Is my school afraid?

I recently watch the Ted Talk with Azul Terronez where is poses the question on what makes a good teacher great. He mentions that schools don’t tend to ask students this because they are afraid. Afraid of what? The truth? Afraid of having to listen to the voice of an 8 year old confidently say what they need from us?

For the past 5 years I have felt like I’ve given teaching in room 2036 my best. My best time, dedication after school hours, extra professional development. Content focused growth opportunities. Do these extra things, my best, correlate to making me a great teacher?

The physical act of doing is not where it is. It’s found in the thinking, making connections, building relationships. Students don’t need another content “expert”. They need someone who is willing to get into the nitty gritty of the why and the how. Someone that understands there’s more to learning than just going through the process. Move past the assumptions of kids “nowadays”.

How would my students answer that question? Am I meeting their needs? Expectations? Or would they teach me more with one answer than I will in an entire year?

“A great teacher loves to teach. A great teacher loves to learn.”

No feedback?

I cannot think of a time when I approached something in my life with the expectation of receiving feedback from whomever was involved. I never thought of feedback as anything other than precise criticism that was meant to help. What I always received though wasn’t as beneficial as I had longed for. My course work through Lamar has changed that focus for me. Not feedback, but feedFORWARD. Positive critiques that aren’t just mean to be helpful….they actually are! When I rewired how my brain thought about communicating with another person about their thoughts, processes, product, etc. I found that I can be much more specific and helpful if I take the time to to find the positive parts and then make suggestions. Why go back? Move FORWARD!

Half an Hour

I find myself blocking my day into half hour chunks. Half hour conferences. Half hour lunch. Half hour PE and music. Half an hour to gather my sanity and put my life together. Some days half an hour is more than enough but most days it doesn’t even begin to scrape the top of what I need. Might be time for a mindset change. Tomorrow I have half an hour to soak up the sun while my students are at PE. Tomorrow I have half an hour to enjoy my lunch and converse with adults. Tomorrow I get a half hour to enjoy the chaos of life these days.

To Tech or Not to Tech?

We’ve all felt the push from admin and state execs to include technology into the classroom. Add more. No wait…studies show it’s bad for kids. But wait…it’s good for education. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. Dizzy yet?

As educators make their way through an unimaginable year that brought changes no one could have ever foreseen, we are slowly starting to hit the go button a little more frequently. But are we doing it right? Is using more technology in the classroom what’s best for kids, considering they definitely max out on screen time at home?

What if we use it in a way that creates learning environments that students WANT to learn from and are then able to make meaningful connects? Imagine a student creating a digital version of their hand drawn book and being able to tell a story to someone thousands of miles away. Creating portfolios that capture all of their learning milestones a memories that are easily accessible with a quick click.

The stop and go will always be a part of our job. Growing confident in knowing when to go is where the change is.

It Takes A Village

I can remember working my way through undergrad school and feeling like I had to do it all on my own. After all it was my degree right? If I had to have a group to get me through it was it even something I should even be doing.

I was wrong. What I’m learning is that it’s the group that makes this all connect! It’s the group conversations that allow the articles and books and confusion to finally settle and begin to flow together smoothly. The beauty of it all is I don’t feel like I’m just taking. I haven’t realized until this semester just how much I have to offer. Humor–check. Sarcasm–check check. Insight-check.

We started our group chats and weekly zoom meetings hoping that we could all just make it through the 8 weeks and be done. What I don’t think we realized then was just how nice the friendships would be and how much we would need our Village.

Innovator in the making?

Joi Ito says that “Education is what people do to you and learning is what you do to yourself” and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything that resonated with me as much as that one sentence. Questioning, thinking, debating, analyzing are all things that our kids are forgetting how to do. Some students in my room do not ever ask a question or think out loud. I don’t think it’s a problem of not wanting to but more of a not sure how to. What are we doing to encourage this? Prevent this from happening? Our kids are taught standardized tests. Told what they need to know in a plethora of ways,  how to get there upside and backwards, and not much else. There’s no real life connection, no pull towards something greater. If they had to dig for what they needed, would they be successful? I think not. I think we have molded our kids to take what we give them, far beyond what they actually need, and that doesn’t change. Would my classroom look or feel different if I changed paths and taught them to find what they needed? Taught them to quit adding to a pile of unnecessary information and instead focus on necessity?

Am I flexible enough to fully emerge myself in that type of teaching? I’m positive that would not be an easy transition. I would love to find a happy balance that allows my students to become more innovative and independent in their learning. The amount of growth I have seen this year just allowing the tiniest bit of choice assures me that our kids would do great things given the opportunity to have more say in their education. 

C.O.V.A

Choice. Ownership. and Voice through Authentic Learning.

You can come into my classroom on any given day of the school year and you’ll see students working in groups, independently, on technology, without technology. I’ve got all the things going on in one room. Makes for a great experience for my students am I right? I always thought so. COVA showed me that wasn’t really the case.

I might have felt like I give my students CHOICE and VOICE in their learning. What I was really giving them was an A or B option. Very cut and dry. Doesn’t really sound like choice anymore. Those two options may not be the best fit for some of my students to learn authentically. If it’s not authentic and there’s no CHOICE, is is meaningful?

Meaningful learning creates students that want to learn. They begin to make connections across all genres in all learning environments. What more cold a teacher ask for? Is it possible to have a classroom full of students that WANT to learn and own it in the process?

Possible….Yes. Easy….No. Challenge accepted.

“If you just focus on choice, ownership, and voice through authentic learning opportunities, you will start to see a radical change in your learning environment, and you will also see what else is needed to make that learning environment more effective.”

 (Harapnuik et al., 2018, p. 11)

Harapnuik, D., Thibodeaux, T., & Cummings, C. (2018). COVA: Choice, Ownership, and Voice through Authentic Learning (Version 0.9 ed.) [PDF]. Creative Commons License. 

Who said it first?

The conversations our parents had with our teachers are the exact same I have the privilege of having in my own room. Parents are concerned about our education system as a whole and, like us, they feel lost on what they could even possibly do to make changes.

Thinking back on my years in school, elementary through secondary, I vividly remember creating and building things during those years that I can still talk about today. Specifically teaching myself to make flan for a history lesson. I was forced to learn by doing and also given the choice as to what that would look like. History class was full of self made posters and recreated artifacts. ELAR we published and sold our very own holiday cards. Were we graded on these? Of course we were but what I took out of it has far surpassed that letter grade.

Periodically my children have that “old school” teacher that forces their mind to think outside the box and create and do.Guess what? They thrive when forced to think differently. It’s a nice break from the norm. Determining movement in progressive education in the US is hit or miss depending on where you live and learn. Who decides if we’ve moved and made progress? What are we making progress towards? Pandemic mode was surely a move in a direction that not every parent, administrator, or teacher was completely thrilled about or supported completely. Is this another Goldilocks and the Three Bears? What’s just right for one may be far from warm enough for another.

It’s been a week….

It's been a week. More specifically the first full week of school since the 2nd week of December! Went to bed last night secretly afraid that I would not wake up on time this morning. There's the saying that there's no tired like first week of school teacher tired. I feel like I'm back in August trying to get in the grove of being present every day. My body feels it some but my mind feels it so much more. As we move into testing season, I worry that this is what my students feel like. Brains constantly firing with no breaks. Bodies not in the grove of the physical demands of learning.  Maybe there's no tired like student tired?