I kicked off this series on transformational teachers in our district with my original post, "How Can You Transform Your Teaching to Improve Learning?" I love seeing teachers that continue to learn and grow. My second showcase teacher is Dani Nyffler, 6th grade teacher at Wilson Focus School.
I first met Dani through our district's Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) program. She was also in my course for the Instructional Technology Leadership (ITL) endorsement program. What stood out to me was during my course, she was such a reflective practitioner through her blog posts and assignment reflections on how she was changing the way she had done things in her classroom for so long. I asked Dani to share a bit of the process of how she has set herself on a path of growth.
How have you transformed as a teacher in the last few years?
I have intentionally stepped out of my comfort zone. As a 19-year veteran of teaching, I found myself “comfortable” in how I was running my classroom. When I was accepted into the ITL cohort, I instantly wondered what I had gotten myself into. However, that was the wake-up call I needed to see that I was one of the teachers they talked about in the textbooks; the one who was still operating her classroom like a 1950s classroom, sending students out on a conveyor belt, year after year. I also found a new sense of confidence in myself that I didn’t know I had. I heard from people that I respected that it’s ok to fail and learn from it.
How have you noticed your transformation impacting your students' learning?
I think they are excited about coming to my class. I have heard multiple students say they “like my room the best.” Much of that is due to flexible seating and the arrangement of my room, but I like to think that some of it is also that students know when they come to my class, they get to do things that aren’t the normal sit and get. I give them opportunities to explore their interests and try to find ways to connect it to our learning. I believe they have a deeper knowledge of the way things work and they are able to see how it impacts their daily lives. They have to “buy in” to what you’re teaching. If they don’t see the point of it, you’ve lost them before you’ve even started.
What tips would you give to a teacher that wants to grow as an educator?
Tell yourself it’s ok to fail! That’s how learning takes place. Our society has made failing into such a negative thing. Almost no one gets anything right the first time they try it! I would also suggest starting with one thing. Work on that one thing until you feel comfortable and then add one more thing. Trying to change everything all at once will make you feel defeated and overwhelmed. Find one thing that you really would like to change about your classroom/teaching or an area that you’re really interested in and go from there. Rely on a good support system! Find people that will build you up for those days when things aren’t going great and you’re super hard on yourself. Keep the big picture in sight!
You do a lot with flexible seating and project based learning. Can you share how you incorporated that in your classroom and the struggles and successes you have had.
I came across flexible seating as I was reading a couple articles on Facebook. As I continued clicking on links regarding the subject, I found more and more research suggesting that it was good for students to have choice. It made so much sense to me! I went to my principal, with research in hand, and asked if I could try it. He gave me the go ahead and I began gathering my
new seating options. I dove right in, not wanting to start slow with it, I transformed my seating over spring break. When the students arrived back from break, I treated it like the beginning of the year and we covered expectations. That was a year ago, fast forward to today. I have had some struggles over the last year. 6th grade students don’t always make the best choices (chalk that up to maturity) and I have had to enforce some assigned seating. Revisiting expectations consistently has been something that I have had to make a priority since flexible seating is still such a new concept and lots of teachers still use assigned, organized seating.
This year was my first year that I really started to use Project Based Learning (PBL) in my classroom. I have read many articles on it and knew it was something I wanted to do. I always thought I was using PBL, but the more I read, the more I discovered that I was doing “group work,” not PBL. My students chose to work on Global Goal #6, the sustainability and cleanliness of water. I developed 5 groups to construct a product to express their learning (music, posters, video, play, and a pamphlet) and let the kids choose which group they wanted to work in depending on their interests. We shared the final projects on our morning news, with other classrooms, and the pamphlets went home with each student in the school. It was so fun to see the talent that these students have and their passion about the world even if it didn’t directly affect them. I have so much still to learn regarding PBL, but I continue to make that a goal every day. As I reflect on that project, I know the things that could have been done better, and I know the things that I need to do more research on. BUT, I remind myself that I’m doing it. With every project, I will learn more and the outcome will be that much greater.
Dani has proven to be an outstanding teacher at Omaha Public Schools that strives to improve her practice by learning and applying new strategies that will highly engage her students. If you want to keep an eye on what she is doing in her classroom, follow her on Twitter @daniellenyff1. A characteristic I admire in her is her continual reflection of what she can do better. That truly shows that she realizes that her transformation as an educator is ongoing.
Transformational Teacher Series ARchive
Mother, wife, teacher, learner, information seeker, outdoor lover, & I guess now a novice blogger.