Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Leaders and Followers

As we move out of an era in our country that I don't ever want to see repeated, I find myself trying desperately to understand how to move on and respect my fellow citizens again, knowing that half of us were perfectly happy keeping things the way they were.  And I find myself thinking about leaders.

We are all, at times in our lives, both leaders and followers.  Throughout my lifetime, I have followed: my teachers, my principals, my government, my police, the rules.  And, I have led: as a union rep, as an educator, as a parent, as a speaker.  Leadership is much easier.  I get to make the decisions, right or wrong, and I get to do things the way I believe they should be done.  And that is what is dangerous about leading.  The ability to do things the way you want them to be done.

I have worked under six principals, who were all very different types of leaders.  My first, in Dallas, Texas, was kind, caring, and told me to teach the way I was comfortable and successful.  She also told me that, when she came to visit for an observation, I had to adhere to the Six Steps of Teaching that Texas was following at the time.  She had to grade me according to the steps.  But the rest of the time, she said, do what works because, she said, my students were learning more than the other fourth graders.  My test scores were much higher and I was only a first year teacher.

This kind of leader was great for me but not so great for the rest of the staff.  Most of them followed and believed in the Six Steps.  And she allowed that to happen, knowing full well it didn't work.  And there was no money in the budget for retraining teachers.  So she was an ineffective leader, knowing what was right but not knowing how to get there or trying to find out how to get there.

My second principal, in Brooklyn, NY, was scary.  Her form of leadership was to bully the teachers into doing what she thought was right.  And when we questioned it, she raged even more.  I was so scared of her that I would literally forget how to breathe when she walked into my classroom.  I did whatever she told me to do, although, for my kids, I did fight back on things like their allotted bathroom time, which came in the afternoon after breakfast and lunch.  And I did fight back on the no-field-trip rule, taking my children successfully on many free city trips.  But I don't think my children learned much, beyond staying quiet and dressing appropriately for our weekly assemblies.  Many teachers complained about her but none did anything to change it.  I left after two years and she was promoted to district superintendent.

My move to Herricks was my last school move.  I began with a principal who was a mixed bag.  He was a great educator, helping me when I struggled to get my students to understand a topic.  But he didn't really support the teachers, just kind of left us alone to do our own things.  So some of us soared and some of us failed,  meaning some children soared and some failed.  But I think about the staff under his tenure.  He had his favorites, people he went to for support, and he wouldn't listen to anyone else's opinion. There was massive bullying allowed among the staff.  When someone complained to him, his response was to have the complainer talk to the bully.  He did not interfere.  Things were so bad under his leadership that we had a faculty meeting with the district psychologist to help us hash things out.  Nobody talked.  

My next principal was a kind woman who trusted her staff.  She encouraged us to try new things.  I won all my awards under her leadership. I looped with my classes three times under her leadership.  I became a global learner and a technology user under her leadership.  For me, she was a great leader.  For others, they enjoyed their classes, got along with each other, and generally did well.  The principal encouraged us all to work together and, for the most part, the bullying in the school stopped. Some teachers retired, some moved to other schools, and the building was a place both teachers and students wanted to be.

My third principal on Long Island was a teacher in the building first.  She was a stickler for rules, insisting we all do the same thing.  She brought in Lucy Calkins' work, she looked into block planning (only the union stopped that one) and she pushed us to be better than the other elementary schools in the district with our test scores.  Stress increased tremendously, teachers retired or asked for transfers, and nobody who left ever wanted to come back. I fought hard to keep my program and then learned how to work my program into her demands.  She won and I won.  Until I couldn't do it anymore.

I left the classroom and moved into a position that, ultimately, had no administrator leading us.  We were three teachers writing the curriculum ourselves, for a gifted program and a new PLTW science program.  We were left alone and I was happy.

So what does all this have to do with our government and its leaders?  It makes me think about the people who are followers.

In Brooklyn, teachers complained but did nothing to change the system or the leader.  When I left, I spoke with the lead teacher in the building about it.  She told me the principal would have welcomed any input on teaching styles.  I don't believe that.  She wanted a lock step program and she got one.  Nobody, I mean NOBODY, pushed back on that.  I would like to think that now, with my experience and my age, I would, but I don't know.  I would probably just close my door, do my own thing, and fit her lock step program and rules into my classroom the best I could. I really liked the teachers I worked with.  The children liked their teachers.  But it wasn't a good place to be.

With my first principal on Long Island, the teachers became bullies.  There were clear sides, everyone joined, and nobody did anything to try to make it better.  Until we did.  A couple of us tried by having a monthly breakfast, hosted in various classrooms.  It was fun and brought us together.  But after about six months, the bullies started complaining that it was too much pressure, because we created a calendar for people to sign up to host.  And the bullies won.  We stopped trying. I made some friends during that principal's tenure but mostly I kept to myself.  As did so many of us.  It was not a good place to be.

With the principal who allowed us the freedom to be, we were the happiest.  The children thrived, teachers each had their own special units of love that they covered, we worked together, and the school was a great place to be.  Mostly.  Some bullies got quiet.  Some just reverted to complaining at every meeting.  But these people, who thrived under the first principal, were primarily shut down and kept to themselves. I did, during her tenure, end up on a grade full of bullies. The first year I tried to work with them and learn from them, having never taught the grade before.  Then I stopped trying and moved online to connect with like-minded people.  I made many friends, found partners, co-wrote a book, and won awards.  All without anyone else in the building.  I communicated primarily with teachers from other grades or teachers from other parts of the world.  My grade just...well, it didn't work.  But I was fairly content and my students loved coming to school.

A leader creates the atmosphere. Teachers create an atmosphere for the students.  Teachers decide if bullying is allowed, if empathy is key, if differences are welcomed or shunned.  Students look to us to decide how to behave.

Principals create the an atmosphere for the school.  Principals decide if bullying is allowed, if teachers are trusted, if students and teachers can offer opinions or not, if teachers will be shunned by others or not. Teachers look to principals to decide how to behave.

By the same token, governors and presidents create the atmosphere for the country.  They decide if bullying is allowed, if citizens can have a voice or not, if some will be shunned or not.  And we have seen this magnified by our latest president and all the governors, senators, and representatives who follow him.

So what does all this say about the followers?  Most of us are, after all, mostly followers.  Do we stand up and say, "No. I will not bully."? Do we stand up and say, "No. I will not shun others or make fun of others."?  Or do we just follow along, doing what we are told, even if it makes no sense?  And what does that say about us if we do?  Is it acceptable that some of us decided to go along?  Is it okay that some of us decided to pull out our most despicable characteristics to go along?  Is that what we do as followers?  

It seems to me that we all had a choice to make.  For some, the choice was to follow what everyone around us was doing.  Wear a mask or don't.  Hang a Confederate flag or don't. Post a Trump sign on your lawn or don't.  What is everyone around you doing? Do that. 

There were times in my life when I mostly went along.  But not many.  My first year teaching I fought for my kids not to get paddled if they misbehaved.  But I said nothing when the assistant principal called me in to be a witness when she was going to paddle one of my own.  I cried instead, right in front of the child.  My second year teaching, I fought for my kids to go on field trips and for my kids to get a good bathroom time.  My first year on Long Island, I fought for my students when an author was visiting and all the students had time to make pins for her but mine.  I went to the principal and asked him to tell the librarian to give me the button maker to use in my classroom.  She fought back but I won and my students won.  And the bullies in the school were impressed with me and, mostly, left me alone.

I'm not sure why I am always able to stand up for others, when I find it very hard to stand up for myself.  But, in this election, I voted for others.  I'm doing fine under Trump.  No better, no worse.  I don't worry that my rights are being taken away because the rights we are losing as a country won't really affect me.  But I always stand up for the rights of others.  As a teacher, I always stood up for my students.  As a mom, I always stand up for my child.  As a wife, I stand up for my husband.  And I will always stand up for respect and empathy for all.

So how do I get past the last four years?  How do I forgive those followers who did what everyone around them were doing, simply because that's what everyone was doing?  I did, ultimately, end up being good friends with one of the bullies of my grade.  But she recognized what she had done and made amends.  And I was able to be pleasant and friendly to the others because, well, I saw them every day and it just made it easier for me to do so.  And I guess, that's how I get past.  Be pleasant and friendly, don't talk about the bullying and the rest, and keep standing up for those that need support.

What I've realized is all of us have the ability to stand up and all of us have the ability to just go along.  There is hate in us all.  For now, I guess, I will look for the love instead of the hate.  I will keep standing up and keep hoping that most of us do.  And I will relish the new leadership we have coming in January.  Maybe the haters will put their hate back underground and we will make some real changes for those that need it.  How will you move on?

Saturday, October 17, 2020

A Series on Empathy - Part Four - Logical Consequences

A Series on Empathy - Part Three - CARES

 Note to my readers - I know I said in my last blog that I would discuss Logical Consequences in this blog.  But I needed to talk about CARES first.  Stay tuned for blog number 4 in the series for Logical Consequences.

Elementary teachers often talk about the Summer Slide - the effects on academics because of children not being in school for two months over the summer.  And teachers often spend one or two months at the beginning of the year just reviewing what should have been learned at the end of the previous grade. Of course, year round school would eliminate the Summer Slide.  But so would children reading and writing over the summer months. But, for many of us, neither of these situations actually occurs.  

For me, I relished the review time.  Why?  I needed that time to teach something more important than the given curriculum requirements. Because, at the beginning of every year, I spent one or two months teaching my students about CARES.  What is CARES?

I spent time at the beginning of each year teaching - really teaching - each of these words and meanings.  We watched videos that demonstrated CARES.  We blogged about which CARES term we were working on.  We spied on each other looking for examples of CARES.  We wrote each night about examples of CARES.  We looked for examples in books, on tv, in the news, in the cafeteria, during lessons. My CARES bulletin board stayed up all year as a reminder of the meaning of these terms.

Why does this matter?  Why did I spend so much time each year on it?  Because I truly believed, and still do, that my primary job was to teach my students to be better members of society. And the society we were working in was the classroom and school society, first and foremost.  Also, by spending time at the beginning of the year on CARES, the rest of the year went very smoothly, since, when something went wrong, they would just need quick reminders to get back on track.

I remember one child, Robbie, (not his name) who struggled all year to learn these concepts.  He was a complainer and worked hard to attack and blame his classmates.  His seat was moved often, since no one wanted to sit with him for any length of time.  His parents encouraged his behavior, saying he was standing up for himself, even though I repeatedly demonstrated that this was not the case. 

At the beginning of the year, as Robbie caused problems, we would have class meetings to solve these problems he and the other children were facing.  The children would speak to him about their difficulties, using our CARES vocabulary.  He started out being defensive and then, began to listen. Eventually, Robbie learned a bit more self-control.  In fact, he asked the children to help him when he forgot.  They would walk up to him while he was ranting and simply say, "S-C." He would stop in mid-sentence, and breathe.  

Robbie didn't completely stop complaining about others.  But he did recognize that empathy and self-control were his difficult concepts.  And the class sincerely praised him at the end of the year for working so hard to be someone who CARES.

Robbie was my struggle that year but I'm glad I got to work with him.  We need to teach our children about CARES and all that those concepts imply.  We need to heal this society and improve it.  And it all starts with being a society that CARES.

Want to know more about CARES? Look into Responsive Classroom. Even if you can't afford the training, which I HIGHLY recommend, the books are amazing. I especially recommend The First Six Weeks of School.

A Series on Empathy - Part Two - No Tolerance Policies

 My second year of teaching had me in an inner city school in Brooklyn, NY.  I was very young, very inexperienced, and, really had no idea what I was doing.  The school was a safe haven for most of the children, who came from broken, drug filled, homes.  It was a daily occurrence to have a child come in upset because a family member was killed or arrested the night before. And my job, my ONLY job, as I was told often by my principal when we butted heads, was to teach these fifth graders the curriculum.  I failed miserably in doing just that job.  But that is a story for another day.

The principal believed that the only way to control the children - yes, I really meant to say control - was to have complete order.  That meant silence in the classrooms and hallways, scheduled bathroom breaks, silence in the cafeteria, chained and locked doors during school hours, and lock step teaching from the staff.  The environment was not conducive to learning for either me or my students, which was the main reason my principal and I did not always get along.

I had 35 children in my class that year.  I started with 30 but got more throughout the year.  On any given day, another teacher would be absent and that class would be split up among the rest of us.  So there were usually about 40 children in my small room at one time. And, because I never believed in following rules that made no sense, my room was noisy.  Controlled chaos is what I called it because the children would always talk and discuss and help each other out but, when the principal made her rounds, we would get silent instantly and I would take my place in front of the room.  The kids loved being part of this deception and they learned.  They learned the curriculum, they learned they could teach me a lot (like Spanish or like that the stationary store across the street was a place to buy drugs), they learned to be a family.

So one day, I get a new student, Harry (not his real name).  Harry came with his dad from China.  He spoke almost no English.  He was very small for his age and loved being in the classroom.  Harry's dad thought I, as his teacher, was the best thing that ever happened to him.  I learned that China treats teachers much differently than we do here in the US.

Harry fit in well.  He loved math (very little language needed) and worked hard to learn both English and Spanish.  He made friends in class. I thought things were going well and then the principal called me to her office. 

It seems that Harry had come to school with a switchblade knife.  This meant instant suspension.  There was a No Tolerance policy about bringing weapons to school.  And Harry had shown one of his neighbors that he had this knife in his backpack. So Harry's dad comes to get him and he is gone from my classroom for 10 days.  I asked the principal why Harry had the knife but she didn't know.  She never asked.  He had the knife, he gets suspended. Period.

When he came back, I decided to find out why Harry brought a knife to school.  "Did you know," I asked, "that you weren't allowed to have a weapon?" He did.  "So why did you bring it to school?" Harry told me, in his broken English, that there was a boy who was bullying him before school, while he waited for the doors to open and let him in the building.  He tried to tell the teacher on duty but couldn't get himself understood.

My first thought was, "Why didn't he tell me or another classmate?"  And then I started thinking about Harry coming to school.  One day he had a small cut over his eye.  He told me he fell.  One day his hand was bruised.  He told me he was playing ball and got hurt. 

My inexperience was showing.  I have since learned that I cannot ignore all the cuts and bruises.  I have learned to spend more time listening than talking.  But that day, I learned about the unfairness of a No Tolerance policy.  Harry was not a bad kid, nor was he a danger to anyone.  He didn't even take out the knife when the bully confronted him.  But Harry got suspended. And the bully? He went to class, never met with a teacher or the principal, and kept on bullying other children. 

Harry didn't get bullied anymore because my students, his classmates, came to the rescue.  They told me about the bully and told Harry how to avoid him.  They protected Harry before and after school from then on. I never went to the principal with my new information because, well, she scared me (she was a bully, too) so I talked to her as little as possible.

No Tolerance policies don't work.  Children do things for reasons.  By ignoring the reason and only doling out punishment, we are telling children they are powerless and we don't care about the why.  And suspending a child from school takes that child from the one place that is stable and puts them in a home situation that very well could be the cause of the problems to begin with. 

The start of teaching Empathy is teaching Responsibility.  Children need to learn that they are responsible for their actions.  But if we dole out punishments without giving them an opportunity to take that responsibility, we have taught nothing. 


When my students heard why Harry was suspended from school, they rallied behind him.  Their empathy was clearly showing.  Before we knew why he brought in the knife, rumors were flying about what a bad boy Harry was.  No empathy at all.  But Harry took the responsibility of his actions seriously.  When he came back to school, he stood, this tiny little boy, in front of the room and told the class that he did something wrong.  And then he answered all their questions about his why.  It gave them the chance to empathize.  And they did.  

Teach Responsibility and you begin to teach Empathy. And turn punishments into Logical Consequences.  (More on that in my next blog.)

A Series on Empathy - Part One - Why Teach Empathy?

 Somebody posted a picture on FaceBook that listed what children today are learning from the President of the United States.  You may or may not agree with the list, but you have to admit something is wrong in this world.

Parents and teachers spend lifetimes teaching children about empathy.  Some do better than others.  Some actively try, while others hope to lead by example.  All of us fail at times.  

Today, it is clear to me that empathy is sorely lacking in the world.  From the President of the United States and leaders of other countries, to protestors, rioters, members of the House of Representatives and Members of the Senate to store and restaurant employees and customers.  Lack of empathy and respect is running rampant. Open your news feed on any given day and you will see government representatives being rude to each other, to constituents, and to the media.  You will see examples of "Karens" all over the world (I'm not going to even get into the idea of a "Karen" as being rude.  It is and I'm sorry for all you women out there whose real name is Karen.).  You will see examples of car accidents caused by disrespect and lack of empathy for other drivers. You will see companies laying waste to huge areas of land and water, with no respect for any living being already there.

I truly believe it is the job of educators to actively teach children empathy. It is not enough to just lead by example.  It hasn't worked up to now. Probably because a school, by its very nature, promotes a lack of empathy. Let me explain.

How many times have you told a child to stop talking to a classmate, only to find out he was only trying to help a friend understand the assignment better?

How often have you held a competition in your classroom, cheering for the winner, while hoping the loser doesn't start to cry and ruin all the fun?

How many times have you told your students they could not work together on this assignment, because you knew it would mean either someone was left working alone or one person would do all the work, while the other watched and did nothing?

How many times did you tell your students not to talk in the hallway and then you started a conversation with a passing teacher?

How often did you work with your students to win the "Class of the Week" award for highest grades, best attendance, quietest behavior - cheering when you won or booing when another class won?

I could go on and on. Each of these examples is commonplace and begs for a lesson in empathy.  But who has time?  I believe we must make the time.  It is imperative for the good of our world. We have lost the ability to lift others up, to care for the environment, to listen to those who have differing opinions. We need to reinforce the idea that empathy and respect are necessary and useful for advancement in a society.  

I remember Albert.  He was a fifth grade student of mine who was classified as learning disabled.  He had a language delay, so explaining himself was quite difficult.  And he had a family that encouraged him to never take responsibility for anything.  They believed he was always right, the other children were always wrong, and the teachers did not understand him at all.  He struggled constantly with the other children, fighting over books, over favorite seats, over playground toys.  He argued with teachers over whether or not work should be done, was done, was handed in.  He made the year quite a challenge. 

I spent all year working with Albert on communication.  How can you explain to Johnny why you are upset, without using your fists?  How can you show me you need help, without ripping up your work?  How can you solve a problem, without calling in Dad to solve it for you?

What I didn't do with Albert was successfully teach him the fifth grade curriculum.  He didn't improve much in reading or math, he didn't complete projects in social studies or science, he didn't willingly participate in morning meetings or group skype calls or, really, anything we did in class.  I failed as a teacher.  Until one day...

Albert came back from recess, upset with another child about an issue on the playground.  He wanted to punch the other child.  I was able to prevent that and, after talking with him and the other child, I discovered that Albert had a right to be angry.  Normally, he was the bully, taking away toys and pushing kids down.  This time, though, he was playing with a basketball and the other child grabbed it from him and refused to let him play.  If I had just gone along with the day, I would have punished Albert.  After all, it was usually his fault that a fight was brewing.  But I took the time to listen, learn, and teach.  

I told Albert he had a right to be angry but not a right to hit.  I helped him use his words to explain his position to the other child.  The other child apologized and told Albert that the next day, they would play basketball together.  And they did.

I would love to tell you that Albert changed completely, became a top student and a calm child.  But he didn't.  He struggled all year with explaining himself.  The other children, however, saw a different side of him and helped him stay calm during a crisis.  And two years later, while I was visiting the middle school, I saw Albert in the hallway.  He came right up to me, shook my hand, looked me in the eye, and said, "Hello, Mrs. Parisi.  It's so good to see you.  How are you?" This was monumental.

Why do I tell this story?  Albert will probably never be a mover and shaker of the world.  He will probably have to work every day to keep his family from "saving him from the world."  And he might still struggle with reading and writing and math.  But maybe, just maybe, he won't go to a rally and start a fight.  Maybe he won't walk into a store and berate the cashier for making a mistake.  Maybe he will get married and treat his wife with respect and kindness.  Maybe.  And maybe, if we spend more time actively teaching empathy, spend more time dealing with situations instead of reacting to them, spend more time teaching children how to listen to each other and care about each other, the world will be a better place.  And we really need the world to be a better place.

Stay tuned for more blogs on this topic.  I have lots of great ways to teach empathy and will share some with you in future blogs.

 I would love to hear what you do to teach empathy.  Share in your own blog and link back here so we can all read it.


 Every morning, my breakfast is two pieces of multigrain toast with butter, a sliced vine ripened tomato with a sprinkle of salt, and a cup of hazelnut coffee with sweetener and milk.  I take my breakfast to the table with my book and my daily vitamins.  No one in the house interrupts me.  I read and eat my toast.  Then I take my vitamins with my coffee.  Then I eat the tomato while I read some more.  Then I sit and finish my coffee, while reading.  The whole breakfast time takes about 30 minutes.  If it's warm and sunny, I move the whole thing to my balcony.

Why does this matter?  Because I want you to understand that I HATE CHANGE!  I hate it.  I want things to stay the way they are right now.  I want to have my breakfast each day. I want to sit and go through my email and my bills each day.  I want to do some work around the house and/or the yard each day.  I want to spend time with my husband, see my mom, talk to my daughter, play with my dog each day.  I want to put on my t-shirt each night, lower the temperature on my thermostat for the bedroom, crawl into bed, turn on the tv, and fall asleep to a movie I've seen a hundred times.

My daughter, Ali, is the same way.  She stayed with a piano teacher for at least a year past what the teacher said she could do with her. She didn't want a new teacher.  She wanted Miss Barbara. Period.  

And, yet, change keeps happening.  When I taught, I moved grades all the time.  Fourth, then fifth, then second, then third, then fourth, then fifth, then fourth, then fifth, then out of the classroom into the gifted program.  I switched schools three times, states two times, principals six times, co-teachers three times, aides and assistants...I can't even remember.  And almost all of those changes were my doing.

Ali, too, makes changes.  She has traveled alone to Costa Rica, Belize, and Israel. She changed colleges five times, moved three times and changed jobs more times than I can count. All while telling me how anxious the changes are making her.  But she does it.

What I've come to realize is this:  I need routine.  I need sameness about me.  But I also need things to change in my world.  I think it's so I can handle it when change is thrust upon me.

We are in a world right now where change is coming every day.  Our way of life is so different that it may never go back to the way it was.  And I'm not really sure it should.  Some of my favorite restaurants and stores are closed and may close for good.  Some of my favorite tv shows are not running anymore and may not come back.  Traveling is dangerous, going to movies is dangerous, bowling, playing tennis, working out...no can do.

So how can I come to grips with life changing around me at an alarming rate? How did I make it easy for my students who were like me, when I changed up the routine or told them we weren't following the schedule for the day?  For my students, I kept some things the same.  We still had our morning meeting when our schedule was changing.  We still shook hands each morning, even if we kept our coats on because we were going on a field trip for the day.  We still hugged goodbye each afternoon, even I as was rushing them out the door to catch the bus.  

For me, I have my 30 minutes of breakfast time.  It might be the only thing that stays the same each day but I need that one thing to hold me tight.  Then I can let the change envelop me and still feel secure.  And I can welcome change, knowing that I'll find a new normal, a new schedule, a new sameness...eventually.

How do you handle change?  How is this new world finding you?  I'd love to hear your ideas.  Blog on your own.  And then link your blog in the comments so we can all read each others.  Have fun!

Friday, January 3, 2020

A Life Update

It's been a long time since I have published a blog. In fact, it's been so long that I changed jobs, worked for four years in that job and retired from teaching since I last wrote a blog.  That's too long.  So here a brief update.  And a promise to blog more frequently.

1. I left the classroom and worked as the gifted teacher and PLTW Science lead teacher in my school. I did write about my new job here

What I loved about this job was the role change for me.  Instead of being in one classroom all year, I had the opportunity to get to know all of the children in the school and be in all of the classrooms.  I renewed my appreciation for the teachers I worked with.  Every class I walked into had thriving, happy children who enjoyed being in school.  

And I still had my gifted students to get close with and teach.  I helped them become leaders and change agents.  They learned about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  They taught their classmates and schoolmates about the problems in the world. They wrote to government officials, set up websites, ran a school assembly, and created videos to alert the world to these problems. They believed they could make a difference in the world. And so they did.

Image result for retirement2.  I retired after 35 years in the classroom.  Since 1984, when I went through student teaching, I have been working every school year and almost every summer.  I took off 10 weeks when I had my wonderful daughter, Alixandra, but, otherwise, I worked.  

Over the course of my career, I have taught every elementary grade - Grades K-5, taught numerous classes in district, presented at many conferences, and won multiple awards. I wrote a book about blogging, worked with companies, such as BrainPop, to help them improve on ideas for use in the classroom, and connected with teachers and classrooms around the world.

I worked under 6 principals and 5 Superintendents. Some good, some bad, some supportive, some not.  I learned how important administrators are in creating the tone of the school.  So some years were joyful and exciting, while other years were stressful and monotonous.

Related image3. I moved out of New York and into the beautiful Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina.  I love where I live now. But I am frustrated living in the mountains with limited internet access and phone access.  I'm not used to having everything I do take so much time.  And I miss being able to stream videos without running out of data.  

4. I gave up my second job as Elementary Vice President of the Herricks Teachers Association.  I find it particularly difficult to live in a non union state, having just left 5 years of fighting for union rights.  I have already had conversations in Walmart about union rights.

5. My family:

 My mom moved with us to NC.  She had a minor stroke right before we moved and has struggled with the physicality of a new home, but she is doing better after getting physical therapy. 

 My daughter moved to a neighboring town in NC with her boyfriend, now her fiance.  She graduated with a Bachelor's in Biology although has chosen not to use that degree.  She is working now as a Vet assistant, going back to school to be a Vet Tech.  And she is planning her wedding.   

My husband retired when I did.  He has been spending a great deal of time fixing up our house.  It was an unfinished house when we purchased it. The outside is finally finished, furniture is being built, and we are getting to a point were we can just enjoy our new home, instead of listing everything that still needs to be completed.

6. I am starting a consulting business.  I am ready to share what I know about children and teaching.  Contact me if you would like me to come to your district.  

7. I found an illustrator for my picture book and am now looking for a publisher.  Stay tuned for more on that.

That's it.  My life for the last five years.  I have missed connecting, missed blogging, missed writing.  How have you all been?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Global Education and Skills Forum

A week ago, I had the unique opportunity to attend the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai. The forum was run by The Varkey Foundation, whose message is "Changing Lives through Education."  Sonny Varkey, owner, believes in a "great teacher for every child."  And he truly works to get that message through.

In 2015, I was a top 50 finalist for the Global Teacher Prize.  I then became an ambassador for the Global Teacher Prize, although I will be the first to admit, I have been a lousy ambassador.  I wasn't really sure of the Varkey Foundation, feeling that what they really wanted was media coverage for their organization. I have since learned differently.

You see, the Varkey Foundation believes that teachers are important, they matter.  They want the world to know how important teachers are to the lives of children and the success of our world.  So they set up this Global Teacher Prize to be like winning the Nobel Peace Prize.  The award ceremony and conference were beyond amazing - top speakers, heads of state and country, famous media people - all became part of the show.  And all there to honor teachers.  Here are some of my exciting events throughout my four days of the conference.

1. I got to speak with, work with, hang out with, laugh with some of the most amazing teachers from around the world.  There were 120 finalists at the summit preceding the conference, teachers who were already chosen as the best in the world, who were brought to Dubai to do powerful work around helping other teachers become Global Teachers.  I met teachers who have started schools in areas where most children don't go to school.  I met teachers who are using every tool they know to bring different cultures into their students' world.  I met teachers who work in the most remote areas of the world and teachers who work in the busiest cities in the world.  And all of these teachers are in a group I am honored to be part of.  I hope to grow up to be just like them someday.

2. I made new friends.  Like Janet Hayward, from Wales, who is me with an accent.  She is "lovely."  Like Ray Chambers, one of the top ten finalists, from the UK, who is the tallest person I have ever known and has the funnest wife ever.  Like Andrews Nchessie, from Malawi, who speaks Chichewan, a language used in Laugh with the Moon, which I am reading to my fifth graders.  Like Santhi Karamcheti, from Bangalore, who runs a school for children with special needs so they don't have to stay home and not receive an education.  Like Mareike Ha from Germany, who pushed me right out of my comfort zone. Like, like, like.  So many to think about. So many to connect with.  My life has changed for meeting all of these amazing people.

3. I heard talks from Thomas Friedman, Bear Grylls, Sudhguru, girls who escaped from the Boko Haram, Andreas Schleicher, Arne Duncan, Geoffrey Canada, etc.  So many great speakers.  So much to learn and think about.

4. The food was incredible.  The little serving dishes they used to pass around food was so cute.  The gold covered chocolate strawberries were over the top, The Michelin star Italian chef who ran the Italian Soiree night gave us all amazingly tasty food.  It never seemed to end.  We had breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, dessert at every course.  Whew.  I wanted to try everything and I think I did.

5. The celebration of teachers was spectacular.  The night of the award ceremony, we began by being serenaded by Andrea Bocelli.  Then Bear Grylls parachuted onto the beach and ran onto the stage to introduce the astronaut from the International Space Station who, through video, revealed the winner. Congratulations to Maggie MacDonnell.  Then we were walked out onto the red carpet that was lined with children and their parents chanting,"Teachers Matter." They were high fiving us and taking selfies with us.  I never felt so appreciated. The night ended with an amazing band and dj playing great music while we ate and ate and ate.  

This was truly the highlight of the week.  Here in America, teachers are so vilified, so hated.  To be appreciated with such verve was too much to handle.  I cried my way through the red carpet.

I might never have an experience like this again.  But I am proud to be part of the ambassador program.  The Varkey Foundation does amazing things for children around the world.  And there really are people in the world who think teachers are important.  It's easy to forget that back home.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

An Open Letter to NYS Commissioner of Education Elia

Dear Commissioner Elia,

I am a veteran elementary school teacher, having just completed my 30th year of teaching in 2015.  I am now a teacher for the gifted and talented students in my school, as well as the lead teacher for PLTW, our new science program.  I have won multiple awards for global projects, co-written a book on blogging, and teach classes on Universal Design for Learning, Project Based Learning, Responsive Classroom and using Web 2.0 tools.  I work hard to keep the learning fresh, becoming a Google Certified Innovator, an Edmodo ambassador, and a BrainPop Certified Educator, among other titles.  

I am telling you about myself to let you know that I love what I do, love working with children, love helping other teachers, and take my profession very seriously.  I truly believe that my purpose in life is to help make the world a better place and I am here to help children learn how to make peace, work cooperatively, and feel that their lives matter.  I have always felt that, in elementary school, our main job is to help students learn to love learning, love school, and love themselves.  Curriculum comes second.

I work on Long Island, in the Herricks School District.  It is a high stakes district that always tops the lists of best schools, highest scores, etc.  And I know, working in Herricks, how to help my students reach those heights, while still loving school. Until testing time.

This past week, we gave the NYS ELA test to 300+ 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students in our school. We shut down programs and classes on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in order to accommodate the requirements of the students testing.  You see, this year, in order to make things "less stressful" for our students, you chose to make the test an untimed test.  The results were scary and very stressful. Let me explain.

First, the test itself is stressful for children.  There were questions on the fifth grade exam that I had difficulty answering.  Teachers were debating the multiple choice answers, since there were many that had two choices, one being slightly better than the other.  If teachers have difficulty with the test, imagine how the 10 year old children felt looking at these questions.

Also, the children, on day 3, were asked to write two essays.  Two!  Who writes two essays in one day, much less one right after the other?  Couldn't we figure out if they could write well after the one essay they wrote on day 2?  Did we really need a third day to figure this out?

Second, the test is useless.  Teachers cannot use it to revise their instruction since we don't get scores back until August or September, when we no longer have those children.  And when we do get the scores back, they are meaningless, since we no longer have the test to see what the types of questions were.  And, you decided (rightly so, in my opinion) that we would not use this test to assess teachers. So, if the test does not inform instruction and does not assess teachers, what is the point?

Third, the timing.  When we had 90 minutes for this test, it was stressful and difficult for some children to finish.  But they mostly did ok.  With an unlimited time, we had children working for over 4 hours!  There were gifted children who are notorious perfectionists, writing 4 page essays and spending an hour on just the planning page (which, incidently was left out of the test).  There were special education children who would get stuck on a question and just stop, waiting for inspiration. And, with unlimited time to do so, would sit for 30 minutes doing absolutely nothing but worrying.

So what was my role this year?  Since I am no longer a classroom teacher, I did not have a class to proctor so I filled in where I was needed.  I proctored one day for a fifth grade teacher who was out for the day.  But mostly, I spent my time with the children who worked beyond 2 hours.  You see, after 2 hours, I picked up all the children who were still not done and brought them to my room to complete the test.  This allowed the rest of the class to move around, make noise, and relax. On Thursday, the two essay day, there were so many children taking more than 2 hours that we filled up two classrooms with those students.

In my room, in the meantime, I had children crying because they couldn't answer questions, worried because they were taking so long, upset because they were missing lunch and recess to complete the exam.  This was not "less stressful" by any means.  Less stressful might have been cutting the test down to two days or giving the children more developmentally appropriate questions to answer or giving the test at the end of the year, after all the curriculum has been taught, instead of in April, so the teachers have to rush curriculum to get children ready, or not giving this test at all and finding a better way to evaluate learning throughout the year.

Commissioner Elia, I am hopeful that things will change next year.  This is not what I became a teacher for.  I work hard to make my students love coming to school.  Nobody loved coming in last week, not the students, nor the teachers, nor the administrators, nor the parents.  I am hopeful that, since you claimed you would opt your own children out, you understand the ineffectiveness and uselessness of the NYS ELA test.  Please reconsider this test next year.  There has to be a better way.  Ask teachers.  We know how to evaluate our students and our teachers.

Lisa Parisi, teacher

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Starting Over

This year I started a new job.  I'm still a teacher (not sure that will ever change) but now I am no longer a classroom teacher.  My new position is two-fold.  I am the teacher for gifted and talented 4th and 5th graders in my school and the Lead Teacher for PLTW, a STEM science program.

I started training for PLTW (Project Lead the Way) last year.  This program was designed for high school and middle school students.  This is the first year they are bringing it to the elementary school and my district signed on. 

What I love about this program is that it is a project-based learning program focused on engineering design.  It uses iPads and other technology to teach children how to think, plan, design, and follow through on activities surrounding engineering, biomedicine, and technology.  It is my job to help the teachers learn how to use the program and how to use PBL.  This mostly means helping the teachers learn to let go and let the children be successful.  It is very exciting to see it all come together.

The gifted program in district is a pull-out program that is being entirely revamped within the next few years.  For now, there is one Gemini teacher in each elementary building and we are planning humanities lessons and activities for our students, designed around the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

So what has all this change meant for me?  Lots of learning, lots of laughs, lots of tears.

1. I am so grateful to be out of the classroom and away from all the testing.  I had gotten to a point where, after 30 years, I just couldn't do it anymore.  I felt guilty having to give the tests, guilty planning for them, guilty taking away time from more important activities, like connecting with online classes.  I am just glad not to have to think about it anymore.

2. I have a much more open schedule than ever before.  I see each group of students twice a week and the rest of the time is set aside for PLTW.  This means I do not greet children as they walk into the building and do not let them go at the end of the day. It means I do not take much work home with me on the weekends. It means I have more time to walk into classrooms and see what everyone else is doing.  It means I have more time to give assistance to others.  This I love but it did take some getting used to.

I do not have my own class of children.  Yes, I work with my Gemini students and see them each week.  And, yes, I use Responsive Classroom still and we are a community.  But it isn't the same as having your own class.  I miss that.

4. All of the children in the building know who I am.  This I love!  I have been in all the classrooms, watching and assisting with science lessons.  The children get excited when I walk in - "Are we doing PLTW now?"  And I get lots of hellos in the hallway.

5. I get to visit kindergarten when I need a break.  Kindergarten has to be the hardest grade of all to teach.  But, oh those children are so wonderful.  I walk in to hugs and stories and tugs to come to their area and see what they are doing.  I love when I walk in and a random child comes to me to tell me about his new puppy or show me her boo boo.  It's a nice break from the chaos of dealing with two new programs in district.

6. I am learning to be a team player with a team I have never worked with before and who are not in my building.  It is very much like being a team member in an online collaboration.  You always have to be thinking about the other members of the team but, ultimately, you are on your own.  Very strange.  This is the most difficult for me to deal with.

7. I have been working much more with administration.  This is very new to me.  I am the liason between the teachers and the administration with regard to PLTW.  And, while I have always had a good relationship with my principal, I am learning some new things.  I am learning more about the big picture in the district.  It's no longer just about my kids.  Now it's also about PR and parents and other teachers and the Board of Education and, oh yes, the kids. I keep them in the picture always.

8. It's hard getting global projects going.  I don't see my students enough to work on a project so I "borrow" the students from the class next door.  I have been dragging my colleague and friend, the next door fourth grade teacher, into projects.  So far she has done postcards from around the country, has started blogging, and is starting If You Learned Here.  I love that she is willing, even as she worries about the timing involved in it all.  

It hasn't all been easy but I really do love this new job.  Next year should be much easier.  And, for now, I am enjoying the ride.  What are you doing this year that is new?