Tag Archives: Teaching

Could You Be an NBCT?

This week Maine celebrated 50 new Nationally Board Certified Teachers at a pinning ceremony (along with several renewals). I joined two of my colleagues from the Augusta School district at this celebration. Next year we will go to celebrate the fourth member of our cohort who is working on this journey. Everyone in that room was feeling a sense of joy at their accomplishments, relief in their success, and respect for those around them. We all knew what it took to get us to this place. We all took this journey.Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 9.02.40 AM

Since certifying I have had several teachers ask me about the process and contemplated the challenge. Have you considered becoming a Nationally Board Certified Teacher? It’s not something everyone will be interested in. So, how do you know if it’s right for you? Maybe a place to start is asking yourself:

  • Am I someone who is continually looking for ways to hone my practice and tweak my talent?
  • Am I someone who is consistently striving to know my students and meet their needs?
  • Am I someone who knows my content and wants to instruct my students in ways that best helps them to learn it?
  • Am I someone who thinks systematically about my teaching practice and wants to learn from experience?
  • Am I someone who seeks to elevate the professionalism of teachers with a commitment to excellence?
  • Am I someone who is always looking for that next challenge to feed my growth mindset?
  • Am I someone who is looking for a learning community that will push me to be my best?
  • Am I at a place in my life where I can devote time and energy to an intense project?
  • Am I slightly crazy, obsessed, or driven to do more in life?

If you answer yes to many of these questions, board certification might be a great way for you to “up your game”.  Certainly it is not the only route- many teachers have PLNs  or are enrolled in graduate programs that elevate their thinking, pedagogy, and practice.  If there is one thing I have learned as a teacher, there are many paths to achieve outcomes and goals.

The National Board process is not easy. Most people do not certify on their first attempt. A colleague of mine missed it by one point!  But she has the heart of an NBCT because after her initial disappointment, she drafted a plan to move forward and reach that goal this year. THAT is grit. THAT is passion. THAT is what it takes to be an NBCT.

If you are interested in the process I’d love to chat with you. Connect with me on Twitter or email me through my webpage- paulabourque.com  My best advice is to think about the time you have to commit to this process and be honest about what you can do. Then try to find colleagues to do it with. It can certainly be done alone, but there is power in a PLN that is working together on the same goal.  My colleagues in Augusta (Maureen, Caroline, and Katie) and a cohort through the Maine Education Association (led by Heidi and Melissa) were there for me every step of the way- I am forever grateful to them.

You can check out National Board’s webpage on WHY CERTIFY? for more information.

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 11.36.36 AMMary’s Monster by Lita Judge

In a word, this book is AMAZING. Lita Judge has created a masterpiece about a masterpiece! The poetic writing & haunting illustrations bring her research on Mary Shelley to life so beautifully. Using letters, diaries, and historic biographies Judge retells the story of Mary’s troubled life from her birth that resulted in her mother’s death, to being sent away by a wicked stepmother, to falling in love with a married man whose creative genius was rivaled by his madness, to the conception and creation of Frankenstein’s monster. Judge weaves this this gothic tale as a graphic novel in verse that evokes an eerie mood and irresistible page turning. Definitely for older readers as it deals with painful issues of teen pregnancy, infidelity, mental illness, and child abuse/neglect. Find out the true story of a pregnant teenage runaway who was able to pen the most famous horror story of all time.

 

 

 

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Secure Your Own Mask First!

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-14-20-pmThere’s a reason airlines advise their passengers to “Secure your own mask first before helping others.” It may sound harsh, but they know you can’t help others when you are incapacitated. It’s advice we need to take to heart more often.

We’ve just come off some much needed down time from teaching.  For some, spending the holidays with friends and family was restorative and relaxing. For others, the opportunity to travel was exciting and enjoyable. For a few of us, the days may have been hectic and stressful.  But for all of us, it was time to focus on personal needs and choices- we received a little much needed oxygen.

As we transition back into our working lives, it is important to make sure we keep that oxygen mask secure when the pressure changes.  That oxygen mask is teacher self-care that will help us thrive in 2017.

So what can that self-care look like? It looks like kindness. It looks like patience. It looks like nurturing.  It doesn’t look like sh*#%d.  One of my mantras is “Stop “shoulding” all over yourself!” So as I offer some suggestions for self-care, try to avoid turning them into “shoulds”. That just leads to guilt and stress.  Rather, think about the care, nurturing, and advice you would give your child or any child and offer that same kindness to that child you see in the mirror each day!

BREATHE.  Seriously.  Most of us BREATHE shallow breaths that  leads to a poor exchange of oxygen and CO2 in the bloodstream, depriving our bodies of both vital gases. It’s like we are in a constant state of hyperventilation. We sometimes hold our breath when we are stressed or upset.  We are rarely aware of our breathing unless we are ‘out of breath’ or have a cold.  Watch how babies BREATHE, deep relaxing breaths from their abdomens. When you feel stressed, anxious, or tired check in with your BREATHING.   Before the kids walk in the classroom take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Feel the oxygen filling your lungs and nourishing your body. BREATHE out the stress and anxiety. When tension levels peak during a lesson, take a few deep breaths before reacting. When the kids walk out the door take time to BREATHE deep and be grateful for the day. When we take time to focus on our breathing we are present in that moment and focusing on the gift being alive. Isn’t that really the most important gift we have?

SLEEP.  This is a tough one for me.  Life seems so short and there is so much I want to do, (so many books I want to read!) SLEEP sometimes seems like a waste or a luxury.   But researchers are finding an increasing relationship between SLEEP and health; both physical and mental.  Lack of SLEEP is related to weight gain, high blood pressure, heart and kidney disease, memory loss, depression… A more recent study shows a 20% higher risk of car accidents when people don’t get enough SLEEP. There is no lesson plan, no grading, no studying that will offer you the health benefits that SLEEP will.  Think about it!

MOVE.  Most of us aren’t going from Couch to 5K, but we can all MOVE a little more each day.  One of the best things I did to monitor my movement was investing in a FitBit (or pedometer). I notice a huge difference in the way I feel on the days when I get very few steps in.  The health benefits for our bodies are well documented, but our brains also thrive when we MOVE. A recent study involving 120 people found that walking briskly 30-40 minutes a day three times a week helped to “regrow” the structures of the brain linked to cognitive decline in older adults.

If you find yourself sitting a lot at work, try to stand up every 30 minutes.  Walk around your classroom to monitor student work or vary where you address your students. Park further from school, walk to talk instead of sending email, make more trips to your car instead of carrying large loads. Try to get outside and walk before/after school, during lunch, or planning periods.  You can “work and walk” or you can take a brain break and MOVE.  Have walking meetings with colleagues! This isn’t leisure, it isn’t frivolous, it’s serious self-care. Encourage others to join you and think kindly of others who do it. They aren’t slackers-they are nurturers!

EAT.  But do it consciously.  I will never be successful with a restrictive diet-for long.  I EAT for more than nutritional reasons and I get that. It’s social. It’s festive. It’s fun.  If dieting was easy, I’d be Twiggy! What I can start to do, is EAT more mindfully.  I can think about whether a food is ‘calorie-worthy’  or ‘me-worthy’ when I choose to EAT it, and if it makes the ‘cut’,  I want to enjoy it-NO guilt.  Taste it, savor it, sit with it! If I slow down and really notice how it tastes and makes me feel, I’ll probably eat less more naturally. If I decide I really want something,  I can think about portions and pace and stop making myself feel guilty-robbing me of some of the joy that food was intended to give me! Stop thinking about deprivation, and focus more on appreciation!

STOP. We all have had that experience when we are driving someplace and realize we don’t remember going past something. We are on auto-pilot.  We do that during our workday as well.  The day is almost over and we realize we didn’t get everything done, or we feel stress as the day goes on, finding little things setting us off that normally wouldn’t.  If we just STOPped periodically to check in with ourselves we might find we can change the trajectory of our day and choose a direction that is helpful.

Transitions are a great time to STOP.  We can invite the kids to join us. “Ok, before we start (next lesson) let’s stop for a minute and think about (previous lesson) and how that went for you and what you need to be successful next.” Or “Let’s just stop and take a couple deep breaths to get our minds ready for (whatever is next)”

We can just check in with ourselves as well.  Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now?  What do I need? What’s going well?”  Too often we only reflect on our difficulties and not successes. STOP to notice and then celebrate, too!

LOVE.  Before you find yourself getting bogged down in the minutiae of teaching and working, think about what you LOVE about teaching and try to give that the bulk of your energy and time. Find something to LOVE about each of your students (and colleagues) remember that when the going gets tough.  LOVE what you do. LOVE those you do it with. LOVE yourself and self-care will be a focus of all your actions!  “Where there is LOVE, there is life.” –Gandhi

So grab that oxygen mask, take a deep breath, and then you’ll be ready to help others!  Happy 2017, my friends!

What’s On My Book Radar?

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All We Have Left  by Wendy Mills

There have been several wonderful books about the September 11th tragedy on the 15th anniversary (nine, ten: a September 11 Story, Towers Falling, The Memory of Things, Eleven,and  Just a Drop of Water, to name a few.  I’ve just added Wendy Mills’ beautiful novel to my list.

Two girls’ lives intersect 15 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. This YA novel tells the story of 16 year old Alia, a Muslim who finds herself in the World Trade Center on that fateful day-she shouldn’t have been there. It also tells the story of Jesse, now 16 years old, whose brother Travis also should not have been in the tower and was trapped with Alia. Wendy Mills weaves these stories together beautiful and surprisingly as we see how hatred and love walk such a fine line in our lives. For older readers. Mills doesn’t hold back on the tragedy of that day as she seeks to share the heroism and humanity that still impact our lives today.

Olympic Teaching: 5 Lessons and Look-Fors from Rio 2016

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As the Summer 2016 Olympics begin much of the world will be following the feats of incredibly talented athletes as they strive for peak performance. Announcers will share profiles of athletes and expound on the life lessons we can take from these games. As with everything I experience, I often see it through the lens of an educator and the Olympics will be no different!

So what can the Olympics do to enhance our teaching?  I guess that is in the eye of the beholder, but for me I’ll be watching for inspiration and insights that will transfer beyond these events. So here is what I’ll be looking for:

Teamwork– even with individual events, no athlete makes it to the Olympics alone.  They are part of a team and there are so many support personnel who help them to make their dreams come true. We teachers are all a part of a larger team, even on those days when we feel most alone.  We couldn’t do what we do without a whole team including administrators, ed techs, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc. And every one of the athletes has at least one coach.  These coaches don’t just tell athletes what to do to win, they have strategies, inspiration, and feedback that helps pull the best out of them. I believe teachers deserve coaches, too. We should never feel like we have to go it alone.

Perspective-I listened to an interesting podcast recently about the perspective of medal winners in the Olympics.  Naturally gold medal winners are the happiest, but  you would think silver medal winners would be next.  Wrong.  It’s actually the bronze medal winners who are happier.  Turns out their perspective makes them more grateful.  Silver medalists compare themselves to gold medalists and think about what could have been. Bronze medalists compare themselves to non-medal winners and feel more fortunate.  Our perspective can certain impact our experiences in life. Constantly comparing ourselves to other teachers, classrooms, schools, etc. can erode our happiness.  Focusing on the ‘gift’ of what IS without the filters of comparison can provide us a perspective of greater happiness.

Goals-These athletes all set daily, weekly, monthly, lifetime goals and have plans to achieve them. They don’t plod along with hope and a prayer.  They approach roadblocks strategically and determinedly.  They all have setbacks. They all fail at some point. I want to think about what goals do I want to set for myself this year. Not goals for evaluation or administration, but personal goals to achieve MY peak performance this year.  Athletes make it look easy-but it’s not.  As I watch replays of victories or medal ceremonies I want to remember how much goal-oriented work went into helping those athletes succeed and take inspiration for those times that the going gets tough.

Failure– more athletes will fail at these Olympics than will win. Very few of those athletes will quit.  Many athletes speak of the losses that taught them more than the wins. Often they credit their toughest losses as being their greatest inspirations. I will enjoy the victories of the winners, but I will also watch how the other athletes handle their setbacks, disappointments, and losses and take inspiration from their courage and solace in knowing that even the most elite competitors will fail and move on.

Celebration-Win or lose, the Olympians all participate in celebrations-did you see the joy in that opening ceremony?  They sincerely appreciate the commitment and effort of their fellow athletes and feel a part of something larger than themselves. Many schools celebrate student accomplishments, but the schools that I work in with the best morale have always taken time to celebrate the effort and accomplishments of staff as well. As I enjoy the Olympics I will be reflecting on those teachers and staff around me who are working on personal or professional goals and contemplate ways to celebrate their efforts, progress, and achievements.

I’m sure as the games progress I will pull more inspiration and insights. I will remember how much effort and sacrifice went into preparing for that moment in the spotlight for each and every athlete, whether they win or lose.  I’ll enjoy the personal profiles and courageous bios, remembering each ‘star’ was once (and some still are) a child who was nurtured and guided to this achievement.

I’d love to hear what lessons others may glean from these games.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

What’s On My Book Radar?

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.27.38 PMDon’t let the title scare you off. It is integral to the story in a way you might not have imagined. I am putting this book on a MUST READ list. A story of three friends during their senior year in rural America (TN) who are contemplating what the future holds for them and are struggling with the limitations their past may have on that. Incredibly well written- I couldn’t put it down! An amazing book that can help young people think about their own personal identities as they see Dill, Travis, and Amelia examine theirs and ask “Who am I?” This book will make you feel so many emotions and hopefully encourage empathy for those around us who are marginalized or ‘discarded’. The Serpent King will be on many award lists this year!

 

 

Why Vacation Makes Me a Better Teacher

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Cappucino at Cafe Vittoria (North End of Boston)

I spent the past weekend (plus a day) in Boston with my sisters and a friend from college (Southern Illinois University) that I hadn’t seen in over 20 years.  When I first met Cheryl, she was a criminal justice major and I was a theater major.  I suppose it is somewhat ironic that it led us to jobs that are very similar in education-me as a literacy coach in Maine and Cheryl as director of instructional support at the Indian Community School in Milwaukee.

As we talked and shared some great times together I realized how important it is for teachers to LIVE life outside of school, to immerse themselves in the history, culture, geography, and people of the world around them.  This is the world we are trying to prepare our students for.  Our goal isn’t to create successful students that exists only within the four walls of the classroom, it is to create citizens who appreciate and contribute to their communities and society in ways that enhance us all. We can’t guide our students toward that which we do not appreciate, understand or experience for ourselves! In the information age with the internet and variety of  technology it is easy to forget how important first hand experiences are in shaping our understanding and appreciation of the world. I reflected on several examples this weekend which enhanced my life experience and in essence, will make me a better teacher.

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Boston Public Garden

HISTORY

Just mention the word Boston and images of colonial America and the American revolution come to mind.  It is one thing to read about history, it is another to walk the same steps, view the same documents and surround yourself with the artifacts that define our history.  We walked the Freedom Trail past the Old North Church, Paul Revere’s home, Faneuil Hall, the old state house (site of Boston Massacre) and through Boston Common.  The city is dripping with history that teachers can bring to life in their classrooms.

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Posing with the Magna Carta

We were also fortunate that one of the four surviving copies of the  Magna Carta  was on display at the Museum of Fine Arts, (along with two manuscript copies of the Declaration of Independence-one penned by Thomas Jefferson and one by John Adams, and the Sons of Liberty Bowl created by Paul Revere).  I contemplated more IMG_9062than once, the significance of these artifacts in advocating the rights of individuals, and how that relates to the advocacy of student rights teachers champion each day.  A teacher who can convey the relevance of historic documents and artifacts to our lives today, can help her students embrace their own role in the ongoing history of our society-to help them appreciate that our actions create the history for future generations.

CULTURE

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Close up of Van Gogh’s Houses at Auvers

While at the MFA, we also took in the incredible art on display.  We were mesmerized by the ancient cultures of Egypt with the ornate artwork accompanying the dead into the after life, by the icons of the Renaissance, the illuminating strokes of the impressionists, the intricate strokes of the realists, and the whimsical strokes of the abstract expressionists.   I was juxtaposing the interpretation of the world these artists displayed in their work, with the writing my students create to interpret and explain their world.  Each brush stroke is like a pencil stroke, resulting in the culmination of a ‘masterpiece’ when the creator is finished.  Each technique so different, each interpreted so differently, each awaiting the eye of the beholder.

GEOGRAPHY

Getting out and exploring the geography of your surroundings can not only be awe IMG_9197inspiring but eye opening.  I reflected on how small the known geography of my students’ world is for most of them and how important it is for teachers to broaden their horizons to create possibilities.  How would their thinking be different if they could envision the narrow cobblestone street of the North End of Boston while reading about immigrants, or hear the seagulls surrounding an incoming fishing boat heavy with the aroma of their catch as IMG_9132they study industry, or walk the varied coastlines of sand and rocky shores as they study weathering and geology.  I contemplated ways to bring those experiences into the classroom for our students who are limited in their direct observation of the world outside of their neighborhoods.  A teacher’s experiences shape the way they share, I want my own children’s teachers to share the world with them.

PEOPLE

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Haymarket in Boston

Probably one of the most important reasons teachers need a vacation from their schools, is to interact with people from varying professions, regions, cultures, etc.  The school year can keep us pretty insulated within the world of academia.  The opportunity to immerse ourselves in other regions or communities helps us develop empathy, compassion, understanding, and appreciation for people who do not necessarily think, believe or live the way we do.  We break down the walls of “otherness” when we meet and engage with a variety of people from different walks of life.  Surprisingly, you often don’t really need to travel too far to experience this variety. If teachers don’t expand their worldview, they are limiting the educational opportunities they could offer their students as well as their ability to appreciate the uniqueness of individuals as human beings and not just students.

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Make Way for Ducklings sculptures in Boston’s Public Garden

Now, I know a lot of people would argue that teachers could do this on weekends or on the week vacation many people get.  Some could, but most spend weekends regrouping, recuperating and refocusing on their families, personal needs and even more work.  It is only when those needs are met that teachers can engage in the ‘research’ of the world around them-can explore ways to bring the world into their classrooms.  If society saw education as an investment in the lives of our children and our future, they would encourage  their teachers to have as many rich experiences in life and as deep an understanding of the world as possible. They would honor the need for a break from the classroom for teachers AND students. (I will talk another time on why I think breaks from school are just as important for students.)

As Maya Angelou said, “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”  Everything I have done this summer, will influence how I teach the rest of my life.  My vacations make me a better teacher because I work hard, play hard and immerse myself in the “real world” that I am preparing my students to thrive in.

What’s on My Book Radar?

On my train ride home from Boston I devoured Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  I was totally absorbed by this mesmerizing tale of the adventurous friendship between a young boy and his neighbor, Lettie Hempstock, as they try to save their community from a supernatural being that has invaded the town.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but fan’s of Gaiman’s fantasy style will LOVE this latest offering. Easily read in an afternoon, but will stay with you for much, much longer!

Also recommended is a series introduced to me by my longtime college friend, Cheryl Weber.  Welcome to the world of Aldo Zelnick!

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Aldo is a 10 year old boy who lives with his family in Colorado.  His story is told through a series of graphic novel books whose titles are presented in alphabetical order (Artsy Fartsy, Bogus, Cahoots…) The author, Karla Oceanak, also offers a glossary of words that correlate to that letter of the alphabet- a feature I thought would really turn kids onto vocabulary in a fun way.    This series would be the elementary age equivalent to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but with a regional Rocky Mountain flare.  (Talk about bringing the world into your classroom!).

So if you are looking for a series to engage younger readers who aspire to read Diary of a Wimpy kid, but aren’t quite ready to comprehend the tragicomedy of middle school- you might want to check out this series.  You might have to do some searching though, as they are not on the shelves of many local libraries or bookstores just yet.