You’re kicking back enjoying your summer, looking forward to get lost in some books, the beach, or maybe even your own garden.
|"Free Image on Pixabay - Sunglasses, Desert, Reflection." Free Stock Photo: |
Sunglasses, Desert, Reflection. Accessed July 27, 2016. https://pixabay.com/
But your mind drifts back to your classroom. Subtly stirring in the recesses of your mind is the upcoming school year.
Ideas about what you want to do better or differently silently creep into your conscious.
You are reflecting on your teaching.
And when you choose to attend a conference or read a book about teaching, your wheels start churning again...maybe even stronger and more deliberate. The reflection allows you to see things in a different way.
When I picked up “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros (@gcouros), I suspected it would prompt me to reflect on my practices as a teacher. I was not disappointed.
Below, I share some reflection that came streaming forth when Couros’ accompanying lines prompted.
“To succeed, they will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations. And although we say we want kids to think for themselves, what we teach them is compliance.”
The first statement has been a belief of mine for quite some time. I will often press students who have questions with questions of my own to help show them that they have the answer readily available or if they think through it a bit. This has been quite effective...although it is initially frustrating for some students….and the frustration lingers for those who just want the answer.
This leads to the second statement. Those students who just want the answer - and there are many - are those that are being compliant. They want to make sure they can get the grade that is acceptable to themselves and their parents. Tell me what the answer is; tell me what I need to know; how long does the writing have to be.
Although I have cajoled some into become more independent in their learning, I have not been thorough or swayed most. Even those who appreciate my answering questions with questions are still striving for high levels of compliance.
I need to do better showing them that the learning, not the grade, is what matters so they can break free from the shackles of compliance.
“As leaders, if we ask teachers to use their own time to do anything , what we’re really telling them is: it’s not important.”
Quite a few years ago, I stopped having homework influence student grades. I knew that the homework either artificially inflated or deflated students grades which are somehow supposed to show what they know, not whether or not they completed work.
I made the transition to no homework two years ago. I wanted the students to do their work in front of me so that I could give them feedback, guide them, and support them. Often parents, on the pretense of helping their children succeed, can intervene with homework. This can give an artificial sense as to what the student actually knows and can do. I don’t want parents to be heavily influencing their children’s work so that there is not as great a degree of learning.
But this passage presented a different lense to look through.
If the work assigned as homework is not important enough to be done with immediate teacher feedback, guidance, and support, is it really worth the students’ time? And will the students be sufficiently motivated to put their best effort forth with it - or will they just do it quickly so they are able to show they got it done?
“....what do most schools focus on when talking about technology? ‘Cyberbullying’ and ‘digital safety.’”
“We are spending so much time telling our students about what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids to not stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students?”
The past two years, I had the privilege to serve on my school district’s Digital Learning Committee. The culmination, at this juncture, was a presentation to the school committee.
The presentation had two foci: rights and responsibilities and scope and sequence.
Immediately afterward, I felt disappointed. I quickly realized why. The officials focused their questions and comments on the rights and responsibilities portion of the presentation. They zoned in on concerns about student safety and technology potentially distracting from learning. They were very pleased with the proactive approach regarding rights and responsibilities.
But they focused little on the potential of technology to impact student learning. In fact there were no questions and few comments about what the students will know and be able to do with technology.
I understand that the reaction may be due to thought that the pitfalls which sometimes happen with technology seem overwhelming, and, in their role, the school committee may be very attuned to that. I also realize they do have a sense that technology is important for learning. But I hope they will quickly begin to understand, in a tangible way, how digital tools can deepen, extend, and transform learning.
“I’m defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better. Innovation can come from either “invention” (something totally new) or “iteration” (a change of something that already exists), but if it does not meet the idea of “new and better,” it is not innovative.”
I like the distinction the term “innovation” is given.
But, initially, it is quite intimidating. How could I ever create something that is new and better? What a tall order.
Upon further reflection, however, I realized that the idea only needs to be new and better for me and my students. Innovation does not need to be some completely original concept that the world has never seen before. Instead, innovation can simply build on what is already out there. Take something you haven’t done before and tweak it to meet the learning needs of your students. Without realizing it, my lessons, my classroom, my students’ learning experiences have started to become more innovative.
“The power of networking is sharing ideas, clarifying our thinking, and developing new and better ideas.”
“Sometimes, the most valuable thing you get from the network isn’t an idea but the inspiration or courage to try something new.”
A past administrator I worked with encouraged teachers to engage with Twitter. He didn’t have much success. Although he did not push hard and make it an expectation, many teachers felt he made an edict and that they would be judged negatively if they did not use Twitter.
He has since left and so has the “pressure” to use Twitter. Some teachers had created accounts and tweeted a couple of times, never really seeing the value. Others have been more embracing.
I think it is a lost opportunity in not connecting with other educators. Our hands are often tied if trying to interact with those within our own building - different schedules and so many “urgent” tasks on that list.
But connecting through social media, allows flexibility for teachers to meet on their own time. Use five minutes to take a sip from the stream of information. There are people sharing ideas that will be useful to your role as an educator. It also allows you a moment to reflect on your current practices and clarify your beliefs about education.
This blog furthers that purpose. I not only wanted to model blogging for my students, but I wanted a simple, convenient, and consistent arena in which I could reflect on my work as a teacher.
The connections to be made via social media enhances teaching. It accelerates our abilities to meet our students needs. The power of social media is getting better together - with countless numbers - and giving confidence to take a risk, rather than going it alone or with a small band of confidants.
“If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.”
I speak of trust with my students. And I’m getting better at giving them my full trust.
Fortunately, my classroom is 1:1 with Chromebooks. While others may be concerned as to what mischief students may get into while they are supposed to doing their work on the device, I share with students that I am trusting them to use it appropriately. They seem to appreciate that I present the technology as an opportunity and a responsibility with which I am entrusting them.
Students are also being allowed more and more autonomy in my classroom. I am affording them greater trust in making decisions about their learning: What will your final product be? How will you go about showing they understand? How will you demonstrate you have that skill? What are you going to go about finding out about that topic?
Putting the students more and more at the center demands greater trust of those students. They respond well, and I believe their learning is enhanced while developing skills and attitudes that they can apply to other classrooms, other grades, and other areas of their lives.
“Can you imagine going to a place every day where you felt your voice didn’t matter?”
Students have been given greater voice in my classroom over the last several years. As I noted in my comments about trust, I am affording students more choices regarding their learning. Also, to the end of greater voice, students in my class are expected to maintain a blog.
Their blogs are an opportunity for the students to reflect on and share their learning. In addition, they are encouraged to view classmates’ blogs and comment on the posts. This allows them to develop their own voices and to observe the voices of their classmates.
I need to, however, do a better job of getting others - students, parents, educators, community members - to view and comment on their blogs. This will accentuate that the students’ voices do matter. Right now, they do not see their blogs as very far reaching. I need to facilitate the power of their blogs in a much better manner so that students’ voices are amplified and they can feel the significance of their voices.
“Engagement is a good thing, but I’ve since learned that we must also empower students and equip them with the skills to learn. It is imperative that we teach learners how to be self-directed and guide their own learning, rather than rely on others to simply engage them.”
“Would you rather hear about changing the world, or do you want the opportunity to do so? A story about a world-changer might engage us, but becoming world-changers will change us.”
Discussion about students taking their own lead often comes up indirectly in my classroom. I usually emphasize how little they need me by guiding them to finding their own answers and solving their own problems. In my mind, I have always strived for engagement by the students. But I guess my example shows I am actually trying to strive for more; I just never considered self-directed learning to be on a higher plane than engagement.
Tapping into students’ strengths and interests seems to be vital in engaging students. It may also help lead the students to seeking the opportunity to become a “world-changer.” By grabbing students by their strengths and interests and combining that with touching their hearts, a classroom can elevate a student’s interest and engagement into wanting to make a mark on the world.
My students care; they have a strong sense of right and wrong; they want to help. Tugging on their heart strings through our common human story while allowing students to direct their learning will allow them to accomplish the great things of which they are capable.
If I loosen their reins more, they will, perhaps, realize the great power they have at their disposal.
“8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom”
When first reading this section of "The Innovator's Mindset", I immediately began reflecting on my own classroom to “see” if those eight elements are presented.
Viewing Sylvia Duckworth’s sketchnote, I saw a simple, yet engaging reference which I could quickly look back at as a reminder of elements I want to strive toward.
THEN, it hit me…..I need the students to look at the sketchnote.
I want the students to view the sketchnote and assess their learning experiences: Where have you seen these happen in classrooms? What did it look like?
And to push it further: What can we do in this classroom to make sure we experience each of the eight elements?
This would not only push me as a teacher, but it would also give the students greater voice and control in the classroom, creating a powerful opportunity for them to direct their own learning.
“Drop Everything And Reflect.”
I understand the importance of reflection. I struggle, however, with having the students reflect.
I’m not sure whether this is due to feeling a pressure to get through curriculum or whether it is due to feeling unsure as to how to structure that reflection for students. I always struggle as to how to prompt the students to reflect.
I feel like the simple label “Drop Everything and Reflect” helps to give a simple structure. It at least identifies to the students what we will be doing and stresses its importance.
Reflection also needs to be done during the learning process, not just afterwards. Opportunities for growth and learning are lost if there is no reflection during the learning process.
I may turn, as a starting point, to the simple reflection questions that are offered in “The Innovator’s Mindset”:
1. What is something you learned about today that you would like to further explore? Why do you want to explore that topic?
2. What is one big question you have moving forward?
3. Any other thoughts that you would like to share?
These questions at least give me reassurance that I am on a right track and that I have something for a fall back plan.
“Carolyn reminds me and others that when we show a genuine interest in those whom we serve and go out of our way to help them become successful in areas about which they are passionate, they are more likely to go above and beyond what is expected.”
This screams to me: How can I help students work with topics for which they have passion but are not topics we are investigating in class - the ones not in the curriculum?
And then comes the softly spoken answer: Ask them.
I would love to be able to offer my students this opportunity. Imagine getting to work with students who want to learn coding, architecture, costume designing, etc. How invigorating would that be for both students and teacher?
The big roadblock does not really seem to be “how” but “when.” When, in the course of a very busy school day for both teacher and students, can I offer time to encourage their passions?
Perhaps I can carve out class time. Perhaps I can work with them as a resources asynchronously. Maybe it would need to be reserved for after school.
There is some solution. We just need to find the one that works for us.
“Let’s take the time to understand what is possible from a learner-centered point of view, instead of blindly buying technology then asking ‘Now what?’”
I am frustrated with the “Now what?” approach.
Technology, it seems, is often purchased simply to have it.
There was a big push several years ago to make sure their was an interactive whiteboard in every classroom. Although a powerful tool, I felt money would have been better spent to get technology into the hands of the students rather than invest in a teacher-focused device. There also was minimal training. So, the primary result has been whiteboards from which you can electronically save the notes.
Blending technology into my classroom has always been a priority in my classroom, I am ahead of the curve of most in my district, and I know that it's best when students can use technology to make connections with others and to create content. Yet, in nearly 25 years of teaching, I think I have only been asked input on technology once. That was through a general survey to all teachers when, I think, the district was trying to gauge teachers’ comfort levels with technology.
Clearly, I think my opinion (my voice!) should be valued and sought after.
But to add a layer of student feedback and insight would be invaluable. Meet the students where they are at and accentuate their voices. Show them they are valued and that their input matters. The impact of technology would probably be far more reaching if all stakeholders had input.
This may even open students’ eyes even wider to the possibilities presented through technology simply because they were asked.
“I quickly learned that the best way to become a better educator is to have access to other teachers.”
You are a first-year teacher, wide-eyed and overwhelmed. You barely even know where to begin.
You turn to that teacher next to you with the adjoining door.
Years later you’re still opening that door for support and also seeking support from others who you’ve come to trust. We always turn to others to help us be better.
But now, the entire teaching profession is at our fingertips. Twitter, Facebook, Google Hangouts, etc. enhance our ability for getting better together. A great pool of collective knowledge and experience is there for us….waiting to be tapped. But many stay isolated. They may reach beyond their own classroom walls into their neighbors’ classrooms, but they are reluctant to access those other connection that can be made.
Remember back to that experience as the overwhelmed first-year teacher. You opened that door; you didn’t really know or trust that person...yet.
The same is true for those you could get to know through a platform such as Twitter. You just need to reach out and take that risk. And, just like the colleague next door, if you are not getting what you need from that person, move on to another.
And you can expand ten-fold as a teacher.
“....the success of a school should not only be measured by what students do when they are in school but also by their impact on the world after they leave the school environment.”
“If we want to build on the strengths of our students, we need to develop them as learners who explore their passions and talents. For schools to do that, educators will need to unleash that talent and hunger for learning in themselves first. If we only teach students the curriculum, we have failed them.”
Well, that just upped the ante. And stated much more clearly and succinctly than I would have.
Students need to realize that just learning the curriculum is not enough. They are too important for that. They are too powerful for that.
When students leave my classroom, I want them to have a sense of their importance and power. The development of their character, behavior, and habits are far more important to me than whether or not they remember some facts about some topic or event.
I need to give them greater opportunity to impact the world NOW, while they are still in seventh grade, so they can carry that sense of collective responsibility, empathy, and power with them. I want them to feel their own significance.
I have the opportunity to create, for students, opportunities which will show them them their value and the far-reaching impact they can have.
If you have had your own moments of reflection this summer, or if this post has generated some thoughts of your own, please share in the comments. I would appreciate hearing from you.