I began writing this post upon my return from a CUE Rockstar camp. This particular camp happened to be for administrators. I am not an admin, why was I there? I began the first day with this chip weighing on my shoulder. Well, just like most things in me life, a chance happenstance lead me to exactly where I needed to be. One thing that I was aware of within the Admin camp, were "hero groups". In these groups, all participants discuss their journey in terms of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey". Not only were there to be discussions, but we were to present our journey to the group.
Now, I do not generally get nervous when presenting, but I know I don't do too well without some planning. Improv never has been my thing. (I used to disappear during improv in drama/speech classes). But there I was, in a room full of administrators, feeling like an impostor.
BUT, one of the beauties of these camps are the people. I was made to feel completely comfortable by both the presenters and the participants. No one knew or even cared what my title or role was. We were all there for a common goal...learning and growth.
So...I did it! I stood up there and spoke from my heart. I was vulnerable and I was real. I shared my story...my journey. I would like to now share it with you here...in hopes that others will connect.
I am always very purposeful in my image choices. I wanted to use The Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for my journey, which has been a "transformational struggle". As I walk along my "yellow brick road", I learn and grow with each step. The back ground image does not show a perfect path, it shows imperfections, flaws and bumpiness. THAT matches my journey. It is through our struggles that transformation happens. But where was I journeying to? What is my "Land of Oz"? That final destination is still unknown, because I believe once we reach one destination, a new one appears. So for now, I shared my six word memoir that sits above my desk: "One who encourages and inspires others". I believe that is my purpose and that is the destination of this current journey.
Here are my steps on the "Hero's Journey":
Assistance: Around my 13th year, our school received a new administrator. For whatever reason, she took me under her wing. She saw something in me that I didn't and walked with me as she grew me. She pushed me to present with her, then without her, then beyond our district and so on. She gave me both roots and wings. This was a game changer for me...this is why I try to now do the same for others.
I have also been extremely blessed to have since collected quiet a few of these kinds of people. The ones who see that potential that you can't, who believe in you, when you don't and encourage you and provide opportunities to stretch and grow. These "Wizard Of Oz" people have changed my life. Each in their own special way. I would not be who or where I am, had it not been for these people.
Departure: It is through these people that I began to find my voice. I began sharing my ideas and it appeared some people were actually listening. WHAT? This was very new to me. I suddenly found myself passionately talking about things in education. I found myself writing, sharing my stories and ideas to help others. This was the beginning of a new journey.
A few of my "Wizard Of Oz" people were brutally honest with me and gave me several wake up calls. It does no one any good, for me to go down the wrong road! So with that, I changed. If I wanted to reach my full potential, and truly help others, I needed to first help myself. I flipped the switch and decided to just look at everything...EVERYTHING as a vehicle for learning and growth. From then on, every "trial" I went through, I reflected on the other end. What learning can I take from this? How can I use this learning to grow and move forward? GAME CHANGER!!!
The rest of the journey...is still unwritten. For many, that may be uncomfortable, for me that is exciting. I am excited to see how this story unfolds.
Here is what I HAVE learned, that I would like to pass on. We all have potential...a spark. Sometimes it is easily seen, but sometimes it is dim or hidden. But it's always there...always. We need to find that thing within us and within others to elicit great. We all deserve it, our kids deserve it from us. So my parting words, as I continue on this journey actually come from Glinda the Good Witch...
I try my best to have such integrity...to do what I say I'm going to do, be true to my word, with others. I work hard to follow through with things, show up and support. But I have found a loop hole in my "integrity plan": ME. Am I living what I am "preaching" to others? This thought hit me like a ton of bricks as I was participating in #Ditchbook chat this week, that was led by Aaron Hogan (Author of Shattering the Perfect Teacher Myth). I like to believe that I reflect often, but his questions stopped me in my tracks. They forced me to reflect in a way I hadn't before. Unintentionally, that chat has sparked deep thinking and this post, today.
There are many "phrases" that I repeat often (I get tired of hearing my own broken record), but I say them because I whole heatedly believe in them. But am I "walking the talk" and believing in them for myself? I think until very recently I would have said "no", but I think I have turned a corner.
Time to reflect on these...
Tune Out The Chatter: Up until the very near present, I really struggled with this. I would let what others say, get into my head and deter my journey. I would let one comment send me down the rabbit hole and take up a lot of my energy in a spin. I have recently (with a lot of help from some amazing friends) realized how insane that was. If I believe in my purpose (which is always to do good) why would I let someone else knock me off that path? It doesn't do me or anyone else any good to spend my energy on it, time is better spent on continuing forward, if I know it is what is right.
Dare Greatly: Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly, changed my thinking and changed me. It is based around the Theadore Roosevelt quote:
I didn't realize that I had actually made the switch, until about a week ago. I was in conversation with my friend, Jon Corippo. He unknowingly brought it to my attention. He said "Now you just say yes to things, not even knowing where you are going." WHAT? Talk about a switch flip moment! As I thought about his statement, I realized that a year ago, he, himself had asked me to do something and I responded with "I'm not sure..." Which in my head translated to "I'm not good enough". He told me, that day, that I needed to just say "Yes" to such opportunities and since then I do. And OH MY GOSH, life changer! I now live by this "Leap Philosophy" of saying "yes" (to opportunities that match my purpose and passion) and figure out the rest after. So far, it has proven to be an amazing journey!
I have talked with those that I support about this topic, when they start to get overwhelmed. We talk about focusing only on those things that are in our locus of control. We can't be at our best, if we are putting our energy into those things that will never yield the results we want.
Within the last few weeks, I have finally taken it to heart, myself. I have been examining what takes up residence in my mind. Is it anything that I actually have control over? Is it something that will yield positive results for myself and more importantly, others? If not, I need to just let it go and find where I can actually make a difference. Place my energy where I can do good and help others, where my efforts will be received. Since making this cognitive switch, my overall outlook and attitude has changed for the better. It is a definite, huge win.
Why am I writing all of this? To be totally honest, it is to keep myself in check. I AM my own worst advocate! We need to be at our best in order to serve our purpose for others. This can only be done by constant self reflection and course correction. I am very blessed in that I don't have to always do this alone, in my head. I have some how collected an amazing tribe, who helps me with this. They do not even know their impact, but it has been life altering and I am thankful.
My call to action for you is to examine your words and thoughts and make sure YOU are advocating for YOU.
The girl in that image is my 13 year old daughter, Leslie. If you ask her, who she is...her reply would be 'A dancer!' If you ask me one thing that I regret about my childhood, I would say "Not becoming a dancer!" Now I know I would never have been a professional dancer, but I love to dance, still to this day. My grandmother owned a dance studio, so when I turned 5, I took my first class from her. According to her, it would be my last class. I apparently marched up to her at the end of that first class and told her "I don't want to do this." and so that was the end my dancing career.
I was the girl on the right. I loved to breakdance (cardboard and all) and do hip hop. To my grandmother, that was not dancing. So instead of joining her studio, my best friends and I created our own dances and found our own places to perform (my friend's dad's tire shop 😂). Later, my grandmother started offering Jazz classes at her studio, so I gave it a whirl. I went to the first class and never returned. I loved the style, the teacher was great! But I didn't think I was great...I didn't believe in myself. To me, all of the other students were dancers and I was an imposter. I let my fear rule me and I regret it! Unfortunately, it took me until about a year ago to adopt the "Leap" philosophy of life. Now I just say "yes" to new adventures and figure out the how, along the way. Since doing so, my whole world has changed!
I have spoken to enough educators to know that the one thing holding many back from their great...is fear. A few years ago, a colleague told me she envied me...WHAT? She envied that I just tried things with my students...she said she couldn't do that because she was afraid of failing in front of them. We need to change this. We need to take risks for our students, so we can give them the maximum experience AND we need to instill risk taking within them.
When I was in the classroom, one of my favorite things to do was put on a class musical. It was always so amazing to see students shine in a different element. I would hold 'auditions' to place students where they could be their best.
My fourth grade year, as I looked down the line of students that were trying out for the solo song...I was shocked and admittedly a little worried when I saw James in that line. James is one of my "heart students". He struggled academically and socially and felt very little self worth. A month before this audition, he had threatened to hurt a girl in our class and later revealed to me that he wanted to kill himself because his dad made him feel worthless. We got him the help he needed at the time and he seemed to be doing better. But this quiet, shy, sad kid was going to sing? Who am I to be a roadblock, but I did hold my breath as he began.
When that kid opened his mouth...I cried! I looked over at my friend who was the chorus teacher and was met with tears streaming down her face. I looked at the other students in the class and their mouths were gaping and some had tears in their eyes as well! This kid had the most beautiful voice! But more than that, you could feel the emotion behind it. It was incredible! The class gave him a standing ovation and he grew about two inches that day.
Needless to say, he got the part. Whithin that, he gained much needed confidence! The change in him socially AND academically was insane! He was a new kid! The best part, was that he knew it AND his dad knew it. Dad was a tough character, very intimidating. But he came up to me after the performance, with tears in his eyes to thank me. He thanked me for showing him how great his son was. We cried together and I explained that it was all James...HE took that leap! It breaks my heart to imagine what his trajectory would have been had he not done so. He never would have known his great! He would never have known what it feels like to fly! James's decision to leap, was really a life changing moment as I have followed up on him as he moved through school and life.
It is imparative that we model and intstill such risk taking in our students. Let's give them a safe place to leap and fall and leap again...they will eventually fly! It could be transformational!
This weekend was a huge time of reflection for me. I believe it is important to reflect back often to see growth and respect the journey. Although this post will focus on my professional reflection, for me the line between professional and personal is a permeable one. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two. What affects one often affects the other.
When I look back at where I was a year ago, to where I am today, it's surreal. Most of the changes that have occurred are ones that only I see and feel...or so I thought. Yesterday, someone called out the changes that they have witnessed from the outside...things I didn't even see. People are like butterflies.
These changes both felt internally and seen externally were transformational. I am typically a quiet and shy introvert who thinks and feels deeply. This hasn't changed, but something has. My mindset has changed, my focus has changed...I have changed. I have realized that I can speak up about things that I am passionate about. I can share my ideas and thoughts with others and try to promote change. This is all new to me. How did the shift happen? Organically.
As with any change, there has to be a catalyst. For me, my catalyst was people. I am thankful every day that I have been blessed with amazing people that help me stretch forward. These people have been there to encourage me, support me and grow me! I don't know how I got so lucky, and I don't even want to question it, I just want to live in it. I have had the opportunity to be counseled, advised and work with some incredible educational leaders. These leaders have been so humble and open and that is why it works. I feel like I am safe to share my thinking with them and we grow ideas together. There are no "title barriers", no egos...just people sharing, stretching and growing forward about things we care about. I often feel like in these relationships, that I'm not pulling my weight. It feels like I'm always taking and don't do much of the giving. So I try my best to jump all in and give all I have, and with every interaction, there is growth (at least on my end).
I use the above butterfly quote often. I use it to help spark others to be open with each other. I am an observer of people. I always try to look for that spark in others AND share that with them. I see great in others, that they can not see for themselves. I think it is important to help others see what I see. I look for the potential in others and try to foster that.
But what I haven't shared, is what it means to me. I, like many others, am my own worst critic. I know that I need to be confident within myself and not look to the outside for validation, but then there is reality. It has taken me seeing myself through the eyes of others, to realize my own potential. It has taken others believing in me, to begin to believe in myself. People are like butterflies.
We need others. Plain and simple. We need others to show us the way. We need others to help us grow. We need others to put us in check. And we need others to survive. I've tried the isolation thing and it doesn't work. I have grown through the sharing of ideas, and this still blows my mind. I am not used to others listening to my ideas and expanding on them. It still floors me when this happens. It's amazing and it's beautiful. And I have seen the magic when we wrestle together to make it work.
I didn't learn about this in school and I just learned about this in life, and it is a game changer! This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about connecting people together. I love to watch this process and the results are always so much better than anticipated. We, as educators, need to work together for the greater good. No one person can be strong in every area, that is why we need each other to play off each others' strengths and complement each other's weaknesses.
This is also why I am so passionate about providing these same opportunities for our students. They need to be given the time and a safe place to work with others. They need to be shown how to honor and work through divergent thinking. They need to understand that we truly are better together. When we honor others' ideas, we empower them and they can begin to see how beautiful they truly are.
People are like butterflies.
Last week I began my fourth year out of the classroom as an instructional coach. At the end of last year, I heavily considered going back into the classroom. The hardest part about being out of the classroom is...well...being outside of the classroom.
Last weekend, I was chatting with a friend about leadership. I realized that I had not written about leadership in awhile, my focus has been more on changes in education and teaching. As I was discussing with him, I told him that I didn't feel like I had anything to say on the subject of leadership. I knew what the response would be (which I told him), because it would be the response that I would give anyone else. He said "You are a leader, we are all leaders. In fact, our students are probably better leaders than those with an actual leadership title." (paraphrased from memory :)
I knew I needed to listen to this guy, because he, himself is an incredible edu-leader. If you don't know Brad Gustafson, you need to get to know him! In our brief discussion, we actually covered a lot of ground. I shared with him what I admired about all the amazing leaders that I know (him included). They all have many of the same traits. I shared with him, that I try to emulate those same traits on a daily basis.
We also discussed the importance of reflection. So here I am, today, reflecting on that conversation and my ideas about what makes an effective and successful leader. This list is based on my conversations, observations and experiences with many leaders over the last few years.
1) Be humble: One thing that all the leaders that I admire have in common...they are humble. They are down to earth, salt of the earth people. They are REAL and it shows. There is no ego at play, they show who they are and they prove it again and again.
2) Be transparent: In my opinion, these leaders are successful because they show their cards. There is no hidden agenda, they state their vision and plan for that vision. They also do not ever claim to know everything or be perfect. They share their struggles and their fails as well as their triumphs and successes. In fact, in Brad's book: Renegade Leadership, he has a section in each chapter called "Epic Fails". It is so important to share fails and the learning that occurs.
3) Be empathetic: These gentleman all have empathetic hearts. This means that they are sensitive to the people in which they serve. They ask and take in the point of view of others and ask for feedback. They then actually take what they have learned as they plan forward.
4) Be a servant: These leaders all believe that they are in a servant business...that we have the most important clients of all...children. Their ideas and decisions always have the students at the heart. They don't just say it, they show it.
5) Be righteous: These leaders all have integrity. They do what they say and they say what they do. They walk the talk. Their actions and their words match up. They get in the mix and model the way. I believe that leaders must KNOW those in which they serve and the only way to do this is to BE with them. These leaders make that a point.
6) Be a learner: All of these leaders are very accomplished in their fields and all speak across the country about leadership. Many are successfully published authors as well. But that is not what I admire most, I admire the fact, that regardless of all of these accomplishments, they are still learners. They learn from each other, they learn from their teams, their teachers and their students. We need our leaders to be continuously learning along side us.
7) Be a giver: These leaders share...they share their knowledge, their skills and their learning. They share it widely. They understand that we are all better together and they support others on their journey of growth through sharing.
8) Be a support: A great leader finds the strengths in others and supports and encourages them to use them. They don't look at title before ideas...before skills. They will give credit to those who deserve it, no matter their "rank". An effective leader builds that capacity in their people, because they understand that as each individual grows, so does the team or organization.
Please remember, this is just my opinion and I could list many more here, but to me, these are the most important. Notice there is nothing in that list that has to do with intelligence, title or experience. To me, those things do not make a leader. There are leaders, in title, who do not prove to be leaders at all. To that end, there is the opposite. There are many who are leaders by action, but do not have the title. These are the ones who I am talking to. Leadership is more about action, than title! Everyone can be a leader, and most of you probably already are...others see it, now you need to see it yourself. When these actions come from a leader WITH the title, THAT is an incredibly positive combination. There ARE so many who fit in this category, and that is amazing!
If we were able to leverage more people in our field, with those skills, imagine the shifts we could make! Take some time to reflect on yourself, on your actions. Please see yourself as others see you... YOU ARE A LEADER...own it!
I welcome the healthy discussion. Then, I tell the story of the time I walked into my daughter's room as she was holding her pen in one hand and her phone in the other. I watched as she literally typed in the exact question from the worksheet and it spit out the answer, which she copied. When she saw me, she thought she was in trouble...I assured her she wasn't as I snapped a picture to put up on twitter.
What usually is concluded after they have all discussed, is this: Students have access to facts at their fingertips. Those things that we had to memorize, that was a bulk of our schooling, are easily found in seconds. I then interject that I played the game of school really well. I could memorize things for the tests and then it left my brain right after. Here is the sad reality, BOTH of my kids said the exact same thing to me this year. It's still happening! I received fantastic grades, but very little learning. Our students deserve better...MY kids deserve better. WE need to find a way to get things to stick to students. How do we create stickiness? Dave Burgess (Teach Like a Pirate) talks about creating experiences for our students. We need to be creating experiences for our students to DO SOMETHING with that googled information.
Here are some of my ideas (well they obviously aren't MY ideas, but these are what I use as I plan):
I show my session participants these three things. These are what I have in mind, whenever I am lesson designing. Notice I did not say "lesson planning". There is a difference. To me, a lesson plan seems very finite and rigid. Lesson design seems more fluid, adaptable and long term.
4 Cs: I am surprised at how many educators are unfamiliar with the 4 Cs. Maybe I was just lucky to have had a principal who worked hard with our staff to understand and implement the 4 Cs. If you don't know they are: Critical Thinking, Communicating, Collaborating and Creating. I have those as a running checklist in my head any time I am lesson designing AND working with either students or adults. *I like to run my professional development as a model to what a student centered classroom should look like. This is not to say that the 4 Cs are happening ALL the time, but it is important to be cognizant of what they are and how to foster that in the classroom.
Why are these skills important? These are the skills that transcend beyond the four walls of the classroom. These are the skills that students will need to survive "out there". Regardless of the subject, people need to be able to think things through critically, communicate their ideas, collaborate with others and create something with the information. It's that simple. We can do these things with our youngest learners.
DOK: Most educators are familiar with Webb's Depth of Knowledge, but it is sometimes misunderstood. I love a quote, that I have heard 3rd hand that originated from Shelley Burgess (Lead Like A Pirate) "We should live in DOK 2 & 3 and visit DOK 1 & 4. I read another version on Twitter: "DOK 2 & 3 are like your nuclear family, DOK 1 & 4 are like your in laws, you visit every once in awhile." I like these quotes because it does not say, "don't do", or "you have to do". They are talking about priority.
By having students spend a majority of their time in DOK 2 & 3, we are asking them to do something with knowledge. We are asking them to understand the skills and concepts and extend that thinking.
DOK 1, "recall and reproduction" is what I did in school. Memorize it and spit it out. These are your multiple choice, fill in the blank...worksheets. There is still a place for DOK 1 (a participant was quick to tell me that the CA Social Studies Standards 5.9 is "Students know the location of the current 50 states and the names of their capitals."). So until our standards catch up with our students' needs, we need to still teach these. BUT we do not need to spend a bulk of our time on these.
DOK 4, "strategic thinking" is tough. We WANT students to be working on this, but not ALL the time. Just like we wouldn't want to eat chocolate cake for every meal for a week. We don't want to burn these kids out.
There is plenty of research and opinions on DOK levels, but I think as long as we have an understanding as we plan students' experiences, they will be better for it.
Bloom's Taxonomy: Bloom's has been around for a long time. When I show participants the graphic for Bloom's I ask them: "What is the base of Bloom's? The biggest part?": Recognize. "Ok, and what is the smallest part?": Create. I then give them a "Call to action" to look at Bloom's upside down. I like to use Erik Francis's "Upside Down Blooms" graphic because it has sentence starters. We discuss what what students need to do if we start by asking them to create? In order to create something (meaningful and valuable), students will work through all of the other levels. And when I am talking about creating, I am not talking about an art project to hang up at open house. I am talking about creating an authentic artifact of learning. This could be a graphic, a video, an essay, a poster, a conversation...there are endless possibilities! I first heard of this idea of "Flipped Bloom's" from my pal, Jon Corippo and have been using it ever since!
I then like to end my soap box with Alice Keeler's quote: "We need to teach as if Google and Youtube exist!". Because they do! What are we going to do with it? NOW WHAT?
AND then...we get into the ideas, strategies and protocols to make this happen.
I have found that in this past year, no matter what I was presenting on, I started my sessions in a similar way. I have thought about cutting this part out, to give participants more time to work, but I believe it is a 10 minutes well spent. I believe it helps to set the mindset for shifts.
I usually start with a video, I have two go-to vids. I use these to not only create some levity, but I use them as a jumping off point to discuss the "why" for change in education. *I got both videos from watching George Courus speak on two different occasions- Thanks, George!
After watching these videos, I pose a question, using the same picture...
This is always my favorite part because the discussions are amazing. There is talk about classroom design, the 4 Cs, technology, fear, failure, excitement, unknown. We get to talk about the need to be adaptable and agile because things are changing so quickly. We discuss the idea that we are no longer the "keepers of all the knowledge". The idea that students may know more about something than we do. This causes many to be uncomfortable. I tell them that this is exciting to me...that I LOVE learning from students (children and adults)! It empowers them as learners and solidifies the learning for them. I talk about the fact that I learn something new every time I am in a classroom or leading professional development. (I always call out that new learning as it happens in real time...you should see the smiles). We talk about having to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, risk taking and failing forward. There is some squirming and worried looks during this part. But then through discussion, I see that relax...a bit.
There is always some blame on "technology" for students attention spans and need for instant gratification. To me, that is a moot point. Our job is to serve the people in front of us...right now. Placing blame doesn't do anyone any good. Our time is better spent figuring out how to meet the needs of our students. We need to stop thinking that teaching is about us, because it isn't...it's about them, our students.
So WHY do we need to change how we do education? We need to because our students deserve better, our students need better. There is an urgency here to change. If we aren't in a constant state of change, we will be left behind and so will our students. That is not an option. So once there is no longer the question of WHY...we roll into the HOW...
In every PD session I have led in the last year, I always talk about the idea that we need to be prepared for students to know more about somethings than we do. I talk about the fact that it may be a scary thought for some, but for me...it's exciting. I talk about the excitement and empowerment when students can own their own learning and share it with us. I also talk about the idea that I learn from others every time I am working in a classroom or presenting PD. Last week was no different...but let me back up.
I have been presenting in professional development sessions for about four years now (something I NEVER saw myself doing). My first three years look quite different than this last year. When I first began, my wheelhouse was "engagement strategies". I focused on how to get students involved and excited in their learning. We would practice different hooks, games, tricks. I don't even remember if I ever discussed the reason behind these things, maybe a sentence or two?
This last year, I had somehow fallen into presenting mostly on technology integration and lesson design. This is kind of funny, because tech is definitely not my background. In fact, back when I was in the classroom, we had 3 desk tops and my one ipad. I utilized them to the best of my ability, but boy...hindsight. I am quick to tell participants that I am not a "techie", but I am not afraid to take risks, push buttons and try things. I encourage them to do the same. I also now start every session with this picture...and pose the question: "Why do we need to change the way we do education?". I pose the question to them and then we discuss...I make sure to infuse my BIG FIVE into the discussion (more on that later).
Anyone that presents on "tech" goes into their session with the hopes that what comes across is: pedagogy over tech. But what seems to happen is just the opposite. People gravitate towards tools, apps, sites...why not, they are cool. But what will you do with these resources? How will you use them to help students move forward in their learning? What I learned was, all I have to do is ask.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at my first CUE Rockstar Teacher Camp (#rOxnard): At the end of day two, participants chose a "hero group" led by one of the presenters. The purpose of these groups was to allow time and space for participants to reflect on their journey over the last two days (based around Joseph Cambell's: Hero's Journey). I created a simple slide template with three slides for them to reflect on: People, Resources and Pedagogy. How have/will each of these things help them to transform as an educator. They then presented these slides and discussed in small groups. I just sat in and listened. It was cool to see my name in all of their slides under "people", but what gave me goosebumps was what I saw and heard during the Pedagogy slides!
I often don't know what I'm saying, when I am in front of a group. It's like I go into a trance. I try not to spend much time talking, but put the focus on the participants doing something. I have realized that I apparently DO get on my soap box during these sessions (but only for a bit). The overarching theme in EVERYONE's slide wrapped around: student centered classroom, student empowerment, differentiation, risk taking and "stickiness". These are the BIG FIVE that I am passionate about! These ARE the things that I try to demonstrate in my sessions. These are the things that will create change, it's not about the tech. *Now I am NOT claiming that I was the only voice that led them to these realizations, they met a plethora of amazing presenters over these two days.*
When I listened to them talk, I could be seen clapping, high 5ing, cheering and who knows what else...because I was so excited. I heard "I need to drop my ego and try things.", "I need to let students drive the lessons", "I need to design my lessons for "stickiness", "I need to meet students where they are.", "I won't break my students or the internet, I just need to try.", "We won't have classroom management problems if we have students engaged and empowered in their learning." "I need to give students choice because they are all different" -Music to my ears AND heart!!!
So the messages did shine through! It wasn't about the tech...the transformation wasn't about the tech. It was about a mind shift. But I would have never known (and most likely, neither would they) had there not been that time to reflect, discuss and share. I talk a lot about reflection, but just realized I never give people time in my sessions to do that! I have had them do things like create a comic to show their learning, but I never focused them on a shift pedagogy...just "What have you learned? What would you like to learn more about? What are your steps moving forward?" AHA! I learned that just a small shift in a wording can make all the difference! I guess we don't know, if we don't ask. We need to be intentional with our reflections if we want to grow. I always say "We need to KNOW the people in which we serve." But I missed the boat. But now I know better, and I will DO better.
I thank all of my participants for sharing their journeys with me and helping me realize an important missing piece of mine! I thank my friend, Jon Corippo, for adding this important element to the CUE Rockstar Teacher Camps.
Last night ended a very long two days of dance recital and sweltering heat...my daughter and I were finishing up our dinner at 11:30 when our waitress came to make chit chat. She asked my daughter about how she juggles school and dance and somehow it turned into her expressing her views about Common Core and teaching. I did not reveal to her that I was a teacher, and didn't have the energy to have a discussion, so I just listened. What was interesting was she talked about the idea that we, in the US, are not teaching to one specific kind of kid. That we must figure out ways to reach the many different learners we encounter. She also talked about how she understands the basis of Common Core is to get students to think critically. When she left, my daughter said "You like Common Core, right mom?". My response was "I like that there is not one way to solve a problem and there isn't always one correct answer." She replied "I don't know, I just know it makes so much sense to me." My kid has an incredible abstract mind and can maneuver numbers in her head like crazy. She needs different.
This is not a post on Common Core, but a post on teaching and learning. I taught at a Title 1 school for 14 years and encountered every kind of student you could imagine. Both of my former principals believed in meeting kids where they are and moving them forward...in whatever means necessary. This often meant, ditching the textbook (prior to Matt Miller's fantastic book) and figuring out what works for kids. This is something I am incredibly passionate about.
One of my favorite TED Talks is The Myth Of Average...it is worth the 18 minutes, I promise. My team uses this often in training, and I cry every time.
The premise of the talk is that there is NO AVERAGE learner, so we can not teach to the average, the middle. If we do, we are missing all of those students on the "edges" (where a majority of them lie).
I cry because most of my students and my daughter live in the edges. They don't fit into a box and a box isn't going to teach them. They think differently, they act differently, they come with different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, passions, personalities. These ALL come into play because it is the anatomy of the learner. We CAN NOT ignore the differences in our students. We need to celebrate them AND play TO them.
I cry because I think of all of those amazing students who would have missed out on learning had I just "shot down the middle". I think about the students who struggled in academics, but excelled in performing arts...I used that to their advantage. I think about the students who told me at the beginning of the year that they couldn't do math and were scared of it...only to shine and reflect at the end of the year that they LOVE math. I think about the little girl who struggled to speak in class, but we figured out if she wrote her thoughts out first, she could contribute greatly. Or the little boy who in second grade, could barely read pre-primers but had an amazing critical mind, his door was opened when he could use that gift to discuss read alouds. The list goes on and on.
I also cry for those students that are left to hang out in the edges, never getting tethered in. Those are the kids I worry about...those are the kids I fight for. Why change? I don't even think that is a question...we need to change because our kids deserve it.
For some, the thought of personalizing learning is overwhelming and an impossible task...they immediately think of 30+ IEPs. That is not the case. So how do we meet those "edge" students? Here are my thoughts...
1) Start with relationships: We really need to know those in which we serve. What works, what doesn't work, what are their passions, their strengths...what makes them tick? This takes time, but believe me, this important time on the front end will offer great rewards on the back end, for students.
2) Teach protocols: This is something I learned from my friend Jon Corippo. If we create a framework that students become familiar with, the content can be differentiated to meet their needs. One of his favorite examples is using the Frayer model. You first teach these protocols with a very low cognitive load, something fun and familiar. Students become familiar and at ease with how this works, and their affective filter is lowered. After a few rounds, the content can be ramped up at the student's pace.
3) Provide multiple entry points and exit points: This is the idea from Jo Boaler's "Low floor, High ceiling". activities. This means your questions and your activities are open ended. Students will enter where it works for them, and take it as far as they can, and with a little scaffolding...they will take it further. They will feel success and valued in their thinking.
4) Give students choice: Allow students choice in how content is taken in, how they process it and their output. This may seem like a lot of work on the teacher, but it really isn't if your tasks are student centered. The students are doing all of the work, you just set up the options. You could use a "choice board" to help facilitate. The choices can stay the same (or add new one in every so often), and the content changes.
5) Honor differences: Acknowledge, honor and celebrate students' differing ideas, answers, solutions and paths. One thing I loved about teaching math was the different ways in which students would come to a solution. When they shared out a new way, we would name it: "Shane's Way" and make a poster that would hang in the math area. This not only empowered the originator, but gave other students new ideas as jumping off points or something to grip on to. The ultimate was when a student would come up with a new idea that clicked with me...I had many "aha" moments from my students.
Those are just a few ideas that come to mind, but there are many. My call to action is to start thinking about the edges...how can you design to them? When you zoom out and think of your students, and their "profiles" you will find many hanging out in those edges...We need to design to the edges, our students need US to meet THEM.
Mother, teacher, TOSA, GCE Level 1 & 2, Encourager of others.
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