In Which Riley Admits To and Eventually Embraces Being Sappy

Our most important job is as a role model for children.  Our students spend a huge percentage of their lives with us and our colleagues – they’re not only learning math, right?  They’re learning how to speak to people, how to treat people, how to hold others responsible and be responsible to others, manners… they are learning everything.  And yet the professional development I go to focuses only on the math, and the tests my kids take focus only on the math, and the grades I give are only on the math, and it is so easy to forget that there is so much more going on here and that it is so much more important than the math.

Other people are doing better work than me in their treatment of SBG, math curriculum, interactive, thought-provoking lessons, etc, and I’m so glad of that.  My skills in these areas have soared enormously this year from reading your great blogs (see list on the sidebar).  Thank you!

What I don’t see as much of is the explicit focus on how to help our students become better people.  Even on my blog, where every other post seems to be about how to empower students constructively, I often steer away from the topic, and you (on statistical average) don’t read as much when I do write it!  Here’s why: it’s intractable, it’s easy to be wrong, we have other stuff to do, and we’re not explicitly held accountable for our social curriculum.  But it’s the point.  Teaching our students about community and society is the whole point!

I was prodded in to seeing this imbalance in emphasis just last week, actually, when I was thinking about how to make my blog more popular (#okIadmitit).  I have to tell you that when I noticed nobody (small exaggeration) reads my homey-values posts and that everyone (big exaggeration) reads my technical posts I was disheartened.  I thought no one was interested in the really important part of school!

Then I realized all the reasons that these core values are so much harder to handle than concrete techniques.  And then! @samjshah, @jybuell, @monk51295, and @mctownsley wrote and said that they thought these are important ideas!  I am surprised by how affected I was by these tweets – a mixture of “They really do like me!” and “oh, of course people care about the really important part of school!  We’re all so bogged down that we just don’t have a lot of time to focus on it!”

After all, we all focus on community, responsibility, and respect in some way.  None of us lets students swear and insult each other, or flip their desks upside down, or paint on the walls.  We all teach kids how to be members of society automatically, by being good members of society ourselves.  When we write a good lesson plan, more often than not it is good because it empowers students and helps them interact in a good way.  I just want to focus on social skills and norms specifically. I want to improve in this dimension the same way I’ve been improving in assessment and feedback, lesson plans, and classroom management!  Do I just miss these sessions at NCTM, or is there a whole strand about “Personal Responsibility and Other Social Skills in the Classroom?”

With this new realization I feel more free to spend a large part of my writing time on the social values of teaching.  I’ve organized a page about it: http://larkolicio.us/blog/?page_id=412.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m still a huge dork and will be posting geogebra applets, and I’m still passionate about math curriculum and will be posting lesson plans.  As we move in to summer I will be writing more sparsely, and more specifically about camp (as education).  But I will no longer feel that no one wants to hear about my hippier (certainly not hipper) side.

Thanks for reading, you guys.  This blog is living up to its name for me.


PS: You know what profession has great professional development opportunities?  The camp director profession.  I run a summer camp (still accepting campers 9-13!) and so I get to go to conferences that focus on these important skills instead of the random skills like factoring that we deem vital for our future mathematicians (or whatever).  Like a quarter of the sessions are fun games you can teach to kids to build skill xyz.  You should go to an ACA conference even if you have never been to summer camp.

6 thoughts on “In Which Riley Admits To and Eventually Embraces Being Sappy”

  1. Riley: I, too, suffer from the “nobody is commenting on my post, so it must not be that meaningful to anyone else except for me” phobia once in a while.

    Know that I read every single one, but only comment where I feel like I have something to add or challenge. Maybe we all need to do a bit more “hey – I appreciate your thoughts here.” type commenting, just for the sake of feedback.

    Our students want and deserve this feedback, so why shouldn’t we do the same…right? :)

  2. Like Matt, I read every one but I just kinda feel funny about leaving comments like “I agree with everything you wrote.”

    I think also there’s a secondary ed bias for your readers. I notice this being in middle school but the teachers who teach single subject stuff (like me) tend to be more content focused. The technical stuff, as you say, is what really excites us. The self-contained (6th grade) at my school are much better and focus more on the social-emotional development aspect. I think that’s definitely something that the single subjects need to improve on.

    Last thing: I can contribute exactly one thing to forward the conversation (assessment stuff). It’s what I spend most of my time really focusing and developing. The rest of the stuff? That’s what I have you guys/girls for. I appreciate when people post on things that I don’t spend a lot of time working on. I shamelessly steal all sorts of stuff knowing that you guys/girls did the hard work on it. That’s kind of the point of all this networked stuff right? I can’t improve in every way all by myself but together we can all get a lot better.

  3. Riley-

    First off, I think — as I said — those 3 posts are some of the best things I’ve read. If I were publishing a book, they would go in there.

    I think a lot of what you said in them are things that (a) we probably do a lot of, consciously and unconsciously, that (b) we probably forget to do a lot of the time and need a good reminder (thanks for posting ‘em at the END of the school year, friend), and that (c) we could probably all do more of.

    I have a couple ideas about why we don’t all write more about these types of things.

    1. The ideas are HARD to pin down in my own head, and I think probably true for others — you need a conscious philosophy. I think many of us are “natural” about these sorts of things and don’t think about ‘em a lot. Plus it’s easier to write about the Other Stuff.
    2. I like to write about very specific, on the ground, things. And I can’t do that with these topics, because then I’ll want to talk about specific interactions, and specific kids. I avoid that — names or no names.

    Sam

  4. At least people are reading…

    I agree about camping conferences. I learn a ton every time my school schedule allows me to go to ACA Midstates. Teaching conferences need more dinners together, spontaneous singing, sessions on new ice breaker games, and marshmallow roasting.

    http://www.acamidstates.org/

  5. Yeah, ALL conferences need more social activities! ACA does it right, and we can take a lesson from them for our math conferences and our math classes!

    Thanks for the encouraging responses. It seems like I came off as complaining about the way people read and comment on my blog, but I want to set the record straight: I wasn’t! I love that so many people read and comment on my blog, and I’m totally flattered by those of you who take the time to read it. What I really wanted to get at was that we, as a group of professionals, do tend to focus more on sweet ways to teach a mathematical concept than on sweet ways to help kids build confidence (e.g.), and I was just using the numbers I see on this blog as a datapoint. Thanks for reading and sorry for sounding, I dunno, petulant!

    Sam, you mention that it’s harder to write about teaching social skills than to write about math skills in a specific way because you’ll have to talk about specific situations (which you understandably want to avoid – I do too). But in http://samjshah.com/2009/11/23/genesis/ you talk specifically about what you did to teach a not-strictly-mathematical skill, and it was great! That was a post that showed me that it can be OK to focus on something besides the chain rule (e.g.).

    Interestingly, when I started writing those three posts about responsibility, curiosity, and whatever the third one was, I wasn’t all that sure what I was going to say. I do have specific techniques (which I learned at ACA conferences) to reinforce these things, but I use them with so little data that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write anything interesting about them. Of course, the writing helped me focus my ideas and now I’m even more intentional about doing them, but there’s so much other stuff to do intentionally at the same time that it can seem like you’re not doing ANYTHING intentionally. All this to say that it can be easier to write about these sorts of skills than you might think, and I’d love to see what some of my role model (idol) bloggers are doing in these areas.

    Ok, this comment box is too small for something this long and I can’t see the whole thing at once. I hope I haven’t rambled.

  6. Riley, I agree with Sam. Personally I am constantly thinking about how I can teach my students to be better *people* as well as better math students. It’s not something that I am making much practical headway toward, and I know that my situation is very different than many others’, so I don’t write about it or ask about it much. It might be one of those unspoken things that teachers just think you’ve got it or you don’t?

    I might suggest that your practical, math-centered posts get the most response because people love to steal ideas, especially when they are good ones! I know that personally I love posts that have a “this is what I did: what do you think?” feel, because it shows me that there are other teachers out there trying new things, and I can, too!

    Keep writing about it all!

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