Dene E. Gainey

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Sensing, Understanding, and Delivering

To teach is indeed a calling. To know that what you do daily has the capacity to live far longer than you do is mind-blowing!  I can't help but wonder if there are certain people that need the very words that come out of my mouth? Perhaps there are students who, for whatever reason, are in situations that you can speak life to, provide solace in, and help them get out of through embracing, encouraging, and empowering them.

Embrace: This could be a physical embrace or a metaphorical one. Maybe a hug is in order or perhaps simply knowing that they can talk to and relate to you because though you are a superhero in their eyes, you are still human.

Encourage: Maybe they need to hear something positive. Acknowledge their strengths, help them to identify and find areas of weakness to work on and improve themselves. Help them to see the value of personal responsibility.

Empower: Teach them to reach, to dig, to expand and to grow, whether you are standing there or not.

I was recently engaged in a conversation at an EdCamp during a session called "Building a Positive School Culture." In the session was the discussion of the concern raised by teachers, namely the "the loss of instructional time" that comes through school-sponsored events, the time taken to redirect student behaviors and combat the societal things that walk boldly into the classrooms, etc. I challenged them at the end of the session to flip the script.

I create lesson plans every two weeks that are to guide the teaching and learning in the classroom. More times than not, there is a deviation from what I planned. In fact, if I were to be completely honest, I hardly ever stick to the strategic plan that I've outlined on paper. What I find to be true is that the real strategy is being able to deliver, provide or allow for what is needed by the students in the classroom at that moment, in the here and now, dependent solely on discerning the environment, knowing students and being able to be sensitive to the needs of others. That cannot be planned for, however, as an educator, I have placed myself in the position to be flexible and shift based on the needs.

Perhaps in lieu of building school culture and cultivating a rich, innovative and dynamic learning environment, we should not see these deviations from the norm as loss of instructional time. Perhaps these deviations are more instructional than any 'instruction' will ever be. Perhaps it is the words or activities that flow that are much more meaningful for the time, and without them, the curriculum would not stick anyway. So, if I flow with the needs of the class and increase my sensitivity to the needs of the day, how much more will the content itself stick when it does occur.


One who does not stay the same.

Stand Up Teacher

Well, this is officially my first post of 2018. Times have been so busy that I had not had the grand opportunity. I recall about three years ago as part of a team-building exercise, I along with staff members at my school went to an improv comedy show. I'd never done it before and thought about the opportunity to laugh and decompress at an event such as this. Being that is was improv, I suppose I had no idea at the time that I could (or would) become part of the show. In fact, the topic had shifted to "pick up lines" and I was positioned as a judge to determine whose pickup lines were worthy of a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It was a lot of fun, I won't lie. I was nervous and had no idea how this would end but now I can say that I did it, had the opportunity and laughed a lot as a result. If it ever happens again, I won't be so nervous I suppose.

My point today is this...being a stand up teacher. I clearly stand up all day, and rarely sit down, whether at a table or desk. My feet tell me so at the end of the day, coupled with all of the walking and getting my steps in without any problems at all. This is not what I mean at all though. Challenging times and scenes today both in and out of classrooms seem to suggest a need for educators to be sensitive to environments, students and needs. This is not to say it hasn't always been important, but I have encountered many experiences this year alone where I have had to alter the course of travel for a class, for a week, for a student, for a group of students because the climate dictated a different way that day. I spend so much time planning and even learning in order to plan effectively. However I realize more and more that these lesson plans do not always go "as planned."

I'd learned about a strategy for teaching that includes drama, more specifically referred to as "Actor's Toolbox" which includes aspects of social-emotional learning as well as opportunities to teach students about those elements of themselves that are necessary in order to experience success in school. It further provides an opportunity for students to move, form randomized groupings for class activities as well as reinforce expectations.

There is a part of the Actor's Toolbox that includes a focus game that students love. The students move to a circular standing formation in the room when the cue is provided (music for our class). They "sign" the five-part contract that says they will be in charge of their bodies, their voice, their minds, their focus and finally cooperate with others. This is all done with miming or gesturing (drama). I then get the opportunity to try to distract them as they focus on a point on the wall opposite where they are standing. The goal is for them to remain calm, focused and balanced. Additionally, I like to ask students to point out any "strong" choices they observed other students do, such as moving quietly and calmly. We also discuss "weak" or undesirable choices made by students, like laughing while coming to the circle or running. This is such a powerful way to start our class and I really have seen students step to the plate and develop in maturity.

Actor's Toolbox is fun. I've had students group using the following statement: "By the time I count to 6, find yourself in a group that has an even number" (or someone wearing glasses, or someone wearing black, or having at least one boy). They can use non-verbal communication but are not encouraged to talk while moving into these groups. However once assembled, they might discuss a topic that comes to mind, like a book they read over the weekend. Or I might create a talking piece based on something we are learning in class at that time, giving them an opportunity to discuss it with random students (and those not normally paired with). I always follow up with sharing as a whole class a couple of the really great thoughts from the groups.

My point in sharing that example is that I have used it during times where there was clearly a need to "do something different." I use it almost every day as it is, but definitely use it to break up any potential monotony and in those times that the conditions call for something more. I feel educators are the great balancers and jugglers! Or at least we should be flexible and aware of the climate, which changes oh so frequently in order to meet the needs of the diverse learners that we all have in our reach. As I have heard many times, Maslow, before Blooms, because Blooms will be so much more effective once Maslow is in place.

Thanks for reading! Have a good one!

#ISTE17 Captured.

So I decided to use Book Creator to "capture" the ISTE experience. After this brief introduction, you will find visual images with text that more closely capture the immensity of time spent in San Antonio. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to attend such a conference. I don't think I'd ever seen so many educators in one place at the same time. It was noted by ISTE leaders that about 21,000 people were in attendance (including vendors) representing every state in the US and over 80 countries around the world. That's amazing right! I attended several sessions, those that were part of the #ISTE17 schedule and those that were not. Many learning events happened outside of the four walls of a room or session, yet that pushed me, motivated me, inspired me and changed me for the better. I learned a lot from sessions including: the @Newsela Certification Workshop (Sunday - starting things off), Getting Started with Swift Playgrounds (coding), Google Drawing - Going beyond the Drawing, Developing Natural Curiosity through PBL, The Power of Music for Learning: Garageband, Closely Reading with Thinglink, Real World Coding: Apple App Development, Digital Formative Assessment, and Virtual Poetry Slams. These of course were aside from the awesome keynotes delivered by Jad Abumrad & Jennie Mageira. I was not able to make the last one since I had to prepare to leave. Jennie Mageira was a POWERFUL keynote speaker who literally told stories that took you through a few emotions. Her delivery was quite impactful.

It was indeed an honor to meet many that I'd interacted with to some degree via social media, whether on Twitter, Voxer or other means. You have conversations and then you see that they are real! How amazing is that! Here it goes!

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The Power of Quotes (Words)

Communication is a social skill that is integral to the existence of any individual. How we communicate is in part, determined by the bank of knowledge, in this case, the depth of vocabulary that we have. Is the point to use language that is above another's capacity to understand? Absolutely not. However, there is a certain power in the words one chooses articulate his or her intentions. There is power in what you say. In fact, there is power in saying what someone else has said.

One of the key pieces of my classroom is writing, one form of communication that I practice and dialogue with students about all year. Though sometimes it is considered a cumbersome task by students, it questioningis a necessary life skill, to be able to write, and for a variety of purposes. Expository or nonfiction writing is writing that reflects what has happened, or might explain the rationale or history or reason(s) for something occurring. Therefore, it is necessary to learn how to explain and elaborate. Also, since this is not a narrative form, often lacking the flair of figurative language, it is necessary for the writer to develop this form of writing as well, and using quotes is a great and powerful way to do so.

Dissecting quotes and understanding the meaning behind them aids students in determining whether a quote might be relevant in writing and how it can be used to engage the reader and/or listener and solidify the intended message. Consider the quote below.

"Words are like paint in which the writer becomes the artist and creates a masterpiece.” – Dene Gainey

In that quote, words are being compared to paint, and metaphorically, writing is being compared to artwork. In this way, the writer can now form an explanation to support how this statement applies to his or her writing, furthering the explanation and engaging the audience, prompting them to think as they read. Quotes are powerful and modeling this power for students will enable them to not only notice the power of quotes (words) but begin to manipulate words themselves.