoon with a phenomenal blog post that discussed, among many other things, the importance of equipping students with the skills to effect positive changes in the classroom and the community at large.  Katrina shared a text by Constance McGrath called The Inclusion Classroom Problem Solver, and Sandra shared a strategy that pairs snippets of student writing with images that is a fun way to bring students' work out of their notebooks and into the classroom.

Ben Kuhlman visited during the afternoon to share a wealth of technology resources with us.  He tailored his presentation to the questions and needs we expressed earlier in the workshop.  Ben discussed using Google Docs (make sure to keep your drive organized), blogs, a site that lets students compare drafts of a work in progress, and ways to raise money for technology at our schools.  Ben also has a presence on Twitter, where he communicates with teachers in schools all over the country.  He understandably gets excited when the teacher-researchers he admires join his online conversations.  I was amazed by just how many resources are out there, and we are fortunate that he shared a link to his presentation so we can explore it in the future.  Ben truly expanded the definition of a community for me.  He participated in SLI several years ago, so there was an immediate sense that he belonged in our group.  Ben showed us how teachers can use technology to create and participate in communities that they never may have accessed otherwise.  His notes on how to find funding for technology-driven projects or for devices showed us how to open the door for community members or organizations to have a more personal stake in our students' learning.

As we pursue our inquiry projects this coming year, I truly hope that we can all carve out some time to reconnect with one another.  What we have built in a few short weeks is so difficult to do during the school year, and that is why what we have done is so valuable.

Further Resources:

Art Institute Teacher Programs

Ben Kuhlman's Technology Resource Slideshow

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