As a high school English teacher, each student who entered my room learned Ghandi’s quote “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait...” For me, this statement reflects my life purpose; I desired to expose my students to emotionally challenging texts that could connect them to the experience of growing up without the freedom they encounter in the U.S. My hope was always to broaden their horizons as their compassion and tolerance for others grew. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah and Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden were two non-fiction books I used that embody Ghandi’s intent - to change one’s view of the world. I had hoped my students would be moved to action by the power of these author’s words; many were. Some went on to read similar texts, others shared what they learned, and some even became activists fighting injustice in their own community and abroad. Both texts are appropriate for high school students but teacher discretion, an understanding of the school community, and student maturity should be considered.
A Long Way Gone: A Memoir of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (2007) was my first experience learning about the war in Sierra Leone. The text, narrated by Beah as a young adult who escaped his experiences, explores the atrocities of war as a child soldier. The images of him as a 12 year old boy wielding an AK-47 and forced to murder others against his will, still live in my soul and resonate with students who cannot imagine a childhood like Beah’s. Like many of the “Lost Boys” he became part of a story he wanted no part of and didn’t know how to escape. Brainwashed to believe violence was right and justice could only come from the destruction of those who did not comply, Beah recounts his journey from self-destruction to self-forgiveness. How can one find “normalcy” after a life filled with such horror? Beah’s honest look at the life of a child soldier is a powerful story for students and adults alike. This Youtube video interview with Ishmael Beah provides background information and teacher resources can be found on the book’s website. The text includes difficult passages of violence and terror similar to what a student might experience watching a war movie.
In a similar path, Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden and Shin Dong-hyuk (2013) provides the story of a boy (Shin Dong-hyuk) born into a North Korean prison camp in the 1980’s. For Dong-hyuk, the nephew of a government descenter, there is no chance of freedom; he must pay for the sins of a man he never met. Confined in a prison since before his birth, he did not know a world existed outside the loveless and solitary life in which he was conceived. Dong-hyuk knew nothing but work, hunger and hopelessness until he was sent to solitary confinement and met another victim of the government who once lived outside the fence of their camp. Within Dong-hyuk a fire begins to smolder and eventually grow to a plan to escape (as the title implies). Dong-hyuk’s story of overcoming the impossible provides readers with perspective that anything can be accomplished. For those with little understanding of North Korea, the text seamlessly intertwines the history of North Korea’s government to provide context to understand the current conflict between North Korea and the rest of the democratic world. This 60 Minutes interview provides a solid overview of Shin Dong-hyuk’s story and this livebinder includes classroom resources for anyone who wishes to teach the text. The book includes real-life graphic violence and may be emotionally challenging for less mature students.
About the Author: Katy Berner-Wallen is a Staff Development Specialist on the IES Team with a focus on secondary ELA and technology integration. She is also serving as a Curriculum Coordinator with the Pine Valley CSD and a Technology Integrator with the Silver Creek CSD.
Take notice of your body language. Are you sitting up, making yourself big, taking over the space or hunched over, making yourself small? “Let your body tell you you’re powerful and deserving, and you become more present, enthusiastic and authentically yourself,” said Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist and associate professor at Harvard Business School.
While gathering resources for an upcoming workshop about managing student stress, I came across a New York Times article by David Hochman, “Amy Cuddy Takes a Stand”, a follow up to viral Ted Talk, “Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are.” The research presented reveals high power poses like the "Wonder Woman” (hands on hips, legs wide) or sitting back with your feet up and fingers laced behind your head increase levels of testosterone and lowers levels of cortisol when compared to low power poses like holding your neck or crossing your legs tightly at the ankles. Higher levels of testosterone lead to increased feelings of confidence while lower levels of cortisol lead to decreased anxiety and an improved ability to deal with stress.
If power poses are helping adults be more successful at job interviews, then why not encourage our students to strike a power pose before a test or other potentially stressful situation? Stressors in the classroom take many different forms and teachers are charged with equipping students with different coping strategies. Incorporating power poses into your classroom procedures is an easy and fun way your students can increase their confidence and lower their stress levels. Read on, learn more about power poses and get started in your classroom.
What high power pose will you adopt?
About the Author: Kelly Wetzler is a Staff Development Specialist with the Integrated Education Services Team at Erie 2 - Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES with a focus in elementary education and is embedded with the Pine Valley CSD as a Curriculum Coordinator. Prior to coming to BOCES, Kelly was a primary classroom teacher with a passion for student centered learning. Follow Kelly on twitter @kellywetzler.
Last year, the IES staff ran a reading incentive/challenge: Battle of the Books. At the time, I did not have any idea just how important this challenge was going to be to me. It started me reading again…for enjoyment…for pure pleasure! Yes, it was for work…but nothing could have been further than the truth! Through this challenge, I realized how much I enjoyed reading dystopian tales, and how important it was for me to slip away into another world for a while. In the past year, looking at my ebook “shelfie”, I have devoured over 30 novels – most of which were dystopian.
Recently, after exhausting all I could find in that genre of interest, I was looking for a change. Since “Unbroken”, by Laura Hillenbrand, was soon coming out as a movie, it is part of the NYS modules, and my colleagues all raved about the book, I decided to commit myself to reading about Louis Zamparelli and the incredible story of his life as a WWII POW.
I am two-thirds of the way through this book and can honestly say that Zamparelli’s life and experiences gives one pause. Pause to consider just how fortunate we are today, and as Americans. Most of us, at one point or another, and perhaps more often than not, take our lives for granted. We move on autopilot. But our autopilot would not be possible if not for the sacrifice of so many. This is the first time I have read a book that helped me truly consider what my father and grandfather as veterans may have experienced as their friends and comrades went down or missing. As a child, I would often as them to describe to me what they experienced, but neither ever divulged much. Now I understand why. This story gave me a glimpse of the strength of our soldiers, especially those who were/are POW’s, and made me realize just how weak I would be, given the same situation. I would never have had the strength.
This book makes one reflect; such is the point of a work of art. I hope you will join me in reading “Unbroken” before venturing out to witness the movie. It will be well worth your time! In the meantime, please, thank a veteran.
Amy Bartell is a Staff Development Specialist with the IES Team and also serves as a Curriculum Coordinator for the Silver Creek CSD and Forestville CSD Elementary School. Look for another "Battle of the Books" coming from the IES Team in March! In the meantime, we have also started a 50 Book Challenge for 2015 on our Facebook Page! Join us there!
About a month ago, I picked up Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators (2012) and started reading. I am not much of a reader, but I was immediately captured by the centerpiece of the first chapter – motivation. It seems that we are always trying to use sticks and carrots to get others (not only students, but also other people in our lives) to do what we want them to do. Education professionals are always looking to capitalize on students’ or teachers’ intrinsic motivators, while still buying into programs based on extrinsic “rewards” systems such as PBIS or Incentive Pay. (Another thought-provoking read on intrinsic motivation is Drive by Daniel Pink (2009)).
Wagner interviewed many young innovators (along with their families, professors, employers, and military commanders) and wove the common threads into this book. Chapter 1 focuses on the innovators’ childhood experiences, and tries to distill the essence of innovation – MOTIVATION. What drives these people to be innovators in the first place? Wagner frames the rungs of play, purpose, and passion with the posts of motivation in a hierarchy beginning with play.
As children, the center of our life was play. I’ll bet you can even remember some of your favorite games and who you used to play with. There were some games you liked to play, and others that did not interest you. To get to the heart of your play now, you can ask yourself, “What do I like to do for fun?” Make a list of your responses. Don’t think about it for a long time; just jot down whatever comes to mind right away.
The second rung of the motivation ladder is passion. Play has evolved into a passion because of the “Why?” of play. As we grow, we try to give meaning to the things that we do. No longer do we do things “just for fun”, we do them for a more altruistic reason, while still having fun. The fun has moved into a secondary role, behind the greater passion.
Now, look at your list of things you like to do for fun. Why do you do those things? Try to keep your answer down to just a couple of reasons. You shouldn’t have too much trouble. Most people have few passions that drive their recreational time. Some even have careers that encompass their preferred “plays”. These “whys” point to your passion in life – the intangible things that give you the most satisfaction and make life worth living.
For the young innovators Tony Wagner interviewed, passion gives way to purpose – a single driving force that guides decision-making and motivates them to keep moving forward, despite the roadblocks and limitations. These young innovators did not lead privileged lives, and often live modestly, barely paying their bills. But, they believe strongly in their purpose and persevere through challenges. Does this sound familiar? It sounds like something I want to instill in my children, as well as my students. These innovators are not only interested in the final product (that they have a strong passion for), but are also paying attention to every turn on the road to reaching their destination. Every setback is a learning experience and offers lessons for improvement and character development.
I just wish that every book could engage readers on such a personal level, while inspiring the teacher in all of us. The rest of the book is a quick read and the anecdotes are entertaining and inspiring and does an equally powerful job at challenging our preconceived notions of innovation.
About the author: Marley Smith was recently joined the Integrated Education Services team at Erie 2- Chautauqua- Cattaraugus BOCES as a Staff Development Specialist with a strong science and technology background. She is also serving as a Curriculum Coordinator with Springville-Griffith Institute and a Technology Integrator with Silver Creek Central Schools. Her purpose is to make a difference in the educational climate of the day. She plans to hold an online book study this spring in order to explore the other principles of innovation presented in this book, and ways to transform learning for our students into tasks of play, passion, and purpose.
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