Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Thirteen Days of Crisis

Thirteen days. Tense. Crazy. A million things going on at once. Miscommunication. Emotion.

There were thirteen days in 1962 when it seemed that the Cold War would explode into a “hot” war with nuclear missiles looming over us (particularly here in Florida). Those thirteen days were dramatized into the 2000 film appropriately titled Thirteen Days.

There are thirteen days left in this school year. They will also be tense, crazy, emotional, and have a million things going on at once.

Does it feel like ... something ... is going to burst at your school at this time of year? The testing? The packing up of the classrooms? The yearbook-signing. The OMG-I-can’t-possibly-cover-this-all-content-before-the-test anxiety? The am-I-going-to-pass-this-class-can-I-do-more-extra-credit? speeches. The if-you-studied-you-would-do-better-on-your-exam lectures. The where-or-what-am-I-going-to-teach-next-year drama.  

There’s a lot going on during these next thirteen days. Maybe not brink-of-nuclear-war levels of action, but sometimes personal-emotional-explosion levels of action.

It makes teaching more difficult than usual.

I’d like to offer some thoughts for these last thirteen days about making sure that your kids don’t stop learning because the EOC is over or because they’re all cramming for the final and not actually “learning” anymore.  I borrowed some of these ideas from a Smartblog entry by Carol Hunter.

First, I’d like to look at SURVIVING (and thriving) during the crazy 13 Days

  1. The Test Is Not Everything: Despite all the pressure and attention, remember to focus on the kids as kids, not as test scores. Remind them of all that they have learned this year (even if they have forgotten some of it by test time). Remind them of the things that they have learned that are NOT on the test (like how to write a persuasive argument, how to analyze documents, how to contextualize -- and that’s just in the DBQ).
  2. But the test IS something: Have some conversation about what the test actually is, who makes it and why they will take it and what those scores mean or determine. We pushpushpush so hard sometimes to have kids do well on the test, we don’t always contextualize that test for them. It helps to decrease the anxiety a little if the kids can define the test (and its limits)
  3. Wrap It Up: It’s time, at the end of the year, to have kids pull together their learning from all different points in the year and make some meaningful big-picture summaries, connections, and evaluations. Let students take the lead in projects (big or little), discussions, debates, or any highly-engaging big-picture activity that summarizes and wraps up the year (or semester).
  4. Give ‘Em Summer Ideas: Give your kids a couple of ideas of books or websites or games to review your course or prepare for the next course over the summer. Will they all do it? Of course not. But boredom and availability of the internet are powerful motivators sometimes. Help them make connections between your course and the next one.

Once you have assured your kids that you’re not going to watch movies for the last two weeks (please!)  but BEFORE the kids have actually, FULLY checked out, it’s time to get them to reflect.

The second learning from the THIRTEEN DAYS is about data and reflection.

Part of what made the Cuban Missile Crisis a, um, .... CRISIS, was data collection.

To be blunt, in October of 1962, a U-2 spy took photographs that clearly showed ballistic missiles in Cuba, 90 miles south of Florida (or only 321 miles south of St. Pete).  We had clear data, clear evidence that allowed us to react and plan and negotiate and re-plan.

We need to use data and evidence to help us plan in our classrooms, too, so we can react and plan ... for next year. After the Cuban Missile Crisis was over, both our leaders and our people reflected on what that “Close call” had meant and how to handle (or avoid) a similar crisis if it came up again.

I know, I know you’ve heard this from me EVERY year. But hopefully, this reminder will give you some new tools for reflection and data collection. I bring it up every year because it is THAT important!

Your job, as a teacher, only improves if you reflect. Of course, you reflect daily on individual lessons but the best time to reflect on a big-picture scale is now, at the end of the year.

  1. Your own feedback:  Write down a lot of your feedback. All that travelling and beach time and home DIY projects can seriously distance you from school -- which is the whole point of summer vacation!! However, that distance can make it some of those reflections that seem really, really important, um, a little lower priority. Write ‘em down now, before all the fruity beach beverages go to your head.
  2. Your students’ feedback: Sometimes, teachers are afraid of this. But, really, kids are super honest and waaayyy more perceptive than you think they are. You’ll get a couple of joker answers, but far and away most kids will give you thoughtful, useful responses. Here are a couple to check out, adapt, and make your own.
    1. Here’s a whole pile of student feedback forms form Vanderbilt
    2. One more! A wonderful blog about why and how-to get student feedback

As always, avert the crises! Manage the thirteen days and use them for good, not evil.

As always, let me know how it goes! Email me at

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