2017: A look Back
In the education world there are really two "new years" that we encounter. The one we all celebrate on January 1st and the start of a new school year. Both are a great time to reflect on the last year's challenges, successes and look forward to what we can accomplish in the year to come.
I kicked off January 2017 by publishing my first blog post titled, "How can blogging bring value to your personal and professional life?" In the post I talk about my #oneword2017 that would be a focus for the year. The word I selected was "action". At that time I was feeling very much like a consumer of information without ever creating, and blogging was one way I chose to reflect and share what I was consuming. There were also areas in my life that I felt were stagnant, and with some action steps I could propel them forward. James Clear does a great job explaining the power of action in this post, "The Mistake Smart People Make: Being in Motion vs. Taking Action". I subscribe to his weekly email blasts as they give me a good push towards my goals as he constantly reminds me that the action is more important than the goal itself.
I've listed some of the highlights of goals I reached that offer a glimpse of the "action" I took in 2017 that stood out to me as I closed out the year.
2018: Moving Forward
The most important variable in relationships is emotional connections.
- Jim Knight
The last book I read in 2017 was "Better Conversations" by Jim Knight. Through the eleven books I read with colleagues, the authors continually mentioned the importance of relationships as a key indicator of success. This helped me determine that my focus in 2018 would be on strengthening relationships with family, friends, and at work. I blogged about it in my last post, "What are You Most Grateful For?".
As I was reflecting on 2017 I felt like I had a good level of action, but a bulk of it was for my own growth and gain. I talk often about seeking balance in life, and what I'm talking about really is a balance in my relationships. I may rarely feel that elusive balance, but what I do notice is when I feel a strong imbalance in one particular area. In the education world the imbalance comes in different waves. This is why looking ahead in 2018 I want to put more focus on the emotional connections being made in the relationships I have with family, friends, and colleagues.
When thinking further about the actions to reach the goal of strengthening relationships, it includes a lot that I learned in the book, "Better Conversations". How to be a better listener, make emotional connections, offer and accept bids from others for those connections. One way to connect is to find activities that bring more joy to our lives. I feel in the last couple of years I have not allowed enough time in my life to really have quality fun with others in my life. I know reality includes work, to-do lists, stress, etc, and can't be rainbows and sunshine all the time. No one can change that, but I can make efforts to find ways to make it more joyful.
When I look at this in action it can include something as simple as taking the extra ten minutes during the work day to joke and have fun conversations with co-workers, a half hour to play a game with my kids, an hour to sit and relax with a glass of wine with my husband or plan for a babysitter so we can go out. I need to schedule in more "phone dates" with my best friends that live far away, plan overnight trips to visit friends, check out a new restaurant or go for a cup of coffee with those close by. I LOVE to travel and I need to make the budgetary and time efforts to add that back into my life. I started thinking about this at the beginning of December and becoming more aware of when I worked this into my life to build up relationships.
Over winter break I spent an afternoon planning the initial steps of a weekend trip to visit a friend, a trip with my best friends over spring break, a family trip to take my mother-in-law to see the ocean for the first time. I signed up with friends for a 10 mile race with music along the path and brunch at the end. I have plans to run a half marathon and do another mud run with my family and friends. I took up an offer from my sister to watch our kids so Mike and I could go out on a date night. I made a point to take time to play hot wheels, Legos, and basketball with my boys. We painted. We bundled up to go sledding. I created a chasing game called the "kissing monster" to keep us from going too crazy during the cold snap...and my boys keep requesting that game. I have a closet that didn't get cleaned out, this blog post didn't get done as fast, and I have emails to still answer. In due time that will happen, but I can let some of that go as the to-do list will never end, but time with others can.
Joy in the Classroom
Below is a very popular image that tends to pop into my mind at this time of year. It is labeled as phases a "new teacher" goes through, but I really look at it as phases anyone in education goes through. I feel it in my own role as an instructional technology trainer even when I'm not in a classroom, but working with teachers.
With a new school year starting in August it is similar to a new calendar year. We are full of ideas and visions of what we hope to accomplish. We all make our "new school year resolutions". Successes happen but without reflection and celebration they may go unnoticed by others and ourselves. Roadblocks that stop some goals make us look back during the disillusionment stage and feel the disappointment that we aren't where we want to be yet. If actions are not planned and put in place towards these resolutions, they may not take hold.
A favorite phase of mine in the graphic above is the rejuvenation stage of the year. Relationships have been built, gains have been made, and new ideas can be attempted. It is a time of year that I see teachers more willing to take risks and try new ways of teaching students.
I challenge myself and others in education to push that rejuvenation stage earlier in the year, even working to wipe out the low stages of attitude happening each year. Students can feel those phases coming through their teacher.
In my son, Chase's first grade class, the teacher amazed me during the month of December. It is a very hard time of year as personal lives are hectic, school lives are packed with holiday events, and students are a little more stir crazy. His teacher built in a number of engaging activities that I questioned if she was slightly crazy to bring that on for herself. She worked in STEM activities she had never tried as part of a class she is taking, she joined a Skype call from a local museum to share about the holiday traditions around the world, and had a class "Elf on the Shelf" that she worked into classroom activities. The elf was a nightly discussion with my son Chase. He could not wait to get to school each day to see where "Winter" the elf was that day. Much to his surprise, one day Winter was hiding in Chase's desk. She added memorable experiences to their learning.
Similar to my own resolution to build relationships in my life by adding in more activities of joy, a teacher can find value in injecting new activities that will bring joy to learning. This can push them through the low feelings students and teachers may feel midway through the year. Below are a few activities that could add a little spark to the new year as students come back from the holiday break:
Relationship Resolutions: be a better listener, stop gossiping, spend more time with familySkype in the Classroom.
It might seem a trivial to add more fun into my life as an action towards my goal of making relationships stronger. Teachers may feel there is too much content to cover to add in new ideas that may rejuvenate their teaching and add excitement to their lesson. However, I think everyone could find life a bit more joyful if we made some efforts in this area and at the same time, build stronger relationships with those we involve. Don't we all need a bit more "joie de vivre"? I know this feels like a resolution that will add value to my life, I look forward to keeping, and it doesn't feel like work.
It's Thanksgiving weekend...a time to reflect on what you have in life. Thanksgiving morning I woke up in my mom's farmhouse where we had spent the night. I took a run that morning on the open country road. I love running to think, reflect, set goals, plan, and there is no better place than away from the city. I love how it clears my mind to have that space. As I was running that morning I was thinking about how blessed I was in life. Most tend to reflect on this at this time of the year. Some might think naturally of food, water, shelter, career, money, etc. My thoughts kept circling around the people in my life and how thankful I am for the relationships we have built.
my two worlds
I live in two worlds. You may feel this way yourself. I have this personal world of my close friends and family, but a whole other world at work where I spend a large bulk of my daily life. When reflecting on the people I appreciate, my thoughts naturally go to my family. My immediate family of my husband and two kids along with the extended family of parents, siblings, niblings (nephews and neices...real word I didn't make it up), and in-laws. I also love the circle of friends I have grown in my personal life, from those that are hometown, life long friends, to those I have met as I progressed into my adult life.
The other world I spend a lot of time in is my work life. I've been extremely blessed to feel "at home" in the two schools I worked at and the current role I have as an instructional technology trainer. I have made so many friends and strong connections through the years. Not everyone feels this way at work and it can have an effect on your happiness and productivity. Research shows that having friends at work is more beneficial than trying to separate your work and personal life. There may be some struggles with it, but in the end the benefits outweigh the negatives. I know that I would not feel the level of engagement and happiness I have at work, if I did not have a strong connection with those I work with.
Here are a couple sample posts if you care to read more on this topic:
"We All Need Friends At Work"
"Work Friends Make Us More Productive (Except When they Stress Us Out)"
When I reflect on what I'm grateful for in this world, it stands out in my mind the people I work with on my team. We informally call ourselves a training team, but behind the scenes we joke about being a "family". We truly work as one. We struggle through disagreements like a family. We celebrate successes when one wins an award, a team member is newly engaged, or one crosses off a bucket list item. Our work family rallies around those going through struggles in their personal life or when a goal we planned to move towards as a team goes off path. Beyond my immediate work family is the extended network of colleagues that we have connected with. The teachers and leaders in the buildings that we have grown to know as we discuss their needs and try to provide the best support for them are a key part of what I love about my work.
Gratitude for Relationships
What is always striking to me is how separate these two worlds can be for those I interact with. My personal life connections and work life connections rarely interact. My personal family knows little about my work family and vice versa. However, to me they all intertwine into the world within me. When I look closely at what I most appreciate about my life it is definitely not material possessions. It comes down to RELATIONSHIPS. In my life, I am most grateful for the relationships I have had and continue to have. The relationships with those I'm close to in my personal world and in my professional world. It is what I focus on when I ever feel off balance in life. I look towards what relationship is not getting enough attention. It can be in my personal life, my professional life, and even the relationship with myself.
As Thanksgiving weekend comes to and end and I'm finalizing this post I feel a balance in my relationships. I've had time with close family and those I have not seen in a while. We've reconnected through good meals, a long game of Phase 10, reminiscing of old memories, and teasing one another. I've taken time to catch up with friend who had a recent surgery, reached out to some via text, and spent down time with a couple on our deck as the unseasonably nice weather granted us that outdoor time. Holidays help us with this reconnection of those close to us. We slow our lives down to have that hour with a person, a slow cup of coffee, an extra long card game, or a walk to the park. The problem is, these times come too far and few.
This morning I started the book, "Better Conversations", by Jim Knight. I'm one chapter in and I so need this book. With relationships being the number one thing I'm most grateful for in my life, I need to prioritize the cultivation of them. I'm at an age that I know which relationships need to be focused on and don't feel ashamed to let some go. This book is setting out to share ways to communicate better and build habits for better conversations. A quality that will enhance anyone's relationship in their personal or professional life. Most conversations don't happen over a holiday when we have large amounts of relaxing time. It may be a conversation that is quick and fast at work, or on a rushed morning to get the kids ready for school. It might be those longer conversations as we plan out at work the best way to tackle a problem, or as my husband and I plan out our goals for the future. As we come close to December, I have already set a focus on strengthening relationships as my current goal for 2018. I feel this book is going to lay a great foundation for this journey. If I hold my relationship with others so dear to my heart, then I need to take a concerted effort towards making them as strong as possible and the tie to this all is communication.
What drives you?
I was talking to a friend recently about what drives people or motivates them in life. I asked, "What drives me?". He responded, "Your family, you seem driven by family." This pleased me, but also surprised me a bit. I'm always looking for a sense of balance in my life. Balance as a mother, friend, wife, my role at work, and with my own self. This usually comes down to time and the relationships that connect with others in those roles.
What is "Drive"?
If we break it down to the barest level from the dictionary "drive" is defined, "to strive vigorously toward a goal or objective; to work, play, or try wholeheartedly and with determination." It seems elusive to really understand as it is not tangible. I really think of it as your motivation. You have to dig deeper and for me it was helpful to ask another person. If you think about others that are close to you, it might be possible that you could identify what drives them based on the actions and words that come from them. This ties closely with recognizing what motivates you and what motivates those around you. Identifying this will help to understand myself and the others that I have close relationships with both personally and professionally.
In a recent book I read, "Creative Schools", by Sir Ken Robinson, he spoke often about there being two worlds.
"We live in two worlds: the world within us and the world around us."
Finding your drive
I wanted to dig a little further as I contemplated this and found a good listing of factors that could motivate a person from, Audrey Marlene in post called, "Motivation".
In another book I read this summer, "Brain Rules", it was pointed out that as humans we have natural drives that we may be aware of such as our hunger drive, thirst drive, sex drive, but we also as humans have a learning drive. A deep desire for learning. This really hits a big part of what drives me. When I'm looking for opportunities to improve, to grow and become more capable it all comes down to learning and seeking out new challenges for more growth. When I have a moment of free time, I'm searching and yearning for more information to fill my mind, solve a problem, or move me to the next learning point. Having recently watched Sir Ken Robinson's talk, "Finding Your Element", it made me start reflecting on my recent discussion about what drives me and also what my "element" or passions in life were and how they connect. As I watched it, he kept coming back to what you feel talented at.
My Passion in LIfe
I have a passion for learning and teaching. It isn't maybe as exciting as someone that has a passion for art, music, dance, medicine, serving others, etc., but it is mine. I wanted to be a teacher ever since I was in the 3rd grade. Learning cursive, multiplication, reading chapter books, it was all so exciting. I absorbed it and my love of learning led my mind to deciding early on that I wanted everyone to feel the excitement that comes with learning.
When I graduated high school I had talked myself out of that career path as I knew it would not financially be the best move. I set my sites on the business world. In one of my business classes I was required to volunteer for a program called Junior Achievement. I was tasked with teaching a lesson about city planning to a class of 4th grade students. I was essentially handed all of the materials and a plan, but then I had to teach it. I went in there wondering if 4th graders would even care about city planning. As I started the lesson and encountered them excitedly learning it was an experience exactly what Sir Ken Robinson was talking about. Like a natural resource buried inside, I felt great during that lesson. I felt alive. I felt like I was talented and they were learning. I felt like I had a natural finesse similar to how I assume a skilled athlete can move around a playing field and be just at the right place at the right time. The classroom teacher told me I was a natural and I should be a teacher. I'm not going to make you think this lesson was life shattering, but to me it was as it set me on a completely different course. I went to my advisor the next day and changed my major to education and have never looked back. I've always had a strong belief in finding a career that would be one I loved and would challenge me as much as it fulfilled me. Connecting the learning that I was in love with to a career that would allow me to continue to learn and help others learn seemed like the perfect fit.
Learning on the edge
This year marks my 20th year as a teacher. It is unbelievable as when you are doing something you love it goes so fast. People talk about retirement and it is not even a thought in my mind. Even when it comes I know I will move into another role that will couple my desire for learning and teaching together. When I learn something new I have a strong desire to share it with others. To me learning and teaching others goes hand in hand. When I learn something new it is a thrill to me. Learning can be in a conversation, book, blog post, podcast, training, and in just about any experience in life. I refer to it as my brain fuel. Without it I don't exist.
A recent 10 Minute Teacher podcast I listened to had guest, Randy Ziegenfuss referring to a thought from Robert Marzanno that promotes a person to "work at the edge of one's competence". This phrase struck me as that edge is where discomfort comes in. Many hold back on feeling that discomfort no matter their age. As adults we tend to want to be experts in our field, always wanting to appear as though we know everything. This causes many to not value the importance of pushing their learning further.
I get uncomfortable myself. I'm experiencing it right now as I write a course for a local university called, "Technology for Diverse Learners". It is a topic that I'm not an expert in. I am not highly skilled at knowing the best way to teach English Language Learners, students with special needs, and high ability students. I know technology, and I have experienced teaching students with a multitude of needs. However, now I'm purposefully planning how to teach others. It is a topic that for years I have wanted to dive into deeper, but I have not had the purpose to push myself. Like many teachers I did my best to figure it out along the way, but not purposefully. I'm definitely at the edge of my competence, learning different categories student needs fall in, accessibility features on a variety of platforms, assistive technology, and exploring Universal Design for Learning for the first time. Despite the doubts in my mind, I'm so excited to learn this and prepare to teach it to other educators.
This takes me back to what drives me. I would love to look you straight in the eye and say it was my family. That sounds quaint. It sounds like a response I should say. However, I identify my drive as seeking out opportunities to improve, to grow and become more capable. This comes in my personal life and professional life. I'm curious, I'm that nerdy person that looks up all new words encountered, stands in the grocery store and scans food items on my phone to learn their nutritional value, reads all of the flyers people oddly place in public restrooms. I then may be that annoying person that needs to run and tell someone or tweet one of the new facts I just learned. I email a teacher I know that will try something new with me and set up a time to dive in. I count myself as one of those lucky people in life that has found a way to blend my drive with my passion as I work on a life of learning and teaching.
Wondering about your drive, what your passion or natural element might be? Maybe ask a friend, take a look at the list of motivators above. What do you tend to be drawn towards? Be honest with yourself and be realistic too. I hope and dream for my two young boys some day that they will have the capabilities to connect all of the right elements together in their lives as adults. It makes for a very happy one.
Reflection....ugh I dread it. It takes time. It makes me think deeply. It makes me look at myself closely. Why is something so powerful so hard to do? This post is all about the value of reflection, but I will straight up admit I don't have it all figured out. Even the title of my overall blog page has "reflection" in it. I reflect a lot when my mind is open: car ride home from work, on a walk or run, when I'm attempting to fall asleep at night. My problem is taking my reflection and going deeper by sharing it with others, writing it down, or reviewing it to make changes in my action. It is something I deeply believe in, but I need to put into practice. With the new school year, I'm trying to build in time to reflect on each week and make a point of making that a part of my blog posts as a way to deepen the process and hopefully build on myself personally and professionally.
This also expands on a tip I shared in a guest post for Microsoft, "Integrating Technology in Class for Great Results: 6 Tips from an Expert". I shared the tip to "Reflect and Revise" with this idea:
The most powerful learning comes from reflection. This needs to be done not only by the student, but also the teacher, via dialogue, writing, or video. Reflect on the learning activities you provided and the technology you integrated to determine if it enhanced or hindered the learning experience.
It won’t always be a success, but the value comes in recognizing and adjusting. This goes back to listening to your students. Ask questions, check for evidence of learning and add your own insight to reiteration of your learning activity.
A story of Professional Reflection
I had the opportunity for a recent curriculum day to repeat the same three hour session four different times over two days. This is a rarity, but also a wonderful time to reflect on what is working for the learners and what is not working and what can be adjusted before the next group. The workshop was focused on K-2 teachers integrating technology to support the 4Cs: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. It was a choice breakout session of teachers coming from all across the district. We didn't know our audience's background other than the grade level they taught. I was working as a co-presenter with members of our Instructional Technology Leadership Program and we planned meticulously for the three hour session. We wanted to provide enough background of the 4Cs to give them an awareness level, and a wide range of tools to utilize that would serve their interests, but not overwhelm them. Our main goal was for them to take away one idea to implement in the classroom at the start of the year.
At the beginning of the workshop we did some quick formative assessments to gauge teacher background on our topic and see what their interests were for what we were sharing. This allowed us to make some quick decisions as presenters of which stations to include or pull out that we had planned for them to choose during the last half of the three hour session. We had a great first session with no real technical issues, the audience was engaged, and they walked away verbally telling us how great the session was. We repeated the same session that afternoon and it all seemed to go smoothly. As I was preparing to leave and repeat the same sessions the next day, I had a chance to glance at the surveys our district has them fill out at the end of the session. The responses overall were marked at "strongly agree" and I was feeling great. However, as I looked at the "comments" section on each survey there was a similar message. "Wish we had more time.", "Such great ideas, wish we had more time to dig in." More time, more time, more time.
After that day, I felt like any teacher does after a long day...tired. I wanted to just walk in the next day and repeat the sessions. It was good enough, the other presenters I was working with knew what we were doing, it would be easier the second day. That night the comments from the survey kept running in my head and made me start thinking of how could I allow them more time. After three hours of being with us what did they mean? I couldn't have an open dialogue with them, but I could reflect on my past experience as a teacher. I knew how it felt attending PD sessions when I was a teacher. There were so many sessions I attended that shared great ideas and tools. Many times I was excited to use the new learning, but I didn't have the time to set up and plan for the application in my room. I always left with good intentions to implement, but once the day-to-day hustle of a classroom started it often times never happened. It was time for me to heed my advice and realize, "the value comes in recognizing and adjusting".
I went back to work the next morning, tweaked some of our slides, talked to the co-presenters, and decided to take out a large activity of sharing towards the end of the session. We had in our minds that all teachers would want an understanding of what every breakout group had learned from the choice station they made. There is definitely value in that, but based on the survey comments we thought it added more value to give them more time and focus on them giving the tool they were interested in more learning time and planning for application. As presenters we did a quick overview of each tool and how it could connect to the 4Cs and be implemented in the class. The teachers then decided which tool they were interested in learning more about and they had close to an hour to really dig into that tool with their group. Taking advice from a colleague, I created a quick Microsoft Form that they could fill out if they wanted one of our district training team members to schedule time to work with them on implementing their new learning in the classroom. The Curriculum Day survey comments came back after those two sessions without anyone asking for more time. They were strong in their message of satisfaction. Even one said, "Best curriculum day session I have ever attended. No...Seriously!" My reflection and revision of how the training was set up improved the learning experience for the attendees. The value of this reflection can carry over as I plan future trainings.
Reflection for Student learning
How can reflection translate to the classroom? A student can reflect on what they have learned and the process of how they were able to learn. Most students will be like me....they will not understand at first the value of reflection, the value of taking the time, and it will feel uncomfortable if they have never been asked to do it before. When I was teaching a graduate course this last year I asked students to reflect on their learning through blogs. They hated me for it. Truly...I think they did. It took more time, it made them really synthesize and analyze what they were learning. It dug into their souls as I asked them to make personal connections to their learning. Then many of them admitted during our course reflection that blogging was surprisingly a wonderful source of reflection and deepening of their learning.
Reflection, like any other useful skill takes direct instruction, modeling, scaffolding to make it work and for students to be successful. It is something that can be started at the youngest of ages with questions, dialogue, pictures, video and built upon and strengthened as students grow. It is a life skill that will benefit everyone personally and professionally and the process of reflection needs to be taught.
Resources for Teaching Reflection
Primary students can be supported through the reflection process with modeling and think alouds as the teacher reflects. Having students watch another student reflect on their learning can be a powerful example. The below example activity, created by educator Patsy Cleverly, is one of many you can do with primary students to set them on the path of reflection. It allows you to insert a variety of learning goals, but the true reflection would come in discussing the student's process of learning each goal.
Reflection Learning Worm
Older students can share their process of learning in a variety of ways, but it starts with them really asking questions of themselves. You can scaffold this by providing question prompts. The below resource, created by Jackie Gerstein, with a focus on Growth Mindset, has many questions to guide a learner. The student can self select a few to look at or as they become stronger reflect on each of them.
Personal Accountability and Reflection
The questions above are great and can teach students the process of reflection, but I also, as a teacher, want to see evidence. A student could easily look at the list of questions in the resource above and say yes or no to any of them. With dialogue you could get further, but sometimes you don't have the luxury of time to discuss the learning of each student individually. This is why I love the "Progress Assessment Tool" that was explained in this Angela Watson podcast with guests Ross Copper and Erin Murphy, and shared in their book, "Hacking Project Based Learning". This tool adds evidence to the process of reflection.
Progress Assessment Tool
Blogging to reflect
Here I am about to publish my sixth post on my blog. I started this for my own personal reflection and I will say it is not easy. I've struggled with finding out the best way for me to get into a "flow" of writing. I have realized that I am one that likes to sit for hours in that "flow", and I don't always have that time on my side. The biggest realization is that each time I complete a post, it is a deeper look at myself. A reflection of what I have learned and what is important to me. George Couros, who I find myself using as a resource often, talks about the power of blogging for reflection in his post, "Another Reason to Blog; Proactive Through Reflection". His last line speaks to me as to how valuable each post I make is in my process of learning and reflection that will help me grow professionally and personally. I hope you find a way to reflect on your own practice and to add it to your learning activities with students.
If we do not take time to look back, how will we ever be able to move forward?- George Couros
I recently had the honor of writing a guest blog with Microsoft titled, "Integrating technology in class for great results: 6 tips from an expert". I looked back on that post recently and wanted to go further with each tip in a series of blog posts. I'm going to dive into my second tip of, "Shift to a Student-Centered Environment" first. Based on the limitation of words I had to adhere to in the original post, I never went into the actual physical space as part of the environment. It is a good time to reflect on this at the start of the new school year when many teachers are focused on setting up their classroom environment. Before I expand on the tip further, here were my original thoughts:
Stand back and release control. There are a variety of student-centered pedagogies to explore such as inquiry, project and/or problem-based learning, design thinking, and culturally responsive teaching. The end goal is to give students ownership into their learning.
For instance, use creative discovery time when introducing a new tool. Instead of giving step-by-step instructions, let students discover and interact with one another. Imagine a class of students starting on Minecraft: Education Edition for the first time. Do you really need to be the expert, or can your students play that role?
The physical environment you set up for your students can lead to a deeper focus on student learning, collaboration, and communication. It was one area that my tip did not touch on, but can easily be tweaked by not only the teacher, but also the students. Most teachers getting ready for "Back to School Night" feel like the room has to be perfect, like the pictures you see on Pinterest. I wonder... could it be a blank slate ready for your students to help you design?
Dani Nyffeler, is a sixth grade teacher in our district that recently earned an endorsement in Instructional Technology Leadership. Part of that endorsement program really pushed Dani to look at not only her learning activities in class, but to look at the whole learning experience. She developed a strong interest in Project Based Learning (PBL), and I shared with her the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning" as a great book to provide a starting point. The book opened with the first chapter, "Develop a Space that Promotes Risk Taking". The authors outlined the following steps:
The learning space can include the physical: seating, lighting, decor, but also the way students use the space in different ways such as individual, collaborative, and/or creative learning. When looking for ideas, it is great to check out what other schools are doing to redesign their learning spaces. Here are some of my favorites:
1. Check out this one from Baltimore County Public Schools for all things focused on the learner:
The Learner Centered Environment
It is an ocean of resources, and a whole section is dedicated to "Classroom Arrangement". Below is one example of an interactive it displays on using your space for a variety of learning stations.
For even more examples from this district, they have a page dedicated to their Lighthouse Schools: Learner Centered Environments with photo galleries showing students interacting in their physical environment created for student learning.
2. As you embark on redesigning your classroom, view some of the tips from Edutopia: 8 Tips and Tricks to Redesign Your Classroom. One thing you will notice through the tips is how involved the students are in the process. This is the key!
Focus on more than the physical Space
Setting out to redesign your classroom may seem like a lot to take on. It is not something that may happen in a day or perhaps even a week, but like Dani it can be worked on over a year and tweaked for each group of students. The physical environment is not all that is involved in making a Student Centered Environment. It is just one step, but can be overlooked or held back on as a task that is too hard.
As our district sets off to open buildings this coming week to 52,000 students, I was out working with teachers on their first professional development days last week. I could see the look of worry in their eyes as their thoughts were more on setting up their classroom than the meeting they were sitting in. Some had the typical classroom to set up, which is an arduous task. However, one of the schools I walked into that was in the midst of construction honestly looked like a bomb had gone off in it. Construction was still in progress, wires hanging from the ceiling, boxes needing unpacked, and rooms still empty. No matter what, the students are coming and that building will be open and ready.
The physical space can be worked on as the days go by, but the one thing that needs to be forefront for all staff, no matter the worries in their mind, is number one on the list-- Build Relationships by making the students feel welcome and cared for. That is all that really matters to them.
Fear of Failure
"I'm afraid I'll fail, I'm afraid I will fail my students. I really just don't know where to start."
Dani Nyffler, a sixth grade teacher in our district, made that statement and then continued talking excitedly about a project we were planning. Her words clouded my thoughts, and I struggled listening to her as I started reflecting on her statement.
I would identify Dani as an early adopter, innovator, risk taker, whatever word you want to label the teacher you love to work with that is excited to learn and try new ideas. I had approached Dani to work with me on designing a project wrapped around my learning in the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning", by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. I wanted to apply some of my new ideas directly in a classroom and knew Dani was a great choice. She had already transformed the physical space of her class with flexible seating, allowing her students to help design the environment. She was closely reflecting on her teaching practice as a member of our district's Instructional Technology Leadership Endorsement Program. She had happily agreed to plan a project with me, started reading the book, and we carved out time to start meeting so we could plan out at least one project before the end of the school year.
Her concerns of failure stopped me in my tracks because I completely understood why she felt that way, and the fact that I was uncertain myself of where to start. I think both of our fears stemmed from knowing that true Project Based Learning (PBL) can be effective and powerful if done right, but could also go the other direction if not planned out. We had both created "projects" with our students in the past, but now we were armed with just enough information to know that there are better ways to meet student needs through PBL. We were looking to do it in the best way. We were both afraid of the unknown. I consider us both open to new ideas and taking risks, but how about the educators out there that aren't as open to change? Will they allow themselves to take risks?
Why take Risks with Students
George Couros shared what Innovation Is and Isn't, "To simplify the notion of innovation, it is something that is both new (either invention or iteration) and better. Innovation is not about the “stuff”, but about a way of thinking."
The words, something that is new and better, is the key to this. I feel as educators, and in general any human, should be looking towards new and better ways to keep growing. As our world keeps moving forward, so should our educational practices. Looking for innovation in our classroom can be modeled by the teacher and continued on as students. Being transparent with your students when you are trying something new, feeling uncomfortable, learning yourself, and sometimes failing and then reflecting for improvement is an essential success skill to instill in students.
When you make changes or choose to be innovative there is always a level of risk involved. How do you determine what is worth the risk? When we are responsible for the growth of students, how do we make responsible risks towards innovation? How do we ensure parents, administrators, and other teachers that the risk is worth taking?
Levels of Risk Taking
I have a six year old son, Chase, who takes on new ideas very cautiously. My two year old boy, McKennon, on the opposite end, makes irrational risks which can lead towards danger at times. Some say it is a first born vs. second born trait, but I also think it is strongly connected to their personality type. One example of the many differences in their risk taking disposition was evident on a recent trip to a new playground. If interested you can view the videos below, but in summary you will see my oldest son carefully planning out his attempts on the equipment, wanting me there for support and to watch him. Every new attempt had a layer of fear in his voice, but as a kid he was still willing to try. In the background is his younger brother, who he nicknamed, "chaos", trying everything even beyond what he should. Fear never seems to enter his thoughts, but is constantly on my mind when he is out in the open. I often times was running over to keep him from leaping off of the six foot high edge. This scenario mirrors their bike riding, interactions in public areas like the zoo, swimming, and more.
My oldest son has always been careful about anything that seemed new. I have to push him to try something risky, like this week, a back flip at swim lessons. By the way, once he did one he loved it! How can we support educators with a similar disposition as him and especially those that feel no need to change what has "always worked". They stay stagnant and comfortable, but miss out on opportunities to move forward and in turn move students forward or foster an innovative mindset. How can we take a teacher, similar to my youngest son, that dives in head first to any new idea in the education world, quickly implements each one without much reflection on the effectiveness, and sometimes creates more chaos than growth? Somewhere between my two boys is a balance towards responsible risk taking.
Responsible Risk Taking
I thought back on Dani's fear of failure as we attempted Project Based Learning. I reflected on successful risk taking I have experienced or supported others through and recognize some key components towards risk taking. The steps below can help individuals and schools strategically plan for innovation to ensure success.
Wait, don't leave me here, don't nod off on this one. I'm not talking about deep educational research, unless the risk warrants it. I mean the type of research where you determine why you need to take the risk. Is there something in your current practice that could be improved upon? The type of research where you look for resources to help guide before you start. Has anyone tried this new idea that you can learn from? Can you prepare yourself before taking the risk by identifying the advantages and disadvantages? Don't spend too much time and energy on this one that you find yourself never getting to the next more important step. Some of the greatest learning experiences have come from a teacher moving forward even if they were not comfortable.
Plan and implement the change or new idea. This can be daunting depending on the breadth of the risk. We often want to wait until everything is well thought out and you are sure of success. In my case of biting off Project Based Learning with Dani we were not sure how to start because we wanted to try and do so much. We wanted to design the most amazing and powerful project using all of the ideas we had learned in the book. We needed to break our goals into smaller chunks. We could start with a project and focus on 2-3 core ideas behind Project Based Learning and continue to build on it as we did more. I love this idea as an approach to taking risks that seem hard to start from the post, "Elon Musk: The Secret Behind His Insane Drive."
How often do you take time to do this? I know it is one area that once I'm done with the learning activity it gets pushed aside. If it is a new idea you are implementing, take the time to truly reflect on the value. Consider the Return on Investment (ROI) to help determine if it is worth the risk or if it just needs to be tweaked. Was your new idea worth the time? Did the students learn better? Did it teach them any new success skills? This reflection should not include only the teacher's inner thoughts of how it went. Get feedback from the students on whether it enhanced their learning or helped them grow in some way. Ask for ideas of how it could have worked better. If it was a large risk there is a good chance you have some type of data you can analyze over a period of time to see if it is working. If the Return on Investment is not high, perhaps you don't need to add it into your practice or need to make adjustments.
Once you have reflected move into enhancing the idea for the next time. I worked with two middle school teachers that embarked on their first endeavor with Project Based Learning. They jumped into the project quickly as time was against them, and they were uncertain how successful it would be. Overall it was a great opportunity for student learning, but the best learning came from the teachers. They sat down with me to reflect on the project and were amazed by what some of the students produced. They also had ideas of what they needed to change for the next time. Experiencing the new idea was just as important as reading a book about it. The continual growth of the teacher is just as important as the student in this process. This is a crucial skill to model and teach students.
Being an innovative teacher or leader alone is not enough. The end goal should be to spread the mindset to others which will add to the innovative culture of a school. This all comes back to relationships. This needs to be the central core to anything a person is embarking on including responsible risk taking. When risk taking you can build relationships by:
Share in the comments your own experiences and tips for risk taking. What could you add to my suggestions above?
Discovering The LAUNCH Cycle
I stumbled on the book, "Launch", by AJ Julliani and John Spencer somewhere in my massive web of the Twitter PLN world. When I read the description outlining a framework to follow for Design Thinking it caught my attention. Design Thinking was a term I had heard about through a few blogs/tweets, but I really didn't understand it. However, it seemed to have a lot of value for learning. I'm a lover of someone giving me a framework to get started. Some may feel like you shouldn't follow a system for Design Thinking, that it should be more organic, but this makes sense to me and was what I needed. I think it is a great place to start as an introduction for teachers to use the LAUNCH cycle in the classroom to introduce Design Thinking.
As mentioned in the book, "We live in an era where test scores are mistaken for learning." However, we also realize that there is so much more that students need such as critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity skills to name a few. Creating opportunities to foster these skills by creating makerspaces, project based learning, and the use of Design Thinking are great ways for any teacher to enhance these skills in the learning experiences they create. The LAUNCH Cycle provides a flexible framework to get started. The cycle includes the following phases:
Maybe you have already embraced the the idea of students designing, making, tinkering, creating. This framework brings some guidance to it, and allows it to be more focused and thoughtful. The students can move in and out of the phases even repeating them as they design. You can start small with a quick 20 - 45 minute design challenge and introduce the LAUNCH Cycle, or push further into a project that uses the LAUNCH cycle over several days or weeks. I have found ways in my own life both professionally and personally to use the LAUNCH cycle phases even when not designing a physical item, but when creating plans, blogs, and tackling work projects.
The authors of LAUNCH, created a Global Day of Design slated for May 2, 2017 for this current year. It is the second annual event to bring awareness to the importance of Design Thinking and allow a day to focus on using the process to create. Classes are encouraged to use that day or any day that works for them to include Design Thinking in their process of learning. Their website provides a wide variety of challenges to choose from that covers several curricular areas.
I saw an opportunity for classrooms across the globe to connect and collaborate on what they are designing and the process they are going through. As a Skype Master teacher, I created a Skype Collaboration on the Microsoft Educator Community. Teachers can first sign up for the Global Day of Design and then move to the Skype Collaboration and connect with a school to share in the following way:
Access the Skype Collaboration below:
Design Thinking and Global Day of Design Skype Collaboration
The following Sway is included in the Skype Collaboration, and includes additional resources for a successful Skype collaboration and Design Thinking experience.
A Lasting Impact
In my last post, "How do you know what you are teaching is important?", I mentioned my goal was to start reading a new book that was on my radar. I'm in the process of reading the book, "Hacking Project Based Learning", by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. A very practical and fabulous book for anyone in education. It shares really sound ideas towards best instructional practices for any educator. While reading it, Rob Dickson (@showmerob) asked me about my experiences growing up and inter-disciplinary projects that I remember doing in school that made a lasting impression on me today. I struggled to think of many that truly would be considered Project Based Learning (PBL) as it lacked the connection to the real world.
As we look at our curriculum, the learning activities we design, the expectations of our district and school leaders, educators need to be very focused on how they will tie it all together. Look deeply in your day-to-day with students and take a birds-eye view overall with the year you have them. What are you doing that will truly make a lasting impact on them and the future? This is where Project
Based Learning comes in to connect content with deeper learning opportunities.
Project Based Learning- the Why
As Cooper and Murphy explain PBL in their book, I like two of the key goals they want to uncover:
In education we know that time is limited, stakes are high for testing and adhering to district initiatives. The book gives ways to tie this all in, but more importantly expresses that we don't have time NOT to do PBL. We can cover the same content through deeper and more lasting learning activities that will make students carry over these skills in life. Lectures, worksheets, and scripted activities may provide the content, but they are missing that deeper learning and lack connections to the real world.
Crossing the Starting Line
In all areas of my life, whether a personal goal or professional goal, I find crossing the starting line is way harder for me than crossing the finish line. My brain circles with ideas constantly, but putting those ideas in action is my struggle.
In December 2016, I ran across a cover of a magazine that caught my eye. The Time magazine story was one of a series called "Finding Home", that followed the lives of four babies born to refugees from Syria. This story had a lasting effect on me as a mother of young kids, I connected with the mothers uncertain of their child's future along with the number of refugee families in our district that are coming from similar or worse conditions, but with the same hopes and dreams my own kids may have.
My first thought was, how could I help? My second thought, how could I get others to help. My third thought, how would I start? That is where it ended. I would see news coverage and more magazine covers as the months went by, and I kept wanting to do something, but it needed to be more than just me. I knew somewhere in the answer lies the students in our classrooms. Through Project Based Learning the students could learn how they could be part of the bigger world and helping to take part in solutions. I knew that I could not press on them my one specific interest based on the Syrian refugee crisis. It had to allow some choice on their part and passions. Then via Twitter I ran across the Global Goals Project.
Global Goals Project
I stumbled on the Global Goals Project via a tweet in February 2017 and knew instantly that I had hit just what I was looking for.
Global Goals + PBL + Curriculum Objectives = Powerful Learning Opportunities.
The Global Goals Project was developed by global leaders to achieve three major goals by 2030.
Once I discovered the Global Goals, I still did nothing with them as the day-to-day priorities kept pushing them to the back burner. As a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, I jumped on to a monthly online call one day in early March. To my surprise, the two guest speakers pulled up slides and started sharing their work with the Global Goals. I was inspired as Amy Rosentein (@SkypeAmy) and Jennifer Williams (@JennyWilliamsEDU) shared the work they were doing with students to reach the Global Goals with other educators.
After that online call, I connected with Rebecca Chambers (@rachambers04), an instructional technology coach in our district, to start working towards crossing the starting line and getting a project going at her school. I wanted to then take our ideas and push out resources to propel other educators across our district and hopefully beyond to move forward.
I love, love, LOVE this post by Adam Welcome. When I can't seem to get past the starting line, reading "Just Get Started" puts it back into perspective. I always want to plan it out, make it perfect before I start or push it to others, get out all the possible "what ifs". My favorite line from him always propels me to push past it, "Stop talking. Stop planning. Start doing. and Don't. Give. Up."
Want to get started with Project Based Learning, have a project in mind you always wanted to do, but never crossed the finish line? Have a passion or interest you want to bring into your classroom? Want to join me in getting others to help tackle the Global Goals? Let's do it. Let's get started.
To help the teachers in my district, I created a Global Goals Project Starter Kit. The Global Goals website is an ocean of resources. The starter kit I created gives more of a step-by-step to get started and a variety of levels of depth to go through depending on comfort and time. Any level they cross will make an impact on student learning and on reaching the Global Goals as long as they get through Level 1. It ends at the highest level by connecting via the Global Goals Skype Collaboration with other classrooms across the world to share their projects or work on a project together. It also provides hints for what to look for in curriculum standards to connect to the Global Goals. Take this starter kit to cross that starting line for yourself and pass it on to other educators.
Global Goals Project Starter Kit
Every teacher should be looking closely at what they are teaching and determining what is important. As a starting point, educators can look at what their district values and creates as goals. Our district's curriculum department is a well-oiled machine that provides great support systems for our teachers. They align standards to curriculum resources, provide pacing guides, and even step-by-step lesson plans for the first 20 days of the school year. These are fabulous for new teachers and helpful when new curriculum adoptions are put in place.
They have an ongoing process for training district and school leaders as coaches to help guide teachers to reflect on their lesson successes and areas to improve. I get a chance to sit in on these coaching trainings, and a recent one caught my attention as they shared a presentation on one of the district goals of providing a "Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum".
The slide below was one they spent a lot of time on, and as the presenter explained, the center "Tested Curriculum" should be the focus, like a dartboard it is the target for the coaches to focus on when working with the teachers in their building.
The presenter went further to explain the focus helps teachers align the learning goal to the standards. Now as a lover of lesson design myself, I'm always focusing my instruction and fellow teachers on their lesson objective, learning goal, learning target, whatever you want to label it as. It really makes an instructor hone in on the activities and scaffolds of support they put in place to ensure they are helping students towards reaching that goal. However, as the speaker for this particular slide mentioned several times that that center circle of "Tested Curriculum" was the main focus and what we need to really target, I couldn't help feeling uneasy. Something was missing from the message that was being sent out to the leaders that would then share this vision with all stakeholders that would follow their lead. Something so important was missing, that I talked passionately about it with a colleague, and she suggested it should be the topic of my next blog post.
“If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them.”
~ George Couros
Our district's mission statement, "Omaha Public Schools prepares all students to excel in college, career, and life." resonates with me as one I fully believe in, value, and support. That last word, "life" to me is the most important as we truly don't know where life will take our students. I also know that what is focused on in our district trainings to the coaches that interact directly with our teachers, is what is paid attention to and put into action in our classrooms daily. I don't want the focus to shift off of the "Tested Curriculum" completely, but that is just one piece of the puzzle for success. Of course we want our students to be able to show they can meet the proficiency levels that are expected of them on state assessments, but if our district driving focus only stays there and we don't push further we will miss out on preparing them for what life truly has in store for them.
No one has a crystal ball into the future, but I found a recent post by Microsoft Reporter intriguing as they predicted ten potential careers of the future. The main skill for these future jobs centered around the ability of humans to provide unique thinking and creativity to be productive. If we keep too much focus on mastering "Tested Curriculum" will we miss out on fostering these skills in our students?
In the same coaching training mentioned at the beginning of this post, they shared a great sentiment, "Kids can’t learn what they have not been taught.” What skills do our students need to be taught to prepare them for life besides those to master a test? You can find a laundry list of proposed skills across online educational communities and there is value in so many. To provide a starting point, our district has included a variation of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills 4Cs by adding digital Citizenship to create the 5Cs:
My five year old son, Chase is a kindergarten student in our district, and his younger brother McKennon will quickly be there too. As a parent and educator, I have a unique lens and I really hope to see the district start to shift the focus to include more than "Tested Curriculum" to best prepare them for life. My own personal view, is that the skills in the 5Cs should outweigh the mastery of "Tested Curriculum" as it allows for the fostering of the unique thinking and creativity needed for careers of the future. Pushing beyond the 5Cs, I want my own children and all to find connections to what they are learning to the real world, and a method to doing that in the classroom is through Project Based Learning (PBL).
Don't get me wrong, I love to see Chase work towards increasing his reading level, creating writing pieces, and mastering his math packet. What I don't love is the lack of evidence of the 5Cs being fostered through his work and classroom experiences. The lack of how what he is learning connects to the skills he will need in life and as his part in society. The district has such strong support systems towards ensuring the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum to master the "Tested Curriculum" that a teacher's day can be very planned out minute-by-minute for language arts and math blocks. The "look fors" that coaches are provided do not include the 5Cs, or allow time for Project Based Learning. The professional development opportunities rarely mention 21st Century Skills integration as it is not part of our district's focus. My hope for the near future is for all districts, including ours to continue to make strides in academic areas, but also to place a focus on and value the importance skills that can not be easily measured by a test.
Striking a balance
Having a section for 21st Century Skills in our district's Best Instructional Practices handbook is helpful. However, a teacher might find it daunting to incorporate the 5Cs and Project Based Learning in their lesson design with all other district expectations. It takes time, effort, and an instructor that sees its value. When I see a teacher purposefully plan learning activities with components of the 5Cs integrated it can be powerful. It is the perfect balance of knowing they are teaching what is important both academically and for life.
Below are some tips to serve as a starting point that will allow you to stay in line with your district's focus, but also work towards building life skills through the 5Cs and Project Based Learning to foster the 21st Century Skills.
An Educator's Guide to the 4Cs
Will I "Sink or Swim"?
At some point in your life you have been on the brink of something terrifying. One that sticks out in my mind, that you may be able to relate to, is the first time you stood on a diving board at the deep end of the pool and were expected to dive in. Growing up on a farm in Iowa, with a family of 10 kids, swimming lessons were never a priority. You can see in the picture, the closest we got was crowding as many of us as possible into a kiddie pool.
I made it a goal of mine at the age of 30 to learn how to swim. I signed up at the local YMCA in the adult swim course, and learned just barely enough to "survive". One of our final classes included us diving off of the diving board and swimming to the side. Standing up there, with all eyes on me, can be compared to other times in my life where I need to take a leap, but I'm unsure of the result. Will I "sink or swim" is always on my mind. It can be a major event like deciding to get married, have a kid, buy a puppy (yes, that is major), or something as small as writing a blog.
I Fear the Critics
I've been toying with the idea of writing a blog for quite a while, but something kept me from making the final leap. I recently read, "Uncommon Learning" by Eric Sheninger, and he talks about how, "true leaders do not expect others to do what they are not willing to do". I teach a graduate course for an Instructional Technology Leadership program and my assignments include the students blogging based on the essential questions of our units to reflect on the learning. I ask them to synthesize their readings, discussions, and learnings and make connections to their life as an educator or to real world examples. I talk to them about how blogging allows them to reflect on their profession and make deeper connections as they produce it for an authentic audience. Yet, I as the instructor have never posted a blog entry myself! Why? A.J. Juliani hit the nail on the head in this post "Fighting the Fear and Anxiety of Sharing Your Work with the World". I feared the critics. I let that fear overshadow the value blogging could bring to myself personally and professionally. How do I know it brings value? In my course reflections, I asked the students to share, "What surprised me about this course?" Below are a few examples with names not included for privacy:
"My best learning experience was writing the blogs. This was also one of the hardest things for me to complete. I have never thought of myself as a writer, it was not something I enjoyed doing. However, I found a real satisfaction in writing these blogs. It helped to reflect upon my learning and it forced me to think about things I was doing but in a much broader perspective."
"Blogging: I was very reluctant because I am not comfortable putting myself out there in writing to the public. I can write to individuals with ease but knowing that anyone could or might be able to access my thoughts made me uncomfortable, exposed. After submitting my first blog I was more at ease and I was surprised that I enjoyed blogging."
"The thing that surprised me during this course was how much I enjoyed writing the blog entries. I have never blogged nor even considered it before. I plan to continue to blog about teaching and things that I am learning in the future."
Fear or Action
I was recently asked what my #oneword2017 would be as a New Year was upon us. I had been thinking about this as I saw others posting to Twitter their ideas. I chose the word, "action". This word carries a lot of weight in my mind as I have been sitting back the last few years as a part of my Twitter PLN happily consuming great ideas, articles, quotes, blogs, etc. from educators around the world. However, as my brain filled, I felt like I was missing something for never contributing to the PLN further than retweeting great finds and showcasing what was happening in the classrooms in our district.
My fear: Do I have anything of value to contribute?
I'm not sure of that answer. However, I need to take "action" to find out. For every article or blog I read, I find something of value, but maybe it isn't about bringing value to others. I thought of reasons that writing a blog might bring value to me:
Can you empathize with what I have felt? Are you a new or seasoned blogger that could share some ideas with me? Perhaps you have the same fears keeping you from making the dive. Check out the resources below. I'm ready to take #action...
Mother, wife, teacher, learner, information seeker, outdoor lover, & I guess now a novice blogger.