Friday, April 26, 2013

No More Pity Parties!

I have spent some time lately thinking about motivation and engagement, my own, my students and my colleagues.  I've been reading books, participating in online discussions and talking with my teacher friends about our struggles with motivation and engagement.  Two books in particular have really helped me to frame my thinking, the first is Helping Boys Learn by Dr. Edmond Dixon and the second is Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I have also found the The Principal of Change blog by George Couros, while not specifically related to motivation and engagement, to be thought provoking and challenging. Conversations with my friends in the staff room, and in the virtual staff room,  have really caused me to think more deeply about the apparent lack of intrinsic motivation we seem to be experiencing both within the confines of the classroom and beyond our classroom's walls, and how we go about addressing more than just surface level engagement.

So where is it? What happened to intrinsic motivation? Why are we struggling to engage beyond the surficial? It seems to me that we are having many of the same conversations over and over.  I know that I have been guilty of playing the blame game.  I blame my own lack of motivation on mandated assessments, the obsession with high-stakes testing, increasing curricular demands, the list goes on.  What I have realized though, is that I can bemoan the current state of affairs, or I can take an active role and be a changemaker.  I am responsible for me, and I am responsible for my attitude and my instructional practices and it is time I acted like it.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why Education?

Twitter has had a significant impact on my professional life over the past year. Connecting with other educators and leaders has both inspired, and challenged me. Case in point, yesterday George Couros (@gcouros), Division Principal  of Innovative Teaching and Learning for Parkland School Division, asked those participating in the #sd36learn chat to respond to the following questions: why did you become an educator and what legacy do you want to leave? These questions, and their answers are incredibly important. Teaching can be draining. There are days when the myriad of demands can seem too much. On these days it is important to remind ourselves why we came to this profession and the legacy we want to leave behind. As I looked towards another three days of high-stakes state testing I needed this reminder. Thanks George!

I didn't always want to be an educator. My love of the outdoors, and rocks in particular, led me to the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC) to pursue a degree in Environmental Science. However, while studying at UTSC I was introduced to the Early Teacher Project, a collaborative effort between UTSC and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE/UT). The project's goal was to encourage students pursuing a degree in science and/or math to consider a career in teaching. As part of the project students participated in seminars relating to education, and were required to spend 6 weeks in a classroom. After spending about a week I realized that I was meant to be an educator. As much as I loved research and field work, it could not compare to the joy that I found sharing my passion for science and the environment with students. The looks of wonder and awe, their enthusiasm and excitement were contagious. I found my real passions - teaching and learning.

My 13 years in education have been filled with joy, sorrow, frustration, and triumph. There have been times when I have questioned my vocation, and thought perhaps it was time for me to leave, but I am an educator at heart, and I can't imagine doing anything else. I teach because I love learning. I teach because I love the opportunity to share my passion with others. I teach because I believe I can be an agent of change. I teach because I believe I can make a difference in the life of a child.

Helping Our A.D.H.D. Students

The 6 Secrets for Success in School and our A.D.H.D Students

There has certainly been plenty of discussion regarding the marked rise in the diagnosis of A.D.H.D. in school-age children. The following statement garnered a great deal of attention last week when Alan Schwarz and Sarah Cohen published it in the NY Times (March 31, 2013), “Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.”  The flurry of discussion regarding this article got me to thinking about not only the diagnosis and medication of students, but about the contributing factors and how we address A.D.H.D. in schools.  The more I thought about it the more I came back to the underlying research and the secrets presented in Helping Boys Learn.
As Dr. Dixon explains in his book, drawing on the work of Michael Gurian and others, male brains are wired differently than female brains. Specifically, that while the female brain, even at a very young age is wired for language, the male brain is wired for movement.  Gurian further discusses the continuum upon which brains fall and the idea of “bridge brains”. This theory seems to hold true also for children diagnosed with A.D.H.D., the left prefrontal cortex of the brain is less developed, which when we consider that the prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is in charge of executive function explains why these children struggle with focusing attention, impulse control and delaying gratification, modulation of intense emotions, organizing thoughts and problem solving, inhibiting inappropriate behavior and initiating appropriate behavior. This paired with a more highly developed motor cortex can certainly make the typical classroom environment particularly challenging for these students.
It would seem that if we understand the differences in the brain and the impact of this when designing our learning environment and learning tasks, we could maximize motivation and increase achievement not just in boys, but in other marginalized learners.  This certainly seems to make the case for utilizing the 6 secrets outlined in Helping Boys Learn.

Find out more about Helping Boys Learn

I am an elementary school teacher in the Liverpool Central School District. In my role as an educator it is critical that I model for my students and colleagues a commitment to lifelong learning, collaboration and innovation.  I look forward to sharing and exchanging stories of teaching and learning with you.

You can contact me at
You can follow me on Twitter @ChristinaMLuce