November 7, 2014

Of birth dates and houseflies: Gaining a new teaching perspective

Filed under: deep thoughts,TeachersFirst — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:26 am

Every once in awhile, an experience slaps us in the face, screaming. “Take a look at the big picture! Get some perspective!”  It may be a reunion, a funeral, or even a web resource. Starting Sunday, TeachersFirst is featuring BBC’s Your Life on Earth, reviewed here. This clever interactive asks for your birthdate and some basic information (gender and height) in order to provide comparisons and measures of your life through the lens of our planet Earth.BBC EARTH

For some reason, I decided to try focusing on the lifetime of TeachersFirst, entering that TeachersFirst is female and of “average” height  for a teacher (5′ 6″). The results provide several metrics of what has gone on since TeachersFirst was “born” back in April, 1998: 

  • A house fly your age would have a family o6,135 generations by now.
    Interesting but not terribly meaningful to me. I am glad we have not seen that many generations of students. We teachers sometimes have trouble adjusting to the changes of just half a generation. 
  • Population has increased by1,268,481,846 since you were born.
    That’s a lot of new students for today’s teachers, all aged zero to 16!
  • The North American Plate has moved 2’7 (Actually, this is the measurement of the “seafloor spread in the Gulf of California, pushing the North American Plate in a southeasterly direction.”)
    I don’t think TeachersFirst can take any credit for this, though we do try to help teachers shift their thinking about how technology can fit into learning. 
  • The per capita global food supplies of bananas, apples, and eggs are way up.
    It would be nice to think that the students and teachers using TeachersFirst all have enough to eat, but I know they do not.
  • The renewable energy supply is up 50%, but 240.8 million acres of forest cover have been lost– in just 16 + years!
    So what will today’s kindergarteners see when they are 30?

TeachersFirst’s mission is to provide resources to support teaching and learning across all subjects K-12 and to help teachers envision and implement effective use of technology as a tool for learning. In a broader sense, as teachers we are all trying to empower kids to understand, sustain, and improve the world they live in  — and ultimately grow to lead.

I am grateful that people like the BBC occasionally remind Thinking Teachers of our mission. The questions and comparisons that grow out of a different perspective are something every teacher needs. Try entering the start date of your teaching career as a “birthdate” to see what has changed.

August 29, 2014

A labor of love: My(insertadjectivehere)Life

Filed under: about me,deep thoughts,Digital media and learning competition,edtech,myscilife — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:26 am

MSL logoSince April, I have been involved in a project that has stretched my thinking, my imagination, and — at times– my patience. After over three years of looking, The Source for Learning (SFL), the non-profit parent company where I work and direct TeachersFirst, has found a developer to help us create a customized platform for MySciLife®. Perhaps I should offer some background…

You remember MySciLife, the project I led to finalist status in the MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Competition 2010? I have occasionally written about it here. Three of us (Ollie Dreon, Louise Maine, and I) cooked up the idea one wintry afternoon in an online meeting. We hustled to become finalists. Then we did not get funded.  Since 2010,  SFL has managed sufficient funding to launch MySciLife, and we are now beginning our third year of a research pilot with teachers and students across the U.S.. For the first two years, we used a well-accepted, safe social learning platform as the “home” for MySciLife. This “home,” however, was a candidate for a full Property Brothers makeover to really suit our needs. Unfortunately, the platform was NOT designed for the kind of student roles (we call them “identities”) and interschool interactions that happen in MySciLife. Our tech-savvy teachers and their clever students were troopers at devising work-arounds to accomplish MySciLife tasks. The research came back showing that MySciLife works — and kids LOVE it.

The gist of MySciLife is that students LIVE as a science concept, creating their identities in a safe, social learning environment using status updates, interactions, and a full range of digital media within the MySciLife platform. MySciLife is personal, dynamic science learning, interaction, and assessment. Imagine living your life as a cell…(think Facebook).

We shared about MySciLife at ISTE 2013, thanks to our curriculum experts, MySciLife creative collaborators, teachers, a student, and a parent. Later that summer I ran across a relatively new tool called Mashplant Studio, the third or fourth tool I had encountered that showed promise to possibly be adapted for MySciLife. After MONTHS of discussion and negotiation… we had a deal.

Fast forward to spring and summer, 2014. Code writers are building the new platform as I write this. We have used a very messy version of it (dubbed MyMashedUpLife) for our summer Boot Camp and have 23 teachers AND their middle school science students from across the U.S. starting the school year in MySciLife right now.  We are literally laying the track in front of the train to make all the features work THIS school year instead of waiting until 2015-16.

So what have I/we learned so far? (This may have to be part 1 of many…)

  • Teachers need time for Boot Camp style PD and even more time to absorb and collaborate when they are radically changing the way they teach.
  • Students need far less time!
  • Developers/code folks re-order lists to their view of what comes first. Users have a different view, and ed tech coaches yet another. Add the visual designer, and you have cacophony!
  • No level of list making can keep track of a project perfectly.
  • Bugs reproduce.
  • Online meetings only work after you get to know the “sound” of your collaborators’ true feelings.
  • Timelines sound great, but imagination and innovation resist such limits.
  • More details and to-do items rear their ugly heads between 3 and 4 a.m. than at any other time of day or night.
  • Creating a new learning “space” is just like lesson planning. You will never get it “just right.”

Stay tuned for further updates in My(insertadjectivehere)Life. Happy Labor Day!


July 17, 2014

Do you think better barefoot?

Filed under: about me,creativity,deep thoughts,iste14,musing,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:30 am

There is a moment during July when the teaching idea valve reopens. To me it seems to be barefeettriggered by something totally innocent: the feel of cool tile on bare feet, the rush beneath the surface of the water as I push off the pool wall, the sound of a favorite song playing as I sing along in a convertible, the lightning bugs after the fireworks end. At first the valve seems a bit creaky, crying out for WD40 on the brain, but soon enough it lets ideas flow freely again.

As the school year drew to a close, the valve had pretty much seized up. Stuck. I was stuck. Even eight years after leaving the annual school year cycle and moving to a year-round, continuous job, my brain still thinks like a teacher. I talk and “live” among teachers every day, and I need the annual renewal of July. It isn’t so much taking a “vacation.” It is allowing myself to go barefoot in my brain. It is letting myself play with ideas instead of packaging them.

No amount of effort I make can force that moment to come. A fabulous experience like the ISTE conference is so manic it overwhelms. I have learned to “save up” everything I gather at ISTE like pretty shells from the beach. I know I must wait to sort them all out and organize them later… and THEN decide what to DO with them.

I note the feel of cool tile under my bare feet as I write this, and I wonder whether we ever give students a chance to notice what makes their ideas flow. Sadly, many of us don’t figure it out until we are decades beyond school age. I wonder what would happen if each if us spent just one class  period per year talking with our kids about things like the Creative Routines of accomplished writers, artists, and thinkers. What if we asked them to pay attention to what makes their ideas flow… and to ask questions like, “Do I think better barefoot?”



July 3, 2014

Flashes Foretell the ISTE Cloudburst

Filed under: deep thoughts,gifted,ISTE Ed Tech Coaches Network,iste14 — Candace Hackett Shively @ 2:10 pm

ISTE bagMost of us who went to ISTE 2014 in Atlanta have already blogged or sent copious clever tweets about it. We have collected, shared, and digitally packed our ISTE takeaways into a turquoise-tinted ISTE Cloud. Already precipitating from that cloud are favorite gems, sprinkling or pouring down on constituents back home. A long holiday weekend (in the U.S.) may pose a temporary interruption to the ISTE precipitation cycle,  but the ISTE Cloud remains pregnant and ready to burst open again upon the next inservice, staff meeting, or chat.

Since my home ground is everywhere that Thinking Teachers live and work, my ISTE Cloud will rain down over the next few months in many digital spaces from TeachersFirst. But for now I must share a few impressions that struck me at ISTE. These are not the downpour of thoughts and skills, tools and tasks, entire new angles and approaches to learning that are incubating in my ISTE Cloud. These are flash impressions, the lightning that foreshadows a coming storm. I saw each lightning bolt flash before me only briefly, but knew each had more power than anything I could produce on my own — and I can only attempt to explain.

A school board president and tech director from a rural Idaho school district stand outside the Bloggers’ Cafe as I hear the board president ask his tech director, ” So how could I use a blog?” The conversation that ensues (as I pipe in) spans from a 60-something business owner into a world he begins to envision: sharing his business, seeing his grandkids’ pictures and writing about school board issues so the community can understand and converse. Then he asks, ” And how do teachers and kids use blogs?” From the world he knows to the world of school to the world beyond as he SEES it for the first time. He came to ISTE, and he will go home a different leader.  My flash: Not every leader or every school or every teacher has the tech or PD we at ISTE assume they do. I wonder: How can we each turn our ISTE Cloud into PD and learning philanthropy? 

Six twenty-something teachers from a Georgia high school stand in a clump in the GWCC lobby on the first day of ISTE, teachers representing their departments at the same high school: math, science, history, English, etc. They stop me because I have badge ribbons, so surely I know where to go and how to get started. They have the ISTE app, but their eyes are those of a new ninth grader on the first day of school: giddy,  laughing, a little terrified, ready to rock and roll, but already lost without the schedule they know they have here somewhere. My flash: A first ISTE is like first year teaching. Everyone needs a mentor!

Late afternoon in a windowless room of tables nearly full.  About 150 ed tech coaches — with at least 40 different job titles — gulp down collaboration with peers from all over the U.S. and a few other countries. They exchange problems/solutions, Twitter handles, “kryptonite,” and verbal/Google Drawing pictures of what their coaching looks like. The sound of the room is beyond hum or buzz. It is a the sound of water tumbling powerfully at the base of the waterfall, ready to rush forward. My flash: The Ed Tech Coaches Network has all the energy we could ever need. Let it spill forth! We’ll just manage the flood control.

Mid-morning in the subdued light beneath a busy escalator, eight stations of Superhero Ed Tech Coaches are doing far more than “Saving the Day.” At the newbie coaches demo area, there isn’t even standing room left. The other stations are 3-4 rows deep. My flash: The ed tech coaching waters are deep, and the superheroes will allow no one to drown. 

Two hundred teachers look up at us from perfect rows of convention-center-latched chairs. They lean into their devices or hold them up to scan QR codes on the screen as they listen, chat back, and multitask with our enthusiastic endorsement. I glance beside me at my colleague and once-mentoree as she explains about dozens of ways to differentiate and meet the needs of gifted kiddos using great, free tools. Heads nod, and occasional Ooos escape. I chime in with my portion of the presentation as she chats back to the questions and comments on Todaysmeet. My flash: Not everyone has forgotten about the gifted kids in today’s test-driven world after all, but we have a whole new generation of teachers who may never have been given permission to think about them.  

May your July 4th bring you both independence and incubation time so you can share in the outpourings from ISTE 2014 over the months to come, whether you were there or not!

I will be posting a bit less often during July as I ease my schedule a bit to enjoy summer fun. Weekly madness resumes in August.

May 2, 2014

A War for Learning

Filed under: deep thoughts,education — Candace Hackett Shively @ 10:58 am

Tilt your eyes up a bit. I am atop my soapbox.445086027_54fa7ff553

Earlier this week I “met” (virtually) with the TeachersFirst Educator Advisory Board, an energetic and savvy group of educators from primary grade teachers through a teacher-ed prof, with a representative sampling of responsibilities, experience, and geography in the middle. These meetings help TeachersFirst grab a snapshot of what is important to teachers in various locations and situations and what we can do to continue to meet teachers’ professional development and classroom learning needs. This was a particularly spirited meeting with many positive outcomes, but it did leave me with a ponderous, very gray cloud  that just will not go away.

I had asked the group to make a pie-in-the-sky prediction about when the day might come when teachers can assume (and expect) ALL U.S. kids  to be able to do homework that involves using an online device. In other words, when will all U.S. kids have both Internet access and device access to complete an online homework task outside of class? Why does it matter? Simply because a teacher cannot in good conscience assign anything that places some students at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the class. This is a non-starter. Forget “anywhere, anytime” learning. We don’t even have “somewhere, sometime” learning without such access. And don’t think it is just a few schools that suffer from this problem. It is MOST schools.

The predictions from the group were downright depressing (to me), and this is a very positive group of people:

Even if kids might have smartphones, it’s not good platform for activities like writing. In our lifetime? Doubt it.

Even if they have a device, all the kids in the family share it. All of them do homework on one device?

Living in the country (30 minutes outside a state capitol) and VERY limited Internet choices here (dial up is frequently the ONLY choice). Without govt. requirements, it’s not going to happen. It’s too expensive for providers to make any money when the farms are FAR apart!

I don’t see this happening. Too many children have other responsibilities after school. Also I see far too many families wondering about how they are going to survive (not enough food for family…etc), and they consider online devices a luxury.

There will always be the haves and the have nots. Whether it is technology or something else. I also agree with [name withheld]. It is an issue of the home support and we have issues with that too. At this time I cannot see all teachers being able to expect that.

…assuming that families will have technology is unrealistic when the families bounce around, live in homeless shelters, and struggle to get enough food (cuts in food stamps have made it even more desperate). When I worked in a suburban school, I happened to know several families who were in and out of homeless shelters, but the incidence in urban schools is so much higher.

I cannot see us requiring our students to complete online activities unless the government would somehow fund the internet for all. However, as that is extremely unlikely to occur I don’t really think we’ll ever get to that point.

A few offered a positive end in sight, or at least a glimmer of possibility:

I don’t see that happening. We can’t even expect all of them to do homework now. But stranger things have happened. I remember when the PTA bought our school our first computer and it was for 4 third grade classrooms to share. That was way before internet. WE SURE HAVE COME A LONG WAY… and who knows where it will go next?

While I can’t see that happening, when I started teaching in the early 70s (yes, I am older than dirt) I would never have thought today’s technology would be possible. So who knows?

Yes, I think within less than five years all U.S. teachers will be able to hold students accountable for assignments that need to be completed online and turned in as a digital assignment.

The best thing to come out of the conversation was the brainstorm about what we can DO about it.  Teachers are can-do people, so this group came up with:

  • SAD days (stay after days) staffed by teacher volunteers so kids could use school computers for 90 minutes after school.  This supported respite from home responsibilties is actually a popular event with some teens! (Yes, the transportation issue was discussed. This seems to vary by location/school.)
  • Grade level  or all-school teacher teams working together to staff extra access times for both kids and parents in the media center or computer lab (recesses, late afternoons, and/or evenings).
  • Loaner, cellular-enabled devices — but we immediately realized the cost was prohibitive.

Teachers really are can-do folks, and we will often find ways to beg, borrow, or hijack help. On re-reading the challenges this group cites to universal access, however, I think even the best grassroots effort from teachers is going to need significant assistance from a broader public and policy makers to truly enable anywhere, anytime learning for ALL kids. We had a War on Poverty once.  We need a War for Learning. 

[Photo Credit: aconaway1 via Compfight cc]

April 18, 2014

Maple Spring: The sapping of a digital life

Filed under: about me,creativity,deep thoughts — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:04 am

The best thing about working digitally is that I can occasionally slip into playing digitally. This week the TeachersFirst servers went down for much more than a hiccup, forcing me to work on other things. I have long to-do lists, but I chose to spend 15 minutes on Twitter, feeds, and the various bookmarks strewn on my desktop. I was seeking inspiration and an excuse to digress. I turned on the Spigot to feel this confluence into my creative buckethead:

Ingredient 1: This video from Eddie Wright about 29 Ways to Stay Creative. Especially ponderable: #4: Stay Away from the Computer (Ironically, I excitedly bookmarked the entire blog to be sure to come BACK to it on the computer!)

Ingredient 2: This post from George Couros, which made me ponder whether living and working digitally “humanizes” or dehumanizes ME — and what impact it has on the creativity conversation in Ingredient 1.

syrupbucket So often I reach the end of my workday exhausted and devoid of any remaining creative impulse. While that is not so bad for the people I work with or for the TeachersFirst audience, it does take a personal toll. The irony is that the same screen that has filled my eyes and sucked everything from my brain throughout the day also offers the connections and inspirations to restart the drip-drip-drip of creative juices.

I am maple sap in the spring.
At night, I drip
a constant tap-tap-tap into that bucket,
ready by morning to be hauled to the sugar shack and boiled for hours.
I am grade A amber, ready to add flavor. I am never Fancy.
I am the ever-boiling pot that needs new sap.
I am the storage space where this season’s syrup rests, ready to curl the tongue in sweet surprise
months from now.

The web exhausts, collaborates, invigorates, and I am grateful.

April 11, 2014

Citizenship “Special”?

Filed under: deep thoughts,education,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 1:46 pm

Since when is  Social Studies a “special”?

For those unfamiliar with elementary school lingo, a “special” is the rather ironic term for a subject that kids have once a week or once in a six day cycle. “Specials” typically include Art. Music, Library, and PE. In some schools, Computer is a special. Kids love specials for the change of pace — and probably because they see a different part of the building and a different teacher face. You would think “special” would mean important, but in this case, it means “extra.”shutterstock_109755791

In researching elementary schools this week for a friend who is considering a move, I was stunned to see social studies listed among the “specials” in the elementary curriculum, a class that kids have once a week. Thinking this was a fluke, I poked to find the same thing in a neighboring district. What I feared a few years ago — with the advent of No Child Left Behind — has come true. Science was saved from NCLB purgatory by the current emphasis on U.S. competitiveness in STEM and the inclusion of the NextGen Science Standards as part of Common Core, but even the gr 6-12 Social Studies Literacy aspects of Common Core have not been enough to save Social Studies from becoming “special.”

Why? ” If you test it, they will come. If you don’t, it is a “special.” (I could insert a long discussion about this, but it’s not my point here.)

Robert Frost ended a favorite poem with this oft quoted line:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I fear that this time we have taken the wrong road, and THAT is going to make all the wrong difference. Where does this path lead us, this path where kids rarely see and hear discussion about what it means to make the tough decisions of government, to learn from our past and to plan for a society that fits our ideals? If social studies is a special, it drops to the bare facts and skills that can fit into one class per week: know the national symbols, the basics of your state’s history, the names of the three branches of government. But elementary kids need to talk about how people and governments make decisions, not just how they pass bills. They need to be aware of how varied cultures are around the world and even around their city. They need to understand why people’s opinions differ on upcoming elections or social issues. While they are young, they need to learn to be citizens of a broader world. They will not simply “pick up” a deep sense of citizenship, history,  cultural richness, and personal involvement when social studies suddenly becomes a (non-special) subject in middle school.

I am certain no policy maker has planned a study to find out whether loss of social studies experiences and discussions in elementary school has an effect on whether kids later become involved voters or savvy global citizens. I offer a strong hypothesis that these kids won’t care as much about why people are slipping through society’s cracks, why people from different cultural backgrounds may have a different approach from their own, and how to make the tough decisions about what a national budget should keep or cut. If  learning about these decisions doesn’t count before they were 11, why will it when they are 21 or 31 or 41?

Kids tell me they love “specials.”  Kids look forward to them, but their parents may not emphasize specials like art or music as anything other than an outside interest or hobby kids will enjoy during leisure time in adult life. I hope by making social studies a special, we have not made citizenship a hobby for a generation to take up in their spare time.

PS On a note to Art, Music, PE and other “special” teachers, I personally believe every one of these subjects is as important as breathing.  I was fortunate enough to attend a school that had art and music every day!  We had no “specials.” I am painfully aware, however,  of the culture of school and of our society in designating certain subjects as  “specials, ” i.e. almost expendables in elementary school. But that could be another post entirely.

February 28, 2014

Looking inside on a cold, cold wet day

Filed under: deep thoughts,education,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 8:57 am

The sun did not shine.
It was too wet to play.
So we sat in the house
all that cold, cold wet day.

In honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday coming up, I reread the book I could once recite as a child — and later as a young mom. It is a tale of fun, surprise, fear, mischief, skepticism, and guilt. That fish speaks in the back of our minds throughout our lives, warning us not to allow the Cat or Thing One and Thing Two into our house for fear they will upset everything.  

Tell that Cat in the Hat
You do NOT want to play.
He should not be here.
He should not be about.
He should not be here
When your mother is out!”

(Photo credit: Joe Gauder,

In less than a coincidence, I learned today about a teacher who was offered a grant to provide consistent, in-school Internet access to students involved in a national research pilot of an innovative (and free) program for learning science in a safe social network.  The grant would mean that the teacher — and her students– would have the solid, reliable connection they need to connect with a world outside their very small, rural community. Their world, much like the Seuss kids inside on a cold, cold, wet day, would be open to allow outsiders in.

But the worrier fish in this real life story had a greater say than the one in the book.  The Cat in the Hat — and Thing 1 and Thing 2 — did not get past the door to bring the reliable Internet connection to the kids in that classroom. For whatever reason, the school administration did not feel comfortable allowing an outside funder/stranger to bring in such disruption(?). And so the grant was politely but officially declined. Sally and her classmates simply stay inside, watching out the window and connecting perhaps during the few classroom hours when “mom” is home and the Internet works?

Every teacher faces different barriers, stressors, and challenges. And the fish in this tale probably has a very good (or legally protective) reason to refuse to allow the Cat into the classroom.

The message to me is that none of us really understands what others face inside their teaching houses on cold, cold wet days.  We may be risk takers and have school administrations that allow more open doors (and permit the mess caused by Thing 1 – the Internet and Thing 2- social learning). We may worry about how to clean up after the fun our students have when it gets a little messy. Or we may face much more basic challenges like just being allowed to open the door. Don’t assume you know every tale. You might even try rereading The Cat in the Hat through the lens of adult experience. It adds a new layer of meaning to Read Across America.

February 21, 2014

Be a (teaching) Olympian

Filed under: deep thoughts,edtech,teaching — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:05 am

medalI know nothing of the Olympics except what the television networks feed me. They have taught me that Olympians are specialists in many things I never thought about — or knew existed. Olympic skiers know the details of ski materials, edges, turns, and lines on a course. They know what wax technicians do and all about different characteristics of snow. They adapt their skiing strategy for every nuance, and they also push the envelope in hopes of hitting just the right combination of risk and experience to feel a medal ’round their neck. They measure themselves by their finishes and their cumulative racing success. As they grew from novice skiers, their support teams grew with their success until they reach the Olympic pinnacle. They are specialists, and they know where they stand.

Teachers are specialists but without the support team, medals, or media. (We are thrilled to find free donuts in the lounge!) Since we do not “compete,” it is much harder to measure our success or earn sponsors, but we quietly build as strong a repertoire as an Olympic skier. (And our bodies don’t give out as soon!) We know the edges of different approaches to learning. We see different lines to take on a course, and we seek a balance of risk and experience every day. We speak a specialized language that unfortunately mystifies parents but makes sense among our team of colleagues. So how do we measure our own success and needs for growth?

I was part of a panel this week with James Welsh from FCIT, home of the Technology Integration Matrix. As he shared the matrix, a tool for self-evaluation or administrative evaluation of how a teacher integrates technology,  and I shared about apps in the classroom, I thought about just how specialized we really are and how tough it is for us to see our own accomplishments. The non-teachers in the audience made me realize we are the Olympic skiers talking about edges and lines and wax and snow.  So how do we know how to grow? I have more questions than answers for teacher-specialists right now. Obviously, edtech or instructional coaches can play a role in this, but what role do you want to take yourself?

  • How do you measure yourself as a specialist?
  • Do others ask you for teaching ideas? (Should they?)
  • Do you use a self-evaluation or rating scale like the TIMS? Would you like to? Do you compare yourself to exemplar videos? Would you voluntarily watch a video of another teacher?
  • Do you let an administrator label your “level”?
  • Have you ever tried to explain your chain of decision-making to someone who is not a teacher?
  • Have you ever watched the same event/class/student and shared what you observe vs. what a nonspecialist might see?
  • Do you realize how much you know — and how much you have to learn?

Be an Olympian. Take the risk of measuring your accomplishments.



December 13, 2013

Teachers and secondhand stress

Filed under: about me,deep thoughts,Teaching and Learning — Candace Hackett Shively @ 9:07 am

We all do it, especially in December. We rush around, telling our colleagues and our students how busy we are and how much there is to “get done” before [insert your holiday or academic deadline here]. A recent Wall Street Journal article cautions against the spread of “secondhand stress.”

Uh-oh. Guilty as charged.

In the classroom, we let our own deadlines and work requirements spill onto the kids. If the Common Core changes or the latest iteration of high stakes tests have thrown our planning process out the window, the kids feel it.  If a change of school administration or a new teacher evaluation system has us on edge, we are probably just like the boss confronted in the article, “your volume goes up, your pace of speaking goes up, and you’re not fully in the conversation.” Just as a business environment incubates a contagion of secondhand stress, so can our classrooms (and schools). The kids cannot name it or explain why, but they feel some of the same responses the article describes from secondhand stress:

(#1) Have your elementary students started to take on your mannerisms in the way they talk to other students about “getting their work done”?

(#3)Has a parent ever told you their child was “afraid” to ask questions?

(#4)Has a student ever chased you down the hall on your way to your next class or duty?

(#2 +#5) Do your students throw away their own work? Have you ever found the papers/plan book from your desk in the wastebasket (most likely in middle school)?

Though the business world Sue Shellenbarger discusses in the article is an entirely different culture from school, there are glaring similarities. The faculty room can certainly be a stress-infection zone, teeming with the stress virus. And don’t think we don’t take the virus right down the hall to the kids.

So what do we do about it (and can technology possibly help ease the burden)?

1. Make our classrooms a community of learners instead of a boss-worker environment. Start with a wiki as a class “hub” and give ALL students access to edit it. Then show them how, valuing their additions by commenting on them and encouraging them to “discuss” things you say via constructive criticism. There are LOADS of collaborative tools you can use to build on community. Link to them from that one hub so they are easy to find.

2. Try a writing prompt taken from the WSJ article: “If I were a household appliance, which one would I be?” You may discover signs of secondhand stress — and will least learn something about each student. Be sure to write along with the kids and let everyone share what they have to say. If you have a class blog, that’s perfect.

3. Include prevention of secondhand stress in the class rules your class generates at the start of school.

4. Value and make time for questioning by someone other than you. Make a question page on the class wiki for kids to enter questions as they do homework. Give extra credit to kids who ANSWER them. Handle unanswered questions (and highlight great answers) at the start of class. Who should answer? Hopefully anybody EXCEPT you. Be willing to say, ” I did not realize that was so confusing. I learned from you!” Message: Questions are not “interruptions.” They are a valued part of learning for all of us.

“Yeah, yeah, I know that,” you say?  I am sure you do. Sometimes it just takes the observations of a peer (or student) to remind us that we are virulent spreaders of stress. Maybe there is a New Years resolution in here somewhere.