Humbled…

Yesterday was a day of amazing amazements. I received a follow up email about a possible future project that was, well, one of those messages that just makes you breathless for a moment. Can’t give details (sorry! No specifics to give just yet!). I received 2 boxes of books from wonderful friends to share with teachers at a workshop later this week. And then an email arrived to tell me I was nominated for a Bammy Award. I have to be honest- I thought it was a joke. Then I clicked the link and was just stupefied by this honor. Me? Really?! I thought for sure they made a mistake. There are so many voices out there right now. So many people I respect and admire who have things to say that I think are so much smarter than what I have to share from my little corner of the world. And I had to laugh, because whoever nominated me doesn’t know that I am absolutely horrid at self-promotion, one of the things they encourage you to do as a result of this award.

I may not win. That’s okay. It just capped off a wonderful day that reminded how very truly lucky and blessed I am to get to do what I do and to know the people I know.

Building Bridges- A new start and a reflection on ASCD

I started out wanting to revamp my blog so that it would address the idea of teaching as rocket science. And then I went into a slump and did a lot of soul-searching. Who am I to think I have anything to add to the conversation? What would blogging accomplish? And so I tucked away my aspirations.

But here I am again. Because there is so much to say. And Ralph Ellison’s words jumped off the page and there was the title, the idea I was looking for. Education is building bridges. The bridge between the art and science of teaching, between students and teachers, between teachers and families, between content areas and time periods. A bridge connects. And connections are powerful in the learning process.

The power of connection became much clearer to me over the last few days as I have been here at #ASCD14. So much learning. My brain is full. The weather has been beautiful. And downtown L.A.- well, it’s L.A. Connections came in so many ways. One of the most powerful being  meeting educators from all over the world. Today 2 educators from Palau came to my presentation. And I rode the bus each morning with a contingent of teachers from Jamaica. We come from different places, but we are connected through our love and passion for educating kids.

Connections came as people I met online,who have become friends, this weekend made time in their busy schedules because I had travelled cross country. My friend, Aly, drove in to downtown to have brunch and hang out at an eclectic bookstore. We are connected through a passion for books and reading and a love of education and kids. I value that connection. And I am grateful for a friend who makes time in a busy schedule to foster that connection we have and deepen it.

And then there is my friend, Cathy.We are connected through books and reading and a love of watching kids learn and grow. And we are connected because we are moms ourselves.  Cathy,who was only able to attend the conference for one day-the day I happened to be presenting- and who came to watch me present and support me. A connection that started on the thin thread of tweets and facebook statuses and has deepened to a connection that would elicit such a gift of time and support.

So, I’ll look to build bridges between thoughts and ideas, between research and practice, between the culture of my students and the culture of school. Building bridges takes time. You’ll find me here for a while. Building bridges.

New Beginnings…

I need your help! It’s past time for a redesign of my blog. I’m ready to go in a new direction and this means my blog needs a new name! I’m hoping one of you creative geniuses out there has just the right one in mind. Share your thoughts below. For your troubles- if I choose your suggestion, I’ll email you some book titles you can choose from and I’ll send a book (or 2 or 3) your way as a thank you.

 

Where is my blog going? On two different coasts and in two different job settings I have had continuous conversations with colleagues in which we talk about common sense teaching practices (at least they seem like common sense to us!). Each conversation ends with “It’s not rocket science!” But then, wait, maybe it is! So I’ve come to the conclusion that great teaching IS rocket science. And that’s what the ed reformers and texbook publishing companies seem to miss. Rocket science isn’t about the rocket structure itself. I can take metal and create the basic form of a rocket ship. But it still won’t fly. What makes rocket science tough is all the minute detail. The wiring, the computer programming, the finite adjustments to the trajectory so that the rocket heads in the right direction,making sure there is enough thrust to lift the weight of the rocket, and knowing how to adjust any and all of it should something not work.

That’s what great teaching is all about. It may start with a standard, a lesson, a text… but the true art of teaching is in all the little details. Knowing your students, understanding how each student learns, adjusting for changes in weather which affect student behavior (you know it does! Now if science would study that phenomenon!), redirecting a lesson on a downward trajectory so that students walk away with a new learning. It’s all of those seemingly innate or little things that great teachers do that are hard to define and to quantify. But without them, learning falls flat for students. Great teachers help students soar, like rockets into the sky.

So, what would a blog that looks at great teaching in this way be called? I could call it “Great Teaching IS Rocket Science” but that sounds so cliche’. What title would draw you in and make you want to be part of the conversation? I’m excited to hear your ideas. And I’m excited to start this new journey. Thanks!  T

Celebrating in the Valley

This past Sunday our pastor shared a thought that resonated with me. Of course, my educator brain connected it to teaching. He talked about how we wait in life for those moments of inspiration, those mountaintop moments to define us and move us forward. He went on to point out the problem with that. Life is lived mostly in the valleys.

 

Our teaching lives, our lives in education are much the same. Isn’t the standardized test day nothing but a mountaintop (or mountainous!) day? Where is the recognition of all the days learning took place, all the questions asked, tasks completed, practice problems worked in order to gain the knowledge? And how did we get to this culture that focuses so heavily on that one moment, that one snapshot in time?

 

In thinking about that question, I came to realize that our society looks at mountaintop moments and memorializes them as what “good teaching” is and should be. Think about the movies about teachers, the books popular in the mainstream about teaching….I’m not going to list them because, well, you know them. But they memorialize teaching as these awe-inspiring moments…these great  stories complete with drama and success for all students at the end.  Not that these moments don’t deserve to be celebrated and applauded, but there are teachers every day doing good things, no, GREAT things, that will never make it to a movie screen.

 

We know that the real work goes on in the valleys of the school year. Those days we leave exhausted, wondering how we will get up tomorrow and do it all again. And yet, we do. Those days when we end the day thinking “that was a good day!” without being able to put our finger on exactly what made it a good day. Those days that end and we realize we didn’t have to send anyone to the nurse or write an incident report or a referral. Those days when our students begged us for “Just ten more minutes to read, please?!” Days when everyone had their pens or pencils on the paper and wrote for the whole 15 minutes of quick-write time and even after we told them to finish that final thought. Those days when a student sends us an email or slips us a note to tell us they appreciate us or love us or hope we have a good weekend. When we get a phone call from a student who just couldn’t wait to get to class and share their epiphany moment from that day’s reading. Those days when we look around the room at those young people we are charged with teaching and realize how much they have taught us.

 

Those days may never make it to the big screen or be the backbone of a best-selling autobiography. But they still deserve to be celebrated. So, I invite you to share your days in the valley. Come back here as often as you like. Share with us. We’re waiting to listen. We get it. A day with no broken pencils? Cause for celebration. A day in the spring semester when your entire senior class brings their homework completed? A reason to dance. A week with productive, thoughtful, meaningful meetings? Break out the bubbly! Drove to work without spilling coffee(or the breakfast you ate in the car) on yourself? We salute you! Live in the valley, my friends. And let’s celebrate.

Found Poem

Today in our Summer Writing Institute, we wrote found poems. Our inspiration came from several poems:

“Harlem” by Langston Hughes

“The Gift” by Li-Young Lee

“Bilingual Sestina” by Julia Alvarez

“Million Man March Poem” by Maya Angelou

Autumn Song” by Sarojini Naidu

Thought I would share my poem for Teacher’s Write!

 

Thoughts on a Life

by Teresa Bunner

As I stand dusty and awkward on the road of indifference,

I yearn for measures of tenderness

To wash over me like warm island waters.

I yearn for a dream deferred, a golden storm,

the voice of the wind.

The night has been long.

Voices recite a story.

A prayer.

Invite joy into conversation.

Revise my spirit.

Cleanse my soul.

Sing to me soothing joy,

Words profound.

And why should I stay behind?

Anticipation…

Next week the second year of the BRMA Summer Writing Institute begins. Last year it started with a whim, inspired by Dr. Alfred Tatum’s work with African American males in Chicago. My colleagues offer a great week-long summer arts camp for our middle school students. For a week, the students use writing and drama and art to explore stereotypes and begin to develop their own positive racial identity. In thinking about Dr. Tatum’s work, I saw possibility for building on the work the students started in middle school through an exploration of empowering texts and writing.

Last year we had 4 days. Not nearly enough time. And the students said so. So, this year, through a grant my wonderful director, Graig Meyer, wrote, we have 3 weeks, 12 actual days together (Fridays are reading and writing days on our own! Just like college). I’ve made arrangements for two authors to come and work with the students. Kelly Starling Lyons and Matt de la Peña will each spend time helping the students explore their stories. That part is important to me because Kelly and Matt look more like my students than I do. I want my students to hear from others that their stories are important. I want them to see themselves as writers. And to do that, I think it is vitally important they have models  they can identify with. It doesn’t hurt that Kelly and Matt are two of the nicest people/authors I have had the privilege of meeting!

The UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work has graciously given us a classroom space. We have new laptop computers awaiting our use. Writer’s notebooks and an array of pens and pencils are on the way. I’ve planned lunch menus and snacks. Copies of Kelly and Matt’s books are sitting patiently awaiting  readers. In my head I’ve reviewed the logistics of getting everything set up for the first day…signs, parking, an agenda. There is a list with 18 names of high school students who I hope will all arrive next Monday.

But what I am most excited about is the anticipation. The not knowing. No matter how much I plan. No matter how many details I think through and write down, it will still be the students and what they share that will shape our time together. Just in 4 days last summer, there were so many moments of surprise. So many moments when I stepped back and just watched these young people find the possibilities in what they have to say. The writing they shared took my breath away. One of the most powerful pieces was by a young man who wrote:

Beaner, Wetback, illegal alien.

You scream at me,

You deprive me of my dreams

My voice my thoughts and my self-esteem.

You never stop to think of me

You judge us all with ease.

But when that day comes,

When you need my help

I will extend my hand

Despite what you said back then.

And hopefully you will change your mind

about this Beaner, Wetback, illegal alien.

 

I’ll never forget that he and I conversed about the poem. He wasn’t sure how to end it. The last line wasn’t there yet. I called over a writing coach who was working with us, a UNC student who is, herself, a gifted, award-winning author. She worked with him for a bit. We were all struggling for a powerful ending. Another student finally piped up” Why don’t you just repeat your first line? Those are powerful words. Repeating them is like throwing  it back in the face of the people you are talking to.” The writing coach and I looked at each other and laughed! It was perfect. And the students didn’t need us. They were on their way to becoming writers, able to help and support each other on the journey.

There are many other moments from that short time together. Moments I never planned for or anticipated. And those are the moments I am anxiously awaiting as Monday draws closer. I know when our time together ends, my students will have taught me more than I will ever be able to teach them. I can’t wait!

Kids These Days…

It’s that time of year again. Time for our Blue Ribbon Youth Leadership Institute alternative Spring Break trip. This year we have 2 groups doing great things in 2 places- Charlotte, NC and Costa Rica. I was lucky enough to get to be part of the group in Costa Rica! So, here I am. One of 6 chaperones with a group of 24 high school students (including my own 14 yo twins). We’ve been here less than 12 hours and already I am reminded why getting these opportunities is not the chore some might think. I’ll never forget going with 4 young men this afternoon to a local place (a burger restaurant of all things!) to order food. I have very limited Spanish, the cashier had almost no English. And the places here take American money or the local Colones. But we had to try and convert it in our heads. So we had a language barrier and a money barrier. But we made it through. I’ll never forget the excitement of the youngest guy in our group as he was able to order and got a drink he had never had before. “Mrs. Bunner! This is like the best drink I’ve ever had! Here, try some” he exclaimed.
I’ll also never forget how my sweet boy Colin got sick not long after our arrival and how many of the students, who had met him for the first time today, asked how he was doing. They’re concerned and hopeful he’ll be recovered for day 2.
Then there will be the memories of listening to them gathered here in the lobby to sit and talk and laugh. They should be so tired and jet lagged, yet they are reveling in this time together in a country where they don’t speak the language and where dinner was traditional here, but not so traditional on our home state of North Carolina.
There will likely be moments along the way when we will all be tired. We might even lose patience with each other for a moment. But in the end, seeing all this through their eyes, listening to their laughter, watching them learn, will make any bumps along the way more than worth it.
Yep, kids these days…pretty darn awesome!