Who needs friends?

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The new Avengers: Infinity War trailer came out and is already setting records, as you can read in this Forbes article.

Here is a quick breakdown of the trailer’s impact, courtesy of Fizziology:

Putting Captain America’s beard aside, I’d say the most exciting element of the trailer is NOT the big battles or bad guys.  Sure, we get Thanos and multiple fights. But the BEST part is seeing how all these heroes work with each other.  

Just take a look at the “screen cap” attached to the official trailer’s YouTube video:

It’s Bucky!  Black (Blonde?) Widow!  Cap (and his beard)! Hulk! War Machine! Falcon! Black Panther and a whole bunch of Wakandans!

The last time movie-goers saw most of these characters, they were arguing and battling each other. But all it takes to make amends is a world-conquering villain. That’s friendship for ya.

If you’ve paid attention to recent superhero movies, the theme of FRIENDS appears quite often.

 

No, not THAT theme . . . apologies . . .

We mean REAL friends.  To remove the “ear-worm” song from above, take a closer look at the following trailers of current movies.

Start with Thor: Ragnarok . . .

Thor’s “friend from work” comment at the 1:20 mark is one of the best lines in the entire film.  

friend from work

(Fun fact – there’s a neat story about the origin of that line, which came from an unlikely source. Read more here.)

 

Or check out this Justice League trailer and listen around 1:50 for Barry Allen/Flash’s awkward “I need friends” admittance to Bruce Wayne.

i need friends

 

Everyone needs friends, and that includes TEACHERS.

Unfortunately, teaching can quickly become an “isolated profession,” and you can read more about this “Lone Ranger” phenomenon in an article by The Atlantic HERE.

A growing research field focuses on teacher collaboration and how to help educators work together.  Some people consider teacher collaboration as the “missing link” in successful school reform.

Here is a summary of one study about “High-quality collaboration” and its benefits to teachers and students.  There’s a useful section in the article called “What this means for practitioners,” and if you’re in a hurry, here’s one excerpt from the summary:

School and teacher factors influence the quality and type of collaboration. Teachers in elementary schools, more so than in secondary schools, collaborated more frequently about instruction. Higher-quality collaboration is more common among female teachers than male teachers, particularly about instructional strategies, curriculum, and assessment.

 

Another study of middle school teachers found positive results from “professional learning communities” (PLCs) consisting of same-subject, same-grade teacher teams.  However, overall effectiveness depended on a lot of factors: “leadership and organizational practices, the substantive details of PLC activity meetings, the nature of conversations in PLC activities, and the development of community among PLC teams.”

There’s a lot to unpack in that last statement about influential factors for successful collaborations. This is the challenge of teacher teamwork.

You can’t force friendship, and you can’t coerce teachers to collaborate. As these studies show, effective collaboration requires meaningful application and multiple nuances to result in teacher buy-in and worthwhile work.

As with most interpersonal relationships, the process is delicate and sometimes messy. Just consider how well superheroes get along (or not) throughout their long history.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to helping each other get along and collaborate.  Even so, here are three resources (and highlights) that could help.

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“7 Reasons Why You Need a Teacher Friend” (Tame the Classroom)

#1: You need someone to tell you “no” 

When you have a bad idea, like giving students stupid awards, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Heck, no!”  When you’re thinking about writing a parent a nice-nasty reply to a note and you let your teacher friend proof it, a good teacher friend will tell you, “Nope, edit this so you won’t get fired.”

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“Teacher Collaboration: Matching Complimentary Strengths” (Edutopia)

Virtual Collaboration: Share Work Products on a Common Drive

By sharing work products on Google Drive . . . teachers know what their colleagues outside of their collaboration group are doing. They also know how they’re doing it. This enables them to replicate and/or get ideas from each other.

Even without meeting in person, they have instant access to work products, like:

  • Unit plans
  • Lesson plans
  • Curriculum maps

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“Making the Most Out of Teacher Collaboration” (Edutopia)

Personal Steps to Effective Collaboration

If I had it to do again, this is what I would do to get the most out of my formal and informal collaborations with other teachers:

  • Build relationships
  • Observe the best
  • Ask questions
  • Share
  • Come prepared

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The above ideas are not as “scholarly” as the research studies shared earlier. But they can still provide useful steps.  At the least, none of these education offerings require a world-conquering villain.  Be thankful for that!

 

infinity-war-thanos-brolin

 

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Teacher versus Teacher

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The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to watch the latest trailers for next year’s big superhero movies.

First up is Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, opening in theaters March 25, 2016.

Soon after comes Captain America: Civil War, hitting the big screens May 6, 2016.

Notice any trends?  Take a look again at these images:

 

That’s right folks, 2016 is the year of the superhero stare-down.

Oh yeah.  It’s also the year of superhero versus superhero.  Sounds fun, yes?  (Almost as fun as a stare-down contest.  Hulk make puny human blink!)

Heroes fighting heroes is nothing new.  They’ve been doing it in comic books for decades.  That’s how Wolverine and the Hulk first met, back in The Incredible Hulk #181, published November 1974.

hulk wolverine first meet

Fighting is how Wolverine and the Hulk meet a lot of folks.

Marvel and DC Comics have occasionally joined forces to have their heroes fight it out, most memorably in 2003-2004’s JLA/Avengers mini-series.

JusticeLeagueVsAvengers1

 

Some of the previous films have already included minor skirmishes, too, such as Iron Man and War Machine in Iron Man 2 (life lesson: don’t drink and don an Iron Man suit).

 

Marvel’s “big three” heroes–Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America–first share the screen after a fracas in the first Avengers movie:

 

Then we also have Iron Man vs. Hulk in the second Avengers movie (Age of Ultron), which kicks things up a notch.

 

There’s no mystery why these fights occur.  Heroes duking it out with each other is loads of fun to watch.  And most of the time, they eventually work out their differences to defeat the REAL bad guys.

Heroes versus heroes is dangerous and entertaining, and the same is true for teachers versus teachers–but not in a good way.

Given the pressures involved with teaching, disagreements are bound to arise from time to time.  We don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to assessments, curriculum, scheduling, resources, management and discipline, and more.  Heck, there may even be some colleagues in your building or department that rub you the wrong way.

As teachers we must not allow friction to fester.  Ongoing bickering is noticeable and results in classroom snickering. Dampen combustible situations with grace and good-natured humor.  “Lie low” when you need to.

Resist the urge to blow off steam in front of your students. Avoid any gossip or rumor-mongering by students and staff alike.  Speak highly of your colleagues in front of others, pointing out strengths and past successes.

teacher_colleagues_getting_along

Here are some other resources for fostering positive relationships with your co-workers:

The website We Are Teachers has an eye-catching blogpost entitled “How to Get Along with ANY Teaching Colleague (From the Whiners to the Kiss Ups!)”  Of course, it’s important to consider what kind of colleague you become on your not-so-good days.  Personally, I’ve been known to be the “negative Nancy” (Ned) during grouchy times.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (of the United Kingdom) has a helpful guide for new and beginning teachers.  Some useful advice includes “staffroom etiquette” and what to do if you have concerns about colleagues.

The National Education Association (NEA) provides ideas for building collaboration in your classroom via co-teaching.  Instead of negative energy, co-teaching harnesses positive teacher relationships and teamwork for successful student learning.

For a more in-depth examination, take a look at the book Teachers Working Together by Mario Martinez.  For a quick view, You can find excerpts here courtesy of Google Books.

4113_martinez_TWT

 

Hopefully these resources will provide you with inspiration and information on getting along with your fellow educators.

And if it’s just inspiration you need, remember the current holiday season and do your part to bring . . .

Chalk_Peace_on_Earth

 

 

 

 

 

Flex Plan

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Where will you be in five years?

If you like superheroes, a good bet is you’ll be sitting in a theater watching the latest Marvel or DC movie.  And chances are you’ll have seen multiple superhero movies between now and then.

A recent Warner Bros. shareholder meeting featured the announcement of several tentpole movie projects into the year 2020.  This list includes TEN films starring DC Comics superheroes (and antiheroes).

upcoming-dc-films1

Not to be outdone, Marvel Studios held a special shindig where they announced NINE movies set in their “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” involving the Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, Dr. Strange, and more.

Avengers-Infinity-War-logo

“Infinity” sounds about right.

If you add in movies based on other Marvel Comics heroes (X-Men, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, etc.), that makes OVER 40 FILMS currently planned for Marvel or DC comic book characters.

And that’s not even counting additional comic book and superhero projects.  So we’re headed either into the Double Platinum Age of Comic Book Movies or Major Market Saturation.

Of course, many of these projects may get derailed or delayed along the way.  (Don’t hold your breath for “Unannounced Female Character Spider-Man Movie” in 2017.)

Plans change, and no one knows that better than teachers.

Adventures with Scope & Sequence

Those of us in the field of education know about something called “Scope and Sequence.”  Not only does “Scope and Sequence” sound like a terrific crime-fighting duo, S&S is a general phrase given to long-term planning in the school year.

Here is an example Scope and Sequence from an elementary art teacher, courtesy of the smARTteacher website.

Art ScopeSequence BIG

I think of scope as the overall main ideas and concepts students should learn in a class, and sequence is the general order in which they could learn, connect, and practice these main ideas.

Notice the language used here:  “overall”  “general”  “could.”

It’s important to remember that long-term planning should be flexible, like the Ever-Elastic Mr. Fantastic! 

mr fan in action

Sometimes adjusting to curriculum guides can feel like deflecting bullets.

All kinds of variables arise during a school year that require adjustment and revisions:  prior knowledge, curriculum mandates, assessment schedules, special events, weather cancellations, and–MOST IMPORTANTLY–student learning.

Districts often have a Pacing Guide that indicates the key content, units, and even activities teachers should use in their specific courses.  Here are some pacing guides for science teachers in Mobile County Public Schools (AL), if you’re curious.

The key word here is “guide.”  Classroom teachers know their students best, and therefore the best methods and schedules for helping students learn.

To coin a scientific-sounding mantra:  Student learning should be the constant, with time as the dependent variable.

If students require more time to master a topic, give them more time.  Don’t plow through a chapter just because you think you need to stay “on track” to finish a certain textbook.  (Who said you had to finish the textbook in the first place?)  Conversely, don’t slog through something the kids already know or don’t need to know.

A Super Biology Teacher

I met a science teacher who was just one of six teachers who taught Biology 1 in his school building.   The basic requirement was all Biology 1 teachers had to get through Chapter 10 by the end of December.  The reason was students could switch teachers at the semester break, so everyone needed to be at “the same spot” beginning in January.

Sounds logical, but not every teacher (or student) will work at the same rate or want to focus on the same content.  Some concepts and skills are more important than others.  So what do you do if you don’t agree with a prescribed schedule?

I love what this science teacher did.  He made sure he was done with Chapter 10 by the end of December, but he shuffled chapters to create the most meaningful sequence for his students.  Moreover, this teacher spent more time on some chapters and less time on others that weren’t as necessary for learning fundamental biology concepts.

Sound out of order?  That’s nothing new to readers of comic books, where odd numbering systems abound (see multiple #1 issues, #0 issues, #-1 issues, backwards releases, flipped issues, etc.).  Heck, there’s even a blog totally committed to the convoluted topic of Comic Book Numbering.

The bottom line in comic books is finding strategies and gimmicks to sell the most issues.  The bottom line for teaching is arranging lessons and units to encourage the most learning.

So whether you’re talking about billion-dollar film franchises or the infinite potential of today’s students, do take time to plan ahead.  But always keep your plans open to change.

And always leave the door open for a dynamite sequel.

superman2

Question(s) & Answer

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Question_34

One comic book character who is prime for a screen adaptation is DC’s The Question.  In fact, the folks at  WhatCulture.com list The Question as one of their “10 Obscure Superheroes That Badly Need a Movie Treatment.”

A movie may work fine, but an ongoing Question TV Series would be a perfect fit, featuring a street-level noir hero with regular crimes and conspiracies to solve. If you want to see The Question in animated action, you can find some highly regarded appearances in the Justice League Unlimited series.

You can also find a nifty short YouTube documentary on “Who is the Question?” right here.  The most iconic version is Vic Sage, although more recently the moniker (and mask) was taken over by Renee Montoya, best known as a detective in the Gotham City Police Department.  [A live TV version of Det. Montoya has appeared in Fox’s Gotham series.  No sign of any Question(s), though.]

250px-Reneequestion

In case you’re wondering, there IS a superhero known as The Answer in comic books.  You can read more about The Answer here and here.  Judging from his appearance, I’d say a more appropriate name is The Exclamation Point or The Interjection!

the-answer-1

In teaching, we know that “Questions are the Answer.”  Often, what makes or breaks a lesson is how the teacher interacts with students during the activity.

Rather than just talking at students, teachers must ask questions throughout each lesson.  Questions and similar prompts are effective ways to encourage thoughtful reflection, promote engaged discussion, monitor student thinking, and more.

Unfortunately, research has found that a vast majority (70-80%) of questions asked by teachers require nothing more from students than reciting facts or guessing simple answers (Gall, 1984; Watson & Young, 1986; Bergman & Morphew, 2014).

So the question is this:  What kind of questions do you ask?  

Challenge yourself to challenge students by habitually asking  questions that require high-level thinking, such as those skills classified in Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives:  Application, Analysis, Synthesis, and Evaluation (Bloom, 1956).

How do you begin?  Here are a few resources I’ve recently come across that may be a good start:

– From Edutopia: “5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students”

– From The Huffington Post*“25 Ways to Ask Your Kids ‘So How Was School Today?’ Without Asking Them ‘So How Was School Today?'”

*This second resource is more for parents, but teachers can gain ideas from the example questions for encouraging conversation.

The goal is to get kids thinking, reflecting, and sharing so you and their classmates can also think, reflect, and share ideas.

I’m glad there are two Questions running around in comic books. It reminds us that teachers need to use multiple questions in our interactions with students.  One question is often not enough.

Like Batman and his utility belt, you should have an entire arsenal of prompts and queries at your ready, posing the right one at the right time.

Batman utility belt

I don’t own a utility belt, but I do keep a small index card in my pocket with question stems such as “In what ways . . .?”  “For what reasons . . .?”  “How might you . . .?” and many more.  Whenever I’m stumped for a good question, I can check my list to keep the conversation going.  And like Batman with his belt, you should continuously update and improve your questioning strategies.

Unlike the hero The Question, however, you will want to add engaging facial expressions.  Smile a little.  Make appropriate eye contact.  And talk in a welcoming tone of voice.

question image

Not the face you want to see in a classroom.

The Question wants to hide an identity and frighten bad guys.  Teachers, on the other hand, need to be personable and supportive of students.  Your questions and interactions, when used effectively, are an important part of this equation.

Speaking of which, there is no mainstream superhero called The Equation.  Get on it, math teachers!

Academy, Asylum, or . . . ?

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It’s Back-to-School time, and hopefully everyone is off to a terrific start, implementing new district policies and applying Harry and Rosemary Wong’s wisdom about “the first days of school.” (Routines and procedures, practice, practice, practice.)

The-First-Days-of-School-9780976423317

Batman is back in the news too, mainly the upcoming Ben Affleck movie version with Superman a la Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns miniseries (e.g. short pointy ears). I’m sure we’ll have more to talk about that topic and teaching connections in the future (e.g. short pointy ears).

bat comparison

Comparison courtesy of artist Dean Trippe @deantrippe

In the near future, a bunch of new Batman-related comics are coming out. Namely, two series start this fall, as announced by Entertainment Weekly.

One title is Arkham Manor, in which Bruce Wayne (Batman’s nice face) decides to donate his Wayne Manor to house Gotham City’s criminally insane. The mansion that’s known for masking the underground Batcave has now become the new location for Arkham Asylum. There goes the neighborhood.

Arkham Manor     Gotham Academy
 

Another Bat-title from DC—Gotham Academy—focuses on the city’s private school for rich kids.  Plaid skirt uniforms and everything.

(Side note: I’m curious about the depiction of Gotham’s public schools.  If you are curious as well, the best we can do is watch the movie Dangerous Minds and assume that instead of being a former marine, Michelle Pfieffer’s character is Selena Kyle after giving up the Catwoman costume in Batman Returns. It almost works!)

As for the comics, we’ll see what happens as both series progress in the months to come. The reason I bring them up here is to encourage all of us teachers to consider our school environment.

Academy?

Does your school building feel like an academy? It’s a fancy word, coming from the Greek “grove of Akademos,” where Plato did his teaching. Good company, no? People nowadays use the term “academy” to refer to a special institution for scholarship or for the advancement of the arts or science. 

You don’t have to teach in a special institution to advance the ideas of scholarship and appreciation for culture. Wherever and whatever you teach, consider how you can promote an “academic” attitude in your students. I’m not talking about being a snob or out of touch with reality. But we can still create an environment where learning is looked upon as a noble endeavor and great adventure.

Sometimes our schools have too much adventure, though, and may even feel like an insane asylum.

Asylum?

Does anyone in your school drink from a mug like this?  

crazy mug

Or post this sign in their classroom or office?

crazy sign

 

Schools can often feel like a facility for the mentally unstable. Beyond the humor, though, there is some truth to that notion. Think about our students’ mental, emotional, and physical states. Most of them are, in fact, a little unstable. A little “shaky,” so to speak. They should be. They’re still growing up.

And that’s why we teach them. During a school year, teachers introduce students to hundreds of ideas and skills. Our students should investigate, reflect, and practice the content, all the while strengthening (and stabilizing) their foundations—intellectually, emotionally, and more. This learning process is often challenging and frustrating, even destabilizing at times, and ultimately rewarding.

Learning can create a sense of vulnerability, and students need a safe place to learn—no matter what kind of school or classroom. 

We looked at the origin of the word “academy,” so let’s do the same for asylum. Although often associated with housing the mentally ill, the word “asylum” comes from the Latin word for “sanctuary,” a “safe or secure place.”

We can never protect kids from every unsafe event or bad influence, but we can all do our part. None of us can do it alone. Heck, even Batman has the Justice League. (And Alfred. And several Robins. And Nightwing. And the Gotham City Police Department. And the Outsiders. And Batman Incorporated. And Batmen of All Nations. And Ace the Bat-Hound.)

justiceleague

 

Fight the good fight with your trusted colleagues, mentors, and friends. (And pets.)  You get to pick who wears the cape.

Good luck in the coming year in whatever classroom you teach. Wherever you are, it can be both an academy and an asylum for your students. And so much more.