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Here Are The First Five Reasons Why I Love Sensei Steve’s Class

Before you start reading about the topic of this post, I want to mention that all the classes at

Hoover Karate Academy

 are taught by well-trained, committed teachers who care about their students.  I wanted to focus on one class in particular, but that is no reflection on the other classes whatsoever.

Sensei Steve Turoscy, Jr. is a fighter.  I don’t mean that he is simply an excellent martial artist and an instinctive fighter.  I mean that Sensei Steve has overcome a number of challenges in the time I have known him, challenges that less-motivated human beings would have considered too difficult.   He has an internal locus of control that is inspirational.  He will not be held back by his circumstances; instead, he wants everyone to know that he is going to overcome them, and that if you find yourself in the same kind of situation, you will overcome them, too.

You have to aspire to inspire before you expire. Sensei Steve

Reason One: Everyone Is Welcome

I started Sensei Steve’s class as a white belt, after Sensei Kristie told me about the class and said I should try it out.  Others told me it was a very difficult class and that I should wait, but Kristie convinced me that I would be fine.  Therefore, I showed up the following Saturday morning at 8:00 AM, hoping that I would not be turned away.  On the contrary, I was welcomed.  I was also told to do what I can, and encouraged to continue to improve instead of expect to be able to do everything the first class, or even for several classes after that.  If I remember correctly, I was the only one wearing a white shirt that day.  Everyone else was a black belt.  Although that was intimidating at first, by the end of class I felt better.  I have been attending that class as often as possible since then.   Since then, too, other white shirts have joined the class.  They feel just as welcome, too.

Reason Two: You Are Always Challenged

When I think back to that first time and about how little I could actually do, and compare it to now when I can do so much more, I think it’s that Sensei Steve and the other students do not accept that a challenge is insurmountable.  What they do believe is that practice is the only way overcome internal and external obstacles to your progress.

Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. Sensei Steve

Reason Three: You Never Know When Sensei Will Break the Routine

We have a format that combines PT, traditional martial arts, and fighting, and there is a certain rhythm to the class.  You never know, though, when Sensei Steve will say he wants to try something different.  He’s very creative, too, so those “different” things could be almost anything.

Our current schedule is:

– First Saturday: Regular Class
– Second Saturday: “Creative” Class
– Third Saturday: Regular Class
– Fourth or Last Saturday: Technique Class

Still, you never know if that regular class is going to turn into something you weren’t expecting.  Sensei Steve can add something much more challenging when he is in the mood.  He is also an observant teacher and knows when to change the routine to accommodate those of us whose achy joints and bones just can’t handle the regular routine that day.  He has also been very kind to me personally, allowing me to modify as I must when doing some things.  The point is: Sensei does what every good teacher should do.  He reads the room and acts accordingly.

We often have more students join us the fourth / last Saturday of the month for Technique Class.  It’s a great class!  It gives us a chance to work on the techniques and kata that we need to know for our next test.  I wish more people would come to the other classes, too.  I’m sure they would find them enjoyable.

When I was training somewhere else, our classes were all the same.  It was cookie-cutter curriculum that had to be followed by every teacher, handed down from corporate headquarters to the franchise owners.  It was boring.  So, it’s special to me to have teachers be able to try something new to get their point across.  Additionally, Sensei Hoover is not one to sit back and let the curriculum get stale.  He is constantly thinking about it, it seems.  Changes to the curriculum happen all the time, in the hopes that our techniques will become more effective and efficient.

When you come regularly to a Saturday class at the North Dojo, you learn so much – about yourself, about the practice, and about dozens of absolutely wonderful people.

Reason Four: He Has Welcomed My Son into Class

My son is 15 1/2 years old, and this class is for adults.  However, when he started working last May, I asked Sensei Steve if my son could come to class so he wouldn’t miss training on a Saturday.  He agreed without hesitating.  Recently, my son has been a regular in class, and in just the short time he has been coming regularly, I have seen a change in my son, both in practice and in spirit.  He works very hard in that class; as a result, he is stronger, a bit more confident, a bit more strategic in his practice, and a lot more skilled as a fighter.  My son has always been my best teacher, but now he is my teacher in martial arts class, too.  Being able to train with him on Saturdays (as well as on Tuesdays) has been a blessing.

He isn’t the only young adult who has been able to train with us on Saturday, and those who do are special kids.  They are bright, talented, and mature.  We who are able to train with our children have been given a special gift.  Sensei Steve would be the first to tell you about how much that gift meant to him while he was training with his own son, also named Steve, who now teaches at the West Dojo.  One day, he told Lucas and I about how important those years were to him.  Having seen the senseis interact, I know they were special to his son as well.

One of my favorite stories comes from another Mom who trains on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  Her daughter often trains with us on Saturdays now.  She says that at times she will think of a technique or a kata and struggle to visualize it properly.  Usually, her daughter is on the bus going to school when this happens.  So, she will call her daughter and ask her about it, which always leads to her daughter asking her in an exasperated voice why she is thinking about that now when she has work to do.  Nonetheless, her daughter has the answer!   Training with her child has added a complexity to their relationship, and another stretch of common ground upon which they can stand together.

How cool is that?

Reason Five: Class Starts at 8:00 AM

For the longest time, my workday has started at 5:00 AM when I first shuffle down the stairs to make coffee.  Some days, I do start working at about 5:15, but more often, I am trying to wake up and ease into my day.  Therefore, a class that starts at 8:00 gives me a chance to sleep in a bit (till 6:00!), but still get in a class early enough in the day that the rest of my day is mine to do with what I will.  That usually involves a nap!

Because of the early hour of the class, my son is able to attend and still go to work on Saturdays.  He loves that.  Those of us who go to that class all agree that it is an ideal time, for any number of reasons.

Come in at eight, punch your ticket, and the rest of the day is yours. Sensei Steve (paraphrased)

These are just some of the reasons I love Saturday’s 8 AM class so much.  I’m sure that my classmates have many more to contribute as well.  Please leave a comment using the form below.  Thank you for reading.

Categories
Education Learning Teaching

How Standards Can Help Teachers Communicate with Parents and Guardians

There are numerous stakeholders in a child's education: students, teachers, parents, administration, and the rest of the community.
There are numerous stakeholders in a child’s education: students, teachers, parents, guardians, administration, and the community-at-large.

Update: I intended, but didn’t, include guardians in the list of those who are stakeholders in a child’s education.  I apologize to the many wonderful people who care for children and hold titles other than parent, such as “Grandparent,” “Aunt,” “Uncle,” “Sister,” “Brother,” or “Foster Parent.”  Please know that I recognize the incredible contribution you make to children’s lives and regret the oversight.  I was so focused on my experiences with my son that I did not weave guardian into the post. 

Every parent is also a teacher and has at least one student: a child. During the formidable first years, the parent is the primary educator. The child looks to the parent first for guidance, learning how to walk, talk, eat, etc. This little person spends a great deal of time watching, experimenting, and mimicking until one day, the actions make sense.  Then, while Mom is cooking in the kitchen, she hears uncertain footsteps clopping on the floor and turns around to see the baby standing there, watching her.  Dad, beaming with pride, is standing behind the baby. (What a moment that was!)

Most parents start the process of relinquishing at least part of their educational responsibility when they enroll the child in school. The first time the little one walks into a classroom can be a painful and frightening moment for both, for a part of the relationship that is now changing drastically. The parent becomes a partner with a stranger who, although a professional educator, is still completely unknown. The child needs to acclimate to a new authority figure, a new routine, and a new space. Some do not go gently into that situation; others take to it like a duck upon water. I cried for some time after dropping my son off for his first day in Kindergarten, even though he had been in preschool for two years.  That first day made it official, in my mind: I had gone from primary teacher to secondary for at least 9 months of the year.  My son would now spend more waking hours with a caregiver other than me.  Like many parents, I also had to accept the fact that I would not know everything that was happening during that time.

It doesn’t have to be that way, however.

Categories
Education Learning Teaching

Thoughts on Standards-Based Grading

In the interest of full disclosure, I work for a company that develops, markets, and sells software to K-12 institutions, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and the company is not responsible for them.

The software includes an SIS (Student Information System), a performance management system, a special education system, and finance software. In the SIS, we have a standards-based grade book. When our product manager presented it, and the educational theories behind its development, to us recently, my first reaction was that of a parent, rather that a teacher. I thought,

4426.cstarinterrobangYou mean to tell me that students will not be penalized for missed assignments or for incomplete assignments? What?! That’s insane. You’re just inviting students to decide that the assignments aren’t important, and they won’t do them.

The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

That was how a lot of parents, teachers, and administrators reacted, too, when they decided to move to standards-based grading in St. Louis. The point of SBG, however, is to get an accurate “picture” of a student’s progress that does not include, for example, points awarded for doing homework. Instead, the grade produced indicates mastery of a standard, minus all the “fluff” that inflates grades and does not demonstrate true learning.

In addition, under SBG, students are able to actually master a standard. That means that they will be able to try, fail, and try again.

Another variation of the SBG theme is competency-based education. In my company’s world, they are basically the same thing, which might be a problem in some educators’ eyes, but it really isn’t. Basically, the grade book looks at the standards loaded by the district first, allowing a teacher to load assignments and assessments into the grade book under each standard measured. It allows teachers to answer the question, “How will we assess that this student has reached proficiency on this standard?” A student has to master the concept, skill, and / or standard and demonstrate mastery in order to ‘pass.’ From my understanding, that is how CBE works – it’s based on students demonstrating proficiency in some manner of a concept, skill, or knowledge. It does allow for more individualization than SBG (read the article below for a great overview), but our grade book would accommodate that level of individualization, I believe.

The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.

When I was in grad school, I learned about a Middle School that was trying a different method of educating that refused anyone to earn less than a B. If you did poorly on a test or a project, you did it again until you earned the grade they considered acceptable. That presumes you did some remedial work in the meantime as well. In theory, that’s awesome. We would have a lot of kids, then, who would not be well-rehearsed in the ways of “doing school.” It would be a boon for differentiated instruction and personalized learning, too. Kids would be able to go at their own pace and master a concept or skill in true fashion, rather than trying to keep up with the middle. Imagine this: Kids would be allowed to make mistakes! Those who are “quick learners” (I am not among them, by the way) would be able to move on to more challenging concepts and skills and master higher standards. From what I understand, a number of online schools use standards-based (or competency-based) methods with their students. I love that idea – in theory.

In practice, it’s probably a logistical nightmare, especially for the teachers who have to keep track of each student’s progress, which could be all over the grade book map. I’m not sure that means we should abandon the idea; in fact, I think it means we should reconsider the following.

  • Doesn’t the design of SBG and CBE actually mirror what happens in life?
  • Do the traditional grade levels still apply in our century?
  • What is more important – being on track with others, or truly learning something?
  • What are we telling our kids when we espouse the ideas behind traditional academic success?

For now, I want to address the first question. In the article I referenced above, one of those who are not keen on the concept indicated that what happens in SBE and CBE does not reflect the ways of the real world. I disagree.

“That’s not how the real world works.”

Interesting. The first thing you learn when you engage in any project is this: deadlines are soft. Miss a deadline and you’ll need to explain yourself, but it’s not like it’s unexpected. Additionally, “getting something right” is more important than a deadline, and often “getting something right” means going off the rails and trying something other than what management expected. Staff takes ownership of a part of a project, and almost everything at work today is part of a project. Today, managers expect staff to be independent, knowledgeable, and flexible. Staff does not just do what it is told. Staff members start out with the goals they are given, but those goals can often shift. So, yes, this type of education does reflect the real world.

More later… It’s time to open presents!

07.20

At least | that’s what | he said | later | on shore
While I | washed my | feet of | gritty | wet sand.
My thoughts | swimming | back to | moments | before
When I | panicked,| not see | ing him | from land.

Yes, that will do nicely!

10.30

I watched | a buo| y with | gray hair | floating
In the | ocean,| no wor|ry in | his mind.
To God,| he di|rected | his face | gloating,
“A more | perfect | life you’ll | struggle | to find.”

I like that rewrite!

At least | that’s what | he said | later | that day

While I | washed my | feet of | gritty | wet sand.

My…

08.38

First, I have to say that this is really hard.  🙂

In the ocean, on his back he floated,
No worry in his mind, nor in his heart.
To God, he lifted his face and gloated,
“My life is perfect. We’ll never part.”

I like the first quatrain. Well, I should say that I like it enough to not change it yet.

On the beach, his children played in sand,
Castles they made, and buried mother’s feet.
She let them, scrunched her toes, feeling safe on land,
Comfortable in her beach seat.

Oh, that’s terrible. I just really like the bit about burying mother’s toes.

Mother heard a frightened, “Where is he?”
Her eyes opened wide.  Was he lost?
Kids laughed as he came from the sea,

As I sit here, with my pen, I wonder
Will I write well?  Will these words drag me under?

08.00

In the ocean, on his back he floated,
No worry in his mind, nor in his heart.
To God, he lifted his face and gloated,
“My life is perfect. We’ll never part.”

On the beach, his family played with sand,
Castles they made, and buried mother’s feet
She laughed, wiggled her toes, …
 

Then she saw her husband had disappeared…

As I sit here, with my pen, I wonder
Will I write well?  Will these words drag me under?

16.16

Great Feedback
What a wonderful gift I received today when I checked in on my professional development courses.

03.21

More on Consideration Number One

I simply found it fascinating that an educator would say that SBG and CBE do not reflect the real world.  I understand why the person said it.  If you don’t meet the goals set in the workplace, there are consequences.  If you don’t do the work you’re supposed to do, there are consequences.  As I said above, however, adults set these deadlines while collaborating on a project or task, and the goals are continuously revisited for validity.  The manager does not set a goal in a grade book and give you a zero if you don’t meet the goal.  Yes, you have to explain yourself if you don’t meet the goal, but if you can explain yourself well, the penalties are often slight or not imposed at all.

Which brings me to my next point: Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.  [pullquote]Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.[/pullquote]In this reformed version of grading, students and teachers work on communication and collaboration skills, two very important skills to have as one enters the workforce.  If done right, I believe the students will learn to acknowledge that goals and deadlines are important, but more importantly, they will learn to communicate with their teacher when they are struggling to meet them or believe the assignments are not going to help them achieve their goals.  I think that educators are misunderstanding a fundamental part of this learning process when they allow students to miss deadlines or not complete assignments at all.  That’s a misconception about the process that absolutely must be addressed.  Students are missing vital learning opportunities when they do not attempt an assignment simply because they know they will not be penalized.  When students and educators agree that the assignments are learning opportunities and that they should communicate about its effectiveness and collaborate to make changes if necessary, that is when true learning takes place.  That reflects what happens in the real world. 

Comments

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03.21

More on Consideration Number One

I simply found it fascinating that an educator would say that SBG and CBE do not reflect the real world.  I understand why the person said it.  If you don’t meet the goals set in the workplace, there are consequences.  If you don’t do the work you’re supposed to do, there are consequences.  As I said above, however, adults set these deadlines while collaborating on a project or task, and the goals are continuously revisited for validity.  The manager does not set a goal in a grade book and give you a zero if you don’t meet the goal.  Yes, you have to explain yourself if you don’t meet the goal, but if you can explain yourself well, the penalties are often slight or not imposed at all.

Which brings me to my next point: Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.  [pullquote]Communication feeds the heart and soul of any human organization, project-based or not.[/pullquote]In this reformed version of grading, students and teachers work on communication and collaboration skills, two very important skills to have as one enters the workforce.  If done right, I believe the students will learn to acknowledge that goals and deadlines are important, but more importantly, they will learn to communicate with their teacher when they are struggling to meet them or believe the assignments are not going to help them achieve their goals.  I think that educators are misunderstanding a fundamental part of this learning process when they allow students to miss deadlines or not complete assignments at all.  That’s a misconception about the process that absolutely must be addressed.  Students are missing vital learning opportunities when they do not attempt an assignment simply because they know they will not be penalized.  When students and educators agree that the assignments are learning opportunities and that they should communicate about its effectiveness and collaborate to make changes if necessary, that is when true learning takes place.  That reflects what happens in the real world. 

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The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
The Universe is made of stories, not of atoms.
Categories
Education Learning Teaching

Teach Them How to Fish

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

The other day, during an internal training session, the question arose, “How can we ensure that students are learning all they are supposed to know when there is not enough time in the school year to teach them everything?”  Then, someone asked, “Should school be year-round?”  My response to that is one you might hear from many teachers: “No.” In this post, I will share why I think that it is not necessary to lengthen the school year.

In high school, we had the mandatory Social Studies classes that included American and World history.  Invariably, we would never cover more than three-quarters of the content.  Somehow, our country’s history ended with World War I or II.  I do not recall learning about the Korean conflict, Vietnam, the 60s, etc.  World history would end way before that.  We spent so much time on Egypt, Mesopotamia, etc., that it was hard for the teacher to get to contemporary world history.  We memorized dates, facts, and figures for a test and then we forgot them.  We did not talk about how to “do history.”

What I mean is that we never learned how to view events through a historian’s lens.  How do historians find all this information?  How do they uncover the secrets people didn’t set out to keep, but buried anyway?  How do anthropologists, sociologists, and historians work together to interpret their findings?  How do they learn how to fish?

Yes, fish. If I were a history teacher (which had been my dream from the age of 14 till the age of 21), I think I would start with the historian’s perspective.  I would make learning the content the context in which the students learned those skills.  I would flip the classroom, something that is easy to do today, to ask students to learn content at home and interrogate the content in class.  I would spend more time teaching kids how to find information than lecturing kids about information.  I would spend more time teaching kids how to construct knowledge independently and in groups.

If the focus is off of content coverage and onto skill development, it is my opinion that the school year can stay the length it is.  Perhaps more kids would become interested in history with this method and study history on their own.  Who knows?

The same is true with English, which is the subject in which I am certified.  Instead of spending weeks on a novel, perhaps it is better to start by examining a writer’s process and a critic’s process.   How do critics arrive at their conclusion about the novel’s content, theme, structure, character development, etc.?  What are the criteria by which they judge a written work?  Put that within the context of a great piece of literature.  Let the students choose from a short list of novels and teach them to interrogate the text.  Truly, what are they going to remember more: the content of the novel or the skills they practiced to understand the work, the author’s intent, and the theme?  Why passively read the novel aloud when you could spend class time learning those skills in context?  Which will get them further in life: the content or the skills?  I say the skills.  And if we focus on the skills, wrap them in content, and work on those in class, every day, I believe we do not have to lengthen the school year.

Waiting for class to begin, Lucas tried putting another lure on based on what Douglas taught him the night before. He did it all by himself.
Waiting for class to begin, Lucas tried putting another lure on based on what Douglas taught him the night before. He did it all by himself.

Kids can go fishing instead.

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