In my first few blog posts I described the influences that shaped my educational philosophy and impacted my approach to teaching in the early stages of my career. In future posts I will continue describing my journey, but Iâ€™d like to take a break from this endeavor and jump ahead 15 or so years to something that happened in my classroom this past Thursday.
Last Thursday was one of those days that all teachers experience. Almost from the opening bell, things just seemed to be a bit off with my students. Everything seemed to be a struggle. Every time we went out for recess or lunch, kids were returning in tears, arguing, and even getting involved in physical altercations. Inside the class the high level of focus that I am fortunate enough to witness on a consistent basis simply wasnâ€™t there. More students were off task than usual, many lessons and activities didnâ€™t proceed according to plan, and gaining and maintaining my studentsâ€™ attention was difficult.
It is during these times when we, as teachers, have to dig deep, find our patience, and remember what it is that we are trying to promote in our classrooms. When things appear to be falling apart around us, we have to decide how we are going to keep everything together.
Sometimes itâ€™s hard for me to believe that a statistician who was trained in mathematics, physics, and engineering and who did his most important work overseas approximately a half century ago has had more impact on my development as an elementary educator than anybody else.
But thatâ€™s exactly what happened.
After reading William Glasserâ€™s The Quality School early in my second year of teaching, I was hungry to learn more about the educational approach he described (and that I described in my previous blog post). So, I headed straight to W. Edwards Deming, the man whose work heavily influenced Glasserâ€™s.
Like many young teachers, I was eager to earn graduate units to move up on my districtâ€™s pay scale. To accumulate the greatest number of units in the least amount of time, each quarter I enrolled in an after-school class designed for working teachers. The classes met one night a week and featured a different presenter each time. On some evenings I would come away with useful information; on others I wouldnâ€™t. One night a principal from my district gave a presentation that at first didnâ€™t appear especially applicable to my teaching situation. Then, as my classmates and I were packing our belongings and preparing to leave, he shared a list of book recommendations. Fortunately for me, I was still paying attention.
On that list was William Glasserâ€™s The Quality School.
Discovering that book was my first lucky break.
I first gave serious thought to becoming a teacher in 1992 during my final semester as a sociology major at the University of Virginia. I took a Sociology of Education course and loved every minute of it. In class we discussed and analyzed American schooling in a way that was completely new and exciting to me. When I graduated, I didnâ€™t know what I wanted to do for a living, but teaching was increasingly on my mind as a potential option.
I worked a bunch of part-time jobs back home in Los Angeles in the year that followed while I figured out my next step. By far, my favorite job was working as a teacherâ€™s aide at Overland Avenue School. I split my time between two fifth grade classes and did yard duty before school and during recess. I loved working with the kids, and I was fascinated by the innerworkings of an elementary school classroom. I even loved yard duty. Each day after work I read all the education books I could get my hands on. Theodore Sizerâ€™s well-known Horace trilogy was especially influential.
One of the fifth grade teachers knew I had a growing interest in pursuing a career as an educator, and she gave me many extra responsibilities, including the opportunity to teach lessons to the class. I will forever be grateful for these opportunities because they gave me a strong sense of how fulfilling and interesting teaching could be. At the time a student-teacher from UCLA was working in the same class, and I learned about the UCLA Teacher Education Program from her and her field coordinator. By the Spring, I decided to apply to that program and finally live out my dream of attending the school that was only a mile or so away from my childhood home.
There were many pivotal moments during my year at UCLA that shaped my development as a person and as a teacher enormously. One came after I taught a lesson as part of my first student teaching placement. I was sitting outside the room with one of my supervisors, Sharon, who had come to evaluate me that day. Our conversation centered on classroom management, a topic in which I had become quite interested.
In my 19 years as a classroom teacher, I have created a series of highly effective resources, tips, and strategies to help you teach, parent, and entertain the whole child. My ideas will you help you empower children, build character, and help students become more enthusiastic, more intrinsically motivated learners.
"Since I worked with Steve at Roosevelt Elementary School, I have observed hundreds of teachers. I have rarely seen any who approach his level of skill in building student-centered learning and self-reflective learning for young people. No one comes close to Steve in creating self-directed learners! If you have a chance to learn from Steve as a child or an adult, you are indeed fortunate- he is a gifted teacher, a role-model for all of us."Steve Reifman has been an elementary school teacher for the past 19 years. After earning his Masterâ€™s degree in education and teaching credential at UCLA in 1994, he began his career teaching first grade for two years at Loyola Village Elementary (part of the Los Angeles Unified School District) in Westchester, CA.
- Amy Fowler, Educational Consultant
During this time Steve discovered the work of W. Edwards Deming and William Glasser and developed a passion for Quality Theory and its implications for teaching and learning in the classroom. He threw himself into the literature, took numerous courses, and created his own philosophical framework. In 1996 he began sharing his ideas with fellow educators through a UCLA Extension course entitled â€œThe Eight Keys to Classroom Quality.â€ UCLA Extension still offers this course annually in an online format. In 2008 Corwin Press published Steveâ€™s work under the title Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8: Bringing out the Best in Your Students.
Steveâ€™s eight principles comprise a comprehensive approach to organizing and managing classrooms at every level. His philosophical framework encourages educators to embrace quality as the number one priority in their classrooms and describes how to create a productive, enthusiastic team-oriented environment where students are likely to thrive. In his book Steve emphasizes the importance of clear goals, parent involvement, continuous improvement, and intrinsic motivation, and he explains how teachers can create the conditions where students work exceptionally hard, understand the purposes of their learning, experience joy, hold themselves to high personal standards, find meaning in their work, and develop the habits of mind and habits of character that will empower them to live fulfilling lives and contribute to society.
After moving to Roosevelt School in Santa Monica, CA in 1996, Steve continued to develop his teaching philosophy - learning, innovating, and adapting to meet the needs of his students and empower them to reach higher levels of academic success. Class and Personal Mission Statements, The Tower of Opportunity, Student Leaders, and the Quote of the Day are just some of the hallmarks of his approach that have enjoyed great success at Roosevelt and beyond. In addition, since his move to Roosevelt, Steve has earned National Board Certification and traveled to Japan as a Fulbright Memorial Fund Scholar.
More recently, Steve has developed a passion for brain research and its implications for improving teaching and learning in the classroom. Again, Steve has thrown himself into the literature, presented four times at the annual Cal Poly Elementary Physical Education Workshop in San Luis Obispo, CA, and developed a workshop series for teachers in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. His new book project Rock Your Studentsâ€™ World features over a hundred strategies and ideas Steve has gathered, adapted, and created over the past few years to help children become more successful and more enthusiastic learners. With a special emphasis on movement, music, and storytelling strategies, the ideas contained in Rock Your Studentsâ€™ World promise to take student learning to a new level.
The Tower of Opportunity is a four-sided structure that helps students find greater meaning in their schoolwork and better understand how daily learning activities connect to the higher purposes we teachers try to promote in our classrooms. Each of the Towerâ€™s seven floors features one of the life roles Dale Parnell defines in his marvelous book Why Do I Have to Learn This? The 7 Life Roles are: Citizen, Consumer, Family Member & Friend, Individual, Leisure Participant, Lifelong Learner, and Producer (Worker). The role names occupy one side of the tower while specific examples of each role occupy the other three. Examples of each role are printed on doors that include tiny doorknobs.
The design of the tower empowers teachers to convey the message that life is rich with opportunities, choices, and options, but that in order to take advantage of these opportunities, maximize our choices, and give ourselves the greatest number of options, we need an education. Put simply, education is the key that opens doors. The harder we work in school and the more we learn, the more doors we can open for ourselves. Thus, the Tower provides a powerful visual metaphor that enables teachers to take normally abstract notions about the future and make them concrete.
An important aspect of the towerâ€™s design relates to the sequence of roles from bottom to top. The arrangement isnâ€™t random. Rather, it is an attempt to illustrate each roleâ€™s potential for contributing to and impacting the larger society. While the potential certainly exists for people assuming any role to make a difference in the lives of others, the roles located on the bottom tend to focus primarily on individual needs, goals, and priorities while those higher on the tower tend to involve progressively larger numbers of people.
The Tower is a significant reference point that students should revisit frequently. Whenever you begin a new unit or project, choose to discuss an item you heard on the news, want to capitalize on a teachable moment, or even decide to share a personal story, try connecting it to something on the tower. Every time you do, you remind your students of the numerous ways in which their learning can be put to use and the numerous reasons why learning matters. You expand their perspective and encourage them to think beyond their present reality. Furthermore, you provide them with a glimpse of what a productive, well-rounded life can look like. A Discussion Guide is included with the purchase of each Tower of Opportunity.
Photographs of The Tower of Opportunity (2 sides)
Dale Parnell, the author who defines the seven life roles in Why Do I Have To Learn This?, supports and endorses this project, and he has even referred to my work in a recent article he has written. An excerpt is shown below.
â€œSteve Reifman, a veteran 3rd grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Santa Monica, California, has developed a unique way to incorporate the life role career curriculum into his every day teaching. He has developed a visual symbol called â€œThe Tower of Opportunityâ€ for his classroom. This stand alone four sided tower is designed with seven levels, one for each Life Role Career. The other three sides of the Tower indicate specific examples of the various careers or situations involved in a Life Role Career. He observes that this visual metaphor helps his students connect daily learning activities to the higher purpses of elementary education. He is passionate about helping students connect something specific in real life to their educational experience.
The educational establishment can concentrate on hot topics such as high stakes testing, or longer school days or school years, etc., but they are not likely to be the crucial keys to improving student achievement. The difference will be made, as Steve Reifman has observed in his teaching experience, when students are helped to make connections with real life issues and see purpose in their daily learning.â€
Created for teachers by a teacher, The Kidsâ€™ Quote of the Day Calendar contains 118 inspirational quotes designed to bring out the very best in your students. Specifically, these quotes target 13 â€œHabits of Character,â€ a list that includes Cooperation, Courage, Fairness, Honesty, Kindness, Patience, Perseverance, Positive Attitude, Pride, Respect, Responsibility, Self-discipline, and Service. In addition, the quotes touch on other important ideas, such as quality, success, and health and wellness. From beginning to end, the quotes spiral through these topics so that students receive multiple opportunities to think about and discuss each one.
Make this calendar a regular part of your morning routine. Two or three times a week, write a quote on the board and choose someone to read it aloud to the class. After providing students with time to think about the quoteâ€™s meaning and relevance, do a pair-share to maximize participation in the activity. Then, select a few volunteers to share their thoughts with the group. In these whole class discussions students may choose to identify the habit or larger idea the quote addresses, offer interpretations of the quoteâ€™s meaning, or share examples demonstrating how the quote applies to their daily lives. Suggested talking points are provided on the back of each quote to help teachers take full advantage of the power and inspiration these quotes offer.
Though the conversations only take a few minutes, the exercise is a valuable one because it encourages kids to think deeply, because thereâ€™s a high tone to the dialogue that appeals to the best in people, and because it allows the group to start the day on a positive note. Further payoffs to consistent use of this activity include better student behavior, stronger work habits and social skills, improved attitudes towards school, greater enthusiasm for and increased dedication to learning, and enhanced vocabulary development.
Quote: â€œWe are the music makers. We are the dreamers of dreams.â€
Suggested Talking Point: During the factory tour Willie Wonka conducted for the lucky finders of his golden tickets, he asked the kids to sample the various fruits found on his lickable wallpaper. He emphasized that the strawberries actually taste like strawberries and the snozberries taste like snozberries. This quote was Mr. Wonkaâ€™s response to Veruca Salt, who argued that there were no such things as snozberries. His point: if thereâ€™s something humans want to create, they have the imagination and determination necessary to do so, no matter what anyone else thinks.
Steveâ€™s Top Ten Favorite Teacher Resource Books
(Other Lists will be Added in Time)
Steve offers two distinct types of workshops, one based on the philosophical framework that comprises his UCLA Extension course and his book Eight Essentials for Empowered Teaching and Learning, K-8 and the other based on the brain-friendly learning strategies found in his book Rock Your Studentsâ€™ World. Each type is described below, and each type can be easily adapted to fit a variety of time formats, ranging from hour-long conference sessions to multiple-day course offerings.
"Since I worked with Steve at Roosevelt Elementary School, I have observed hundreds of teachers. I have rarely seen any who approach his level of skill in building student-centered learning and self-reflective learning for young people. No one comes close to Steve in creating self-directed learners! If you have a chance to learn from Steve as a child or an adult, you are indeed fortunate- he is a gifted teacher, a role-model for all of us."
- Amy Fowler, Educational Consultant