The Wisdom of a 9 Year Old

@MrBrettClark 7 Comments

A rare thing happened today.  I had nothing to do and it has been wonderful.  I decided to take the cardboard on my back porch to the recycling center at Wesselman's Park here in town.  I asked my oldest son Micah if he wanted to go with me and then walk the nature trails.  He was eager to join me and we were on our way.  I didn't talk much on our little adventure but spent most of the time listening to my son. I was amazed at how many things he said that made me think about school.  Here are just a few of the wise things my son said to me throughout the day.

"Man, this is going to be a great trip for my brain."

He said this after we had just started on the trails and he had stopped to read an informational sign about birds.  Made me think about if we provide the same trips for our students.  If I ever go back to the classroom, I will post this saying in my classroom.  Every day should be a great trip for your brain.

"Dad, this is great.  It was your idea to come here but now that we're here you're letting me pick which way to go."

Micah said this after we had come to a fork in the trail and I let him pick which way to go.  This is something we can all do better for our students.  I might pick for my students what we are going to study next.  However, once we get our students into the forrest, why not let them pick the path.  Any path my son picked would have eventually led us to the same end.  We can and should provide the same thing for our students.

"I'm so glad we had this conversation, or else I never would have thought of that!"

My son loves the idea of inventing.  He is constantly talking to me about his next invention.  During our walk I was just letting him spout off any idea he wanted with no judgement or negative feedback.  We were just talking about it.  I'm not even sure what I said now, but something I said sparked the above comment.  Nothing can replace having genuine conversations with your students. I didn't have all the answers and neither do you but by collaborating with my son, together, we were on to something.

"I know I make mistakes sometimes but that's how I learn."

Micah was caught up in talking to me about Pokemon when a tree branch stepped out in front of him.  I asked him if he was ok and he fired back the above quote.  It was the last branch he ran into that day.  Don't be afraid to let your students fail.  Don't be afraid to let yourself fail.  It's how we all learn.  You're not a failure until you stop learning from your mistakes.

"You know, this is a good way to build a father-son relationship."

It's amazing when you go out of your way to make a kid feel special, you are one that ends up feeling special. As a father of three boys I do my best to spend time with each of them individually.  I took my middle son on a trip to Walmart to pick out ice cream later in the day and videoed my son Levi dancing to Rio.  As a teacher, we need to make sure we spend time with each student on an individual basis.  I know are classes are full and our time is booked.  However, we do our best work with the students we have a healthy relationship with.

Take time this week and talk to a child.  You'll be amazed how much better you will feel and how much you will learn.


Dear Standardized Test *Updated*

@MrBrettClark 0 Comments

*UPDATE* It's ISTEP week for my son and everyone else in the state of Indiana. Last night he asked me, "Dad, do you think I'm smart enough to pass the ISTEP?" I responded, "Micah, you're smart no matter what that test says." Micah smiled, hugged my neck and said, "Thanks dad."

Let's remind our students during this testing season that nobody is ever defined by one event or one test, but are defined by the sum of daily choices we make throughout our life.

Here is the original post:

*Warning* This blog may be more of a rant than anything...

Last night I was putting my three boys to bed and we were saying our nightly prayers.  As our custom is in my family each boy, ages 3, 6, and almost 9, each have a turn to pray about whatever they want.  My three year old prayed that he loved his brothers and playing the wii.  My six year old prayed about school and to help him and his brothers to be good.  Then my oldest, who will turn 9 on February second, prayed a prayer that made me send out this tweet as soon as we were done:
Now, I want to say that I don't find this prayer a reflection of my kids' school.  I absolutely love the school they attend.  They have strong PLCs that lead to innovative instruction.  They have no textbooks,  no homework, and no grades.  My kids love to learn and have grown tremendously at their school.  I plan on blogging about the school at some point in the future because they are a groundbreaking school.  However, at this time, I'd like to finish my rant.

The thing that I didn't tweet last night was Micah's six year old brother's response.  He looked at Micah and asked if he would pray for him and Levi so they would pass the test too.  It was such a sincere moment and Micah went to work and prayed that Nathan and Levi would pass the test too when they were his age.

I can not begin to tell you how sad this made me.  First of all, I do not think my oldest will have any problem passing the test this year.  He is a smart young man who loves to learn.  He was given a four book series for Christmas from his grandma.  Each book is close to five hundred pages and he has read two of them in the last 3 weeks for a total of over 900 pages.  Not to mention the books he's checked out from the library during that time and yes, I'm bragging.  Secondly, I personally don't care if he ever passes a state exam because they will never tell me anything I didn't already know about my child.

What bothers me is how much he cares about the test.  Again, it's not his school's fault he cares so much, all they have done is shared with him the facts of the exam they are forced to give.  Now my son isn't worried about learning, he's worried about a test and if he'll get to go on with his friends to fourth grade.  Now my middle child isn't concerned about the soil he was telling me he learned about at school, he's praying that he'll pass a stupid test in two years like his big brother.

This is where we are at today.  The standardized test programs of our current education system do nothing but bully the kids they test.  This is the definition I got when I googled the word bullying.

I can not think of a better definition for standardized test.  How depressing it is to think that all the work a student does throughout the year comes down to a few days of testing.  However, this is how our society is today.  Ask Kyle Williams of the 49ers or Billy Cundiff of the Ravens.  All of their work was brushed aside and both received death threats because of one day's work.  Do we want to mirror that kind of thinking in education?

To my son, that's what the IRead and ISTEP are, a school death threat.  In a time of his life when he should love learning, enjoy his friends, play games, and think girls have cooties, he's praying to God that he passes a test.

Dear Standardized Test,

Thank you for ruining our nightly prayers last night.  Thank you for using your superior influence to intimidate my son and to force him to do what you want.  Thank you for causing him to worry about the future when he should be enjoying the present.


                                                Brett Clark


Flipping Professional Development

Anonymous 3 Comments

Last week I worked with almost 100 educators from my district in the area of flipping the classroom over a period of two days.  These two sessions were lead by well-known "flipper", Brian Bennett, another colleague of mine, Brian Bobbitt, and myself.  It was a fantastic two days and there was a lot of excitement.

Being a part of these sessions allowed me to really think about the way we do professional development.  I must admit, I enjoyed the second day a lot more than the first day. It's not that the first day was a bad day and not because I was called out an hour early because my wife went to the ER for what turned out to be a kidney stone (She's fine now by the way).  I think the second day went better than the first day because of a small adjustment we made to the schedule based on feedback and our own personal observation from the first day.

The first day we started off talking about the philosophy and rationale of the flipped classroom.  We spent about an hour presenting on the purpose of the flipped classroom, the misconceptions of the flipped classroom, and what we would be covering during the day.  It was the same type of presentation I had done several times at different conferences.  However, it was mainly Brian and me talking and then fielding questions.  I found myself thinking throughout that first hour that we were talking way too much and we were demonstrating the very reason why I am a proponent of the flipped classroom.  I even leaned over to Brian at one point and mentioned that it was very ironic that we were up here talking as much as we were.  It really slowed the morning down and I think brought down the energy.  Now, it was still a good day and we got great feedback from our participants but I left knowing it could be better.

We had a day off between sessions and we communicated through email about what we wanted to do differently.  Quickly the idea was given that we needed to shorten the first hour and give more time for our participants to collaborate.  Brian Bennett shared with us a shorter presentation that he had given at another conference.  I asked him if he could make a video of that presentation that I could email out to our participants to view before they came the next day.  This is what he made in a matter of 30 minutes:

The next day when we began we did a quick formative assessment to see who had watched the video, had discussion about the content, and we were off and running.  It helped us add another hour of collaboration time because we flipped a portion of the day.  It also helped us demonstrate the power of flipping a classroom.  I heard several comments of appreciation because of the time we gave our participants to collaborate.

One of my favorite conversations I had the second day was with a group of instructional coaches and administrators from my district and how they can flip professional development.  One of the biggest complaints I had as a teacher and one of the biggest complaints I hear working in professional development is that we don't have enough time to work.

I personally experienced traditional PD this past Friday in a session for a leadership cadre that I belong to in my district.  I sat in a session with around 70 leaders from my district and listened to two webinars on the common core.  Both webinars lasted close to an hour and I was bombarded with information.  There were several times when those who presented the sessions stopped and waited for questions.  Eventually there were some questions but not as many as you'd think. I am sure I would have had questions if my brain wasn't about to explode from my week at work and all the information they had just given me.  I kept thinking to myself, just like I did on the first session on the flipped classroom that I had lead earlier in the week, there has to be a better way.

What if those of us who work in the area of professional development begin to flip our PD sessions?  What if, instead of listening to those sessions live, I could have had access to those sessions ahead of time, listened to them (at least once), digest the information, and then brought questions with me to the meeting?  Then the two people who presented the sessions could have still video conferenced in with us, and we could have have had a better conversation.  I just kept thinking to myself, "Here we are, some of the best educators in my district in the same room, and we're looking at computer screens."  The next day we applied what we had learned in some very meaningful activities.

Here is how I could see professional development done "flipped classroom" style:

  1. The presenter making a video presentation of the material they would be presenting at the PD session.
  2. Participants would watch the video ahead of time.
  3. Participants would come the PD session with questions or maybe a completed task.
  4. Then the participants would be engaged in a collaborative session with an expert, instead of the "sit and get" session most of us teachers are all too familiar with.
Now I know there would those that wouldn't watch the videos, just like there are in a flipped classroom.  However, I think that we would find most teachers would come to the sessions prepared.  All I know for sure is that when Brian, Brian, and I flipped our PD session on the flipped classroom, all I heard over and over again were participants who appreciated the time to collaborate with each other and to have experts near by when they had questions.  


What Really Matters

Anonymous 0 Comments

I must admit, it's been an emotional couple of days for me.  After school today I picked up 2 of my boys from school, went by the house to pick something up, headed over to the daycare where my wife works and my youngest son attends, and took the family over to the hospital.  We went there to meet my new nephew Bowen.

Baby Bowen and Uncle Brett

In order to understand why this was an emotional day for me, I must unfortunately tell you about what happened on March 7, 2010.  On that day Cole, Bowen's older brother, wondered away from his older brother Japheth.  He found his way to the creek on my sister-in-law's property, fell in, and passed from this life to the next at the age of 2.  It was by far, the saddest day in my family's life.  I remember speaking at Cole's funeral to our family and friends about how the days ahead would be difficult but we were going to make it with the help of God and each other.

My son Micah, Cole in the middle, and his brother Japheth on the right.

Now here we are, almost 2 years later, and little Bowen has joined our family.  I am not sure why I have felt so compelled over the last few weeks, as Bowen's birth approached, to write this blog.  I have honestly been putting it off because of the emotion I knew I would feel while typing these words.  However, as this new year begins and a new life has joined my family, I am once again reminded about what matters in this life.

First and foremost, I am a parent.  I have three wonderful boys that have brought more joy to my life than I could have ever imagined.  I want to take time each day to make sure they realized how much I love them and how special they are to me.  I never want them to go a day without hearing me tell them that I love them.  They are all three unique gifts and I am blessed to be their father.  I have an amazing wife who loves me and all my faults.  She works hard in and out of the home.  She is raising all four of us boys and doing a great job.

I am blessed to work with young people in my job and at my church.  I affect the future every time I work with a child.  I never want to lose sight of that.  It is not about test scores, grades, curriculum, dress code, or anything else. It is about kids.

They also have a tremendous impact on my life.  I am truly amazed by the things my own kids and the kids that I see every day can do and the potential they have.

I encourage you to take time and reflect on what really matters in this world.  Be reminded about why you wanted to become a parent, a spouse, a teacher, or whatever it is that defines you.  I think back to that great scene in the movie Hook where Peter Pan finds his happy thought and begins to fly again.  His happy thought was his reason for leaving Neverland and his purpose in life.

Remember your purpose in life and fly!

Find your happy thought.  Take somebody aside and say to them, as my friend Angela Maiers would say, "You matter!"  Do something positive for somebody else!  Time is short and precious.  Our family must realize that they are a gift.  Our parents and teachers must realize that they are ones that are passing the baton off to the future.  Our students must realize that they are dreamers of this world and the ones that will lead us to greatness.


Set the Example

Anonymous 1 Comments

I was on my way to school this morning just thinking about the upcoming semester.  I found myself thinking about all the things teachers have to get done between now and May.  I work in a K-8 school, so I see everything thing from DIBELS to Acuity to ISTEP.  I started thinking about all the times I was going to think and hear teachers say something about students being tested to death.

Then a thought hit me, who gives more test throughout the year, teachers or the state?  I honestly don't see the state backing off on the number of test they require in a year.  A teacher has no control over the number of test the state requires them to take.  However, most teachers have control over the number of test they assign in their classroom.  

So, how about we as teachers set the example.  If we think students are being tested to death, then lets back off on the number of test we give in our classrooms and find other ways to assess our students.  Now I know what some of you are thinking..."I only give test to prepare them for the state exam." "I have grades to give and I use test to guide my teaching." In reality, we give test because it's tradition and most test are easy to grade.  

Unfortunately, we live in a testing environment and our students are being tested to death.  If you feel that way, then set the example and give your students a break.  


Flipped Classroom PD - Let the adventure begin!

@MrBrettClark 6 Comments

Flipped Classroom PD - Let the adventure begin!

On January 17 and 19, two of my colleagues and myself will be starting an action research project on the flipped classroom.  My colleagues are none other than Brian Bennett (@bennettscience) and Brian Bobbitt (@MrBrianBobbitt).  If you have read my blog at all, you know how I feel about the flipped classroom and I'm not going to revisit why I'm passionate for this ideology in this post.  However, if you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I'll respond.

Towards the end of last semester Brian Bobbitt created a weebly website and sent it out to the staff in our corporation to find out the level of interest in the flipped classroom model.  We had a tremendous response and that is why we were given the days for professional development.

As of right now, we have 63 teachers, coaches, or administrators signed up for the professional development days and 17 spots left to fill.  It is going to be a great time and I can not wait for Brian, Brian, and I to share our knowledge and to learn from our participants.  However, I'm more excited about the potential impact this could have on our students and our district.

I hope that from these PD days that we will spark teachers interest and encourage them to find a way to make their students the center of their classroom.  We will be following up with teachers and collecting data throughout the second semester, the summer, and next school year.  The Brians and I will be providing support throughout this entire project and, I'm sure, learning a lot ourselves along the way.

Flipping the classroom is not the answer to solving all of the flaws in our education system.  However, neither is doing nothing and continuing on like nothing is wrong.  I look forward to blogging more about this over the next 2 years.

Now I look to you, if you were attending a one day PD session on the flipped classroom, what would you want to learn?  Please leave your answers below in the comments.