Celebrate Everyday Moments

 

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As I prepare for our New Years Eve festivities, I cant help but reflect on 2016.  My “one word” last year was …more. I was hoping for “more” in different aspects of my life; more travels, more learning,  more advancement, more family time. This year, once again, I am reading my PLN’s fabulous blog posts about their one word. I’m hoping for a word that I can blog about and embrace throughout the year. I don’t want a “one and done” type of post. I want something that I can write about and revisit time and time again. I want to live it, breathe it, be inspired….every day.

This holiday break, I find myself thinking about my learners a lot. I miss them tremendously. I miss hearing Maia’s stories, Aidyn’s silly jokes, Sarah’s thorough explanation of concepts and I miss talking Eagles football with Nye.  I think about the learning that happens in our live lesson room. Everyday my learners bring it. Some learners come to me excited, happy to absorb new discoveries. Some learners come to me in the most extreme circumstances. They may be homeless, hungry,and in troubled times. And yet, these learners come, try and give it their all. I like to think of learning as a wonderful celebration. My learners and I celebrate our writing and blog posts each month by dancing to Celebrate by Kool and the Gang.  Shout outs are given for their math fact accomplishments on Reflex math, we give props and kudos for their JGB projects, and I send them reading certificates for their achievements. But, as I write, I realize that we’re only celebrating their successes.  Would my learners accept their failures better if we acknowledge and, in a way, celebrate them too?

I also miss the team of teachers and colleagues I work with. There are many wonderful and talented professionals I come in contact with everyday. They push and challenge me to do and be my best. I often think about the challenges they work through and the risks they are hesitant to take, but do. When I close my laptop for the day, I still see them…logged on and working into the night. I’m sad to say, I’ve missed opportunities to celebrate them and their hard work. Often times we acknowledge their work and success after the fact. Why don’t we celebrate our colleagues and acknowledge their work more often?

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

-Dr. Seuss

Our lives are filled with millions of simple moments, everyday occurrences that we won’t remember tomorrow. We get through each day while looking forward to and focusing on the big moments: family vacations, friends’ weddings, the arrival of children and promotions. These milestone celebrations are indeed fabulous, but then we turn back to our normal, everyday lives.We all have celebrated moments that are unforgettable.  We freeze special times and make sure we will never forget a treasured experience.

Administrators may hold off until the end of the year to praise teachers on a job well done. Most teachers will celebrate big moments in their classroom from time to time.  Who says that celebrations should only be limited to one day? Who says celebrations should be limited to certain milestones or successes? What if we celebrated a small speck of magic in those everyday moments?

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There are opportunities to celebrate the wonderful little things in our life and in our classrooms, all the time. Sometimes the big things wouldn’t have happened without the accumulation of smaller events along the way. Taking time to celebrate the little things is an opportunity to create strong bonds and relationships; not to mention lasting memories. Acknowledging and celebrating the good, the bad and even the ugly (yes, celebrate the ugly!) helps to make others feel valued, accepted and loved. It may also provide a great model for turning a negative event, an error or mistake, into a positive learning experience. Years into the future, you may not remember the exact reasons for all your small celebrations, but others will remember the joy and ease of being a member of your class or learning network.

 

Don’t wait for a special moment or milestone; celebrate the magic you see in everyday moments. My one word for 2017 is Celebrate.

How will you celebrate everyday moments with your learners and colleagues?

The Underserved Learner

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“The gifted learner continues to be underserved in classrooms across the country”.

I heard this comment often from presenters at the PAGE Conference that I attended a few weeks ago. Pennsylvania’s Gifted Education Conference, PAGE, is an annual conference that brings together gifted educators, school administrators, and parents to learn how to best support gifted children in classrooms and at home. These presenters continued to discuss how gifted students are not receiving an optimal education within the regular classroom primarily because emphasis is placed on low performing subgroups. How can school districts better serve these learners?

Some school districts maintain a pull out gifted support program, that many times, a non-gifted certified teacher may be assigned to teach. Most gifted students are taught in regular classrooms using the same standards to teach regular education learners.  Research strongly suggests that a gifted learners’ motivation and performance declines after prolonged exposure in an unchallenging environment and curriculum. It is this very scenario that is most concerning to me. Why are teachers missing the mark in providing challenging opportunities to their gifted learners?

We spend much time helping our struggling students, more often than not our gifted students are getting left at the wayside. Why isn’t our focus, as educators, on gifted learners who are already performing above the threshold? Does differentiation provide enough latitude to reach these learners?  Why do educators hesitate to approach the gifted learner in their classroom? How can we be sure we’re meeting their unique needs? Indeed, it’s the gifted students in our classroom that require the constant redirection to keep their intelligent minds engaged.

There are many obstacles affecting the education and differentiation of gifted learners in the regular classroom. One being the lack of unfamiliarity teachers have with giftedness. Much of the problem may in fact lie in the lack of training for pre-service and practicing teachers in gifted education. Some teachers may feel that because they differentiate that they therefore are providing a challenging environment to their gifted learners. Often times this differentiation does not focus on the enrichment opportunities our gifted learners need, but rather additional busy work. How is your district addressing professional development for teachers in regards to the gifted learner?

A second area of concern in differentiating for the gifted in the regular classroom is that many teachers believe and require gifted students to keep pace with the rest of the class. They explained that if gifted students are not exposed to the same basic information, they will not perform well on state assessments. Some teachers also cite difficulty in finding and utilizing resources, lack of planning time, and lack of administrative support for differentiating practices as obstacles. I can find a slew of books that focus on innovation, tech tools and growth mindset. But very few on addressing the gifted child. Why is that? What resources do your teachers use to approach the gifted learner? How much planning time is devoted to the gifted learner in your district?

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Implementing a few teaching strategies into your daily routine can greatly assist the gifted learner.

Customize with Bloom’s Taxonomy

As teachers, we know that time is not on our side. We don’t have the luxury to customize every learner’s curriculum. Bear in mind, this doesn’t mean that you should be giving gifted children more work—no student wants that. These learners want meaningful, challenging work, oftentimes in ways that won’t call too much attention to their slightly different activities. Essentially all assignments should offer the student the opportunity to utilize higher level thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation, as defined by Bloom. By using Bloom’s Taxonomy, we can engage gifted learners and cater to their higher-level thinking skills to keep even the most advanced students on their toes.

Accelerated Pace

Pace is related to rate of instruction and management in the classroom. An increased pace does not mean talking fast or moving through core content more quickly. Again, it does not mean adding more activities. It’s about adding greater complexity in thinking and providing depth. It’s about spending less time on background knowledge, offering fewer examples on how to do a task, and giving less teacher led practice. An accelerated pace gives gifted students the opportunity to become independent, and thrive while completing a more rigorous activity.

Involve Parents

Education is about building relationships. The relationships between learner, teacher and parent is one that is of most importance. Most of the time you’ll find that parents are their child’s biggest advocate. They want to see that their learner is being challenged. Take the time to show parents your informal assessment, how you determine what information their child will learn, and the pace you associate with each achievement level. By incorporating other adults into your academic game plan, they can also play their part in ensuring their child is maximizing their learning at all times. Work closely and collaborate with parents to see that their child’s needs are being met. Flexibility and a willingness to think differently can create win-win situations.

Gifted students need teacher advocates that care about them, understand them, and can provide differentiation in the classroom, that will help them feel challenged and achieve success. By implementing these suggestions, you’ll do more than meet their needs. You’ll be setting them on a path toward developing their talents.

 

Focus on Hope

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So many posts about the election results on social media today. It was too depressing to even log on. So many people crying, complaining, wringing their hands of what’s to come and worrying for our children and the future. I am worried about our future. I am worried for our children. But it’s not Trump that worries me. It’s the way we are modeling change that we don’t agree with.

I was quite shocked at behavior that was shown during the election, but I guess that is the state of society nowadays. We scold children for being mean to others but, it’s perfectly normal for adults to say horrible things to friends that don’t have the same political views. We tell students to persevere through difficult times. But we throw out how we should move to a different country and abandon ours. We tell children to not be a spoiled sport, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. And yet, here are grown adults voicing over and over again that the “winner” – our President Elect is a –  “loser”.

Trumps degrading words, attitude and phrases that he uses scare me. Yes, I will not lie. I am not 100% on board. But I refuse to stoop to his level.

I know I influence my children and my learners more than Trump ever could. What scares me though, are the adults, parents and friends that have been using similar degrading phrases back at Trump. Do you not see the similarity? You are modeling his behavior. Would it be ludicrous to say maybe our President Elect will change his ways? It’s possible. I’ve seen it.

I remember one school year, my administrators called me into the office to discuss a learner I was to receive the following year. They sat me down and shared some information. He was a tough kid. He did and said some not so nice things. He was being placed with me. I remember thinking “How am I going to reach him? How am I going to have my learners accept him? How am I going to embrace him?” Now, many teachers would probably have persuaded administration to not have him placed in their room. I enjoy challenges. I can deal with change, I knew it was going to be okay.

As I look back, I don’t remember how it happened or when it happened. I just know that by working WITH this learner, by accepting him and his faults, by modeling compassion and empathy…he began to change. He began to blossom. He was invited to a friend’s house and later in the year a classmate’s birthday party.  We embraced him and he followed our example. I didn’t change my love for my students. I didn’t show my frustrations or anger. I didn’t change myself in anyway. I lead the change with the love that was in my heart, the passion that I have for my learners and learning. I met my learner where he was. I accepted him and because I did, he learned a valuable life lesson and so did I.

Can we meet President Elect Trump where he is? Can we model the change that we hope to see? Maybe this lesson is a life lesson of acceptance and compassion for you, maybe it’s for the President Elect, maybe it’s for all Americans. Can you lead the change with your heart? Will you?

When things don’t go our way, when we hit a snag in the road; we need  to think of other things that we have overcome. We need to think of how we can turn a negative situation into a positive. We need to model compassion and acceptance. As Americans, we need to focus on hope. Isn’t “hope” what America is all about?

Small Packages Lead to Great Innovation

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“There’s so many pieces of candy to choose from!” Sarah said excitedly. “I’m not sure what to pick! I’m getting all confused!”

Every new school year I try to incorporate a new idea, unit, tech tool…something…into my lessons. I’ve realized that for me and my teaching…new is a must, I am not a rinse and repeat teacher; I like taking risks.

This year I signed up for George Couros’ Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC course. I had constructed a unit over the summer, Creativation, and thought the course would be a perfect opportunity to try out my unit.

My inquiry based unit infused DeBono’s  Six Thinking Hats method to assist learners in a debonohatsgreater understanding of their critical thinking and problem solving skills. When I studied DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats in college, I automatically connected with it. I am a thinker. I use these hats when putting forth an idea or discussing a concept. Naturally, my lessons and created units emulate this as well. By using this model, it will require my learners to look at a problem with different types of thinking.  Each type of thinking is represented with a hat color, and at the end of the discussion, learners should have a better understanding of the problem from different approaches in order to reach a highly creative and innovative solution.

My unit revolved around issues, dilemmas and problems that would arise from my children’s everyday life. For example, my daughter Sarah continues to get monkey bar callouses; how can we construct monkey bars to alleviate this? Change the design or add a garment to wear? The assessments were formulated, the lessons were constructed, the materials were gathered and made, and I felt confident in my plan. I was pumped…then the #IMMOOC course started.

When George Couros does something…he does it BIG. Go BIG or Go Home must be his motto. There were over a thousand people signed up for the #IMMOOC course. He also had assistance from Katie Martin, a passionate educator and Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego. I signed up to every #IMMOOC  Facebook page and even an #IMMOOC group on Voxer. I received constant updates about the course and various challenges from George and Katie. The highlight was tuning into their #IMMOOC YouTube channel for guest interviews, words of encouragement and ideas.

There were a plethora of ideas. Ideas were coming at me so fast, and so furiously, my head was spinning. I was reading blogs, watching the videos and listening to other’s ideas on Voxer. The more ideas I came into contact with, the more I doubted my own unit and plan. The more I read, the more confused I became. This confusion led to more doubt. The more I doubted, the more I hesitated to proceed. The more I hesitated, the more I began to think and re-think my work.

athis My question then became, can large group collaboration hinder innovation?

When innovating, is it best to innovate independently at the start, then after some time, bring forth ideas to a small group of others?

Is there something to be said about innovation and small group work?

When I think of innovation, I naturally think of Steve Jobs.  Many see him as an inventor, however I do not. He began with an idea to make something better, and from that idea, asked others to assist with his product. He didn’t invent the technology for his products, but he found ways to use the inventions of others to bring forth innovation that could benefit everyone. He worked independently at the start, then consulted with his tribe. Does innovation have an independent side?

I greatly enjoy the podcast, Coaching For Leaders with Dave Stachowiak. In his post, “This One Process Change Will Drive Innovation“, he mentions how beneficial it can be for participants to brainstorm independently, and then (after a few days) release their ideas to a small group. He continues to say that there is less immediate judgement; that everyone’s ideas are heard and discussed. Because of this, there are more diverse contributions. There isn’t a “run with this one idea and leave the rest behind” moment. All ideas are considered.There are many avenues, but one main road to focus on.

As I continue to reflect on the #IMMOOC, I realize I became lost. There were so many wonderful ideas and interesting viewpoints, I could not keep up with them all. As a learner, I was overwhelmed; hence my lack of participation in the course. My take away is simple; innovation needs collaboration, but in small doses. This small group needs independent time to think, brainstorm, and construct ideas. Once all ideas are presented, that small group can elaborate, and even collaborate with other sub-groups, before considering all input and choosing a clear path. It’s difficult to state an idea, have hundreds of others add to it, then know what direction to go. I will continue on with my unit. I will ensure my learners have independent time to brainstorm and reflect, as well as contribute to their small collaborative group.

This #IMMOOC course gave me a better understanding of the importance of collaboration and innovation. It helped me to understand that great innovation comes in small packages.

Scratch the Itch

I have a love/dislike relationship with running. I love taking to the road and feeling the wind on my face. I especially love running during the season of autumn. I dislike running on the treadmill during winter and I dislike the hills that make my knees hurt. Recently, I have been feeling the itch to try something new.

Hiking is not something I thought I would be excited about. When I think of hiking I think of the Alps, walking sticks and backpacks. I think of absorbing nature, slooooowly. Slow doesn’t appeal to me. I am not a fast runner, but I love speed. Would hiking satisfy this need?

This past weekend I decided to hike a trail near my home. Mt. Tammany is a trail that appealed to me because of the views I had heard about from others. There are two scenic overlooks on the “red dot” trail. When I researched the hike, I saw it was a moderate hike with a steep incline and an elevation of over 1,400 feet. I’ve run many miles, so therefore, I felt I could do this.

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I set out on a sunny, but cool autumn morning. I was surprised how many other hikers were there mapping out their hike, checking their backpacks, and getting their walking sticks ready. I felt sort of foolish at first, looking for the “red dots” on the trees and rocks. As I began, I kept hearing this annoying yodeler from the Price is Right game “Cliff Hangers”. How did this pop into my head?
Up and up I went. I felt good at first, but a bit later I began to tire. How many more boulder stairs do I have to climb? They all began to look the same. Other hikers were passing me, “Good morning!” they cheerfully  said. “Morning” I said back to them out of breath. I began to count my steps and rest after 20.
Finally, I reached the first look out. It was so worth the grueling hike. I felt victorious and this victory fueled my energy to climb to the next look out.


I was on such a high & rush from the view, I set off for the top of Mt. Tammany. I was pumped! I can do this!

img_1495Higher and higher I climbed eager to get to the top.

But then… I began to lose steam once again.

The boulders looked the same.

The hiker I had said “good morning” to earlier, lapped me!

“Hey you’re almost there!”, he cheered.

“Did you just lap me?” I asked in disbelief.

He smiled an easy smile.

What did he mean almost?

 

I kept looking for the bright blue sky, knowing that would mark the closeness of the lookout. So many doubts swirled in my head. Maybe hiking isn’t for me. Why did I think I could do this? I am so out of my league! Should I turn around? Yes, sadly, I had even thought of going back. I am not a quitter. I have never quit anything (or backed down from a dare) in my life! It seemed like forever before I found that blue sky. Once I did, I crawled, on hands and knees, to see the view.

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I sat there admiring the view for quite some time. This hike  provided an opportunity for me to reflect and come to terms with a few things. I thought about my life, family and my passion. I thought about the similarities between this journey  and teaching.

At the base of the mountain, I see complacent conviction. I see teachers who have a stride and pace they love. They have lessons and units that they’re comfortable with. They are not interested in change and they don’t climb mountains. They do not scratch the itch.

Some teachers at the base will want to scratch that itch of change. They don’t ask for permission. They start off excited for a new adventure, when difficulty causes a bump in the road, they will question themselves and be filled with doubt. This is such a critical point. Without encouragement and support from colleagues and administration, some teachers will go back to the base of the mountain, longing for that familiar stomping ground. Only a few will persevere through. These teachers are educational pioneers, true leaders.  They are never stagnant. They don’t ask, they do.

What will you do when the itch of change calls on you? Will you scratch that itch? Will you take that risk? Will you see it through? As for me, well …I will be looking for another trail and mountain to hike. I suppose, a mountain that can induce a modesty in me …and really kick my ass!

The Importance of Building Bridges

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Directions were given. Materials were handed out. I walked quietly as to not disturb them.

Our learners were working in groups. They had numbered materials and images of various bridges. Their task sounded simple; create a bridge connecting 2 tables in the room.

Some groups began brainstorming ideas, other groups began construction immediately. There was one group…the second grade/third grade group…who had questions. I proceeded to assist.

Can we build from the floor up?

No.

Can we use pre-existing structures?

No.

Does it have to be a certain length?

No.

What if we run out of materials, can we have more?

No.

Can we choose more than one bridge design and blend them together?

Sure.

Is there a weight requirement?

Yes.

“We’re done!” I hear from across the room. I walk over to see their bridge. This group of fourth grade boys used 2 sheets of paper taped together to reach the other table, no support of any kind underneath. They mentioned it was “pavement”. I noticed the group of boys fooling around as I examined it. How would you lay the pavement down if there is nothing, not even land, to support it? I asked. They looked at each other, unsure of how to answer. “Keep thinking my friends”,  I said.

I proceeded to the fifth grade group which consisted of all boys. These boys partnered up within the group. Unlike the fourth grade group, the two pairs seemed confident. Each pair were discussing ideas and occasionally would share info with the others . They constructed a rope and wood (popsicle stick) bridge. The bridge seemed well constructed but the group had difficulty deciding how to attach it securely to the ends of each table. They decided on tape,  one piece of scotch tape at each end. They asked for the weights to see how they did. The rope and wood bridge held one weight. However, when a second was added it fell between the center of the two tables.”Don’t be discouraged, you all showed great thinking, keep working on it”, I said.

I watched my second and third grade girls work on their woven truss bridge. They used popsicle sticks for the base, that spanned the length of two tables. They wove Wikki sticks…like a woven basket… and attached them to the sides. “I think we need to add arches underneath for more support” one student said. “If this was a real bridge how would they know how much it would hold?”  another student asked. “They probably would just drive cars over it to make sure”, another answered. “Nah, I think they use some sort of math to figure it out” someone else said matter of factly. “How could we make sure this bridge stays in place? Tape isn’t strong enough for this!”, a member chimed in.

This second-third grade group does not ask for assistance. They do not rush. They are on the floor, on the table, upside down and viewing their bridge from every angle. They were thinking out loud, experimenting and trying various ideas. They were accepting of ideas and willing to take risks. They discussed and talked throughout.

As I observe these groups, I can’t help but think of the different approaches each group took. I can’t help but think how, as teachers, we can fall into similar groupings. Some teachers will rush just to be the first to try out the latest idea or buzz word. These teachers hardly ever collaborate, only because they see collaboration as competition, they may also feel intimidated by others. Inevitably, they will also have to back track and reteach alone. Other teachers will construct and execute good solid lessons with a partner. Their lessons are student centered and teacher driven, but they may have missed the target on an area or two. Two is better than one mentality can bring success as well as oversights. Other teachers will work together as a team to examine all avenues and ensure success. They communicate and share ideas; they take risks and work through problems. Most importantly they continue to question it all, seeking answers together.

I’ve been apart of these groups during my career in education. I’ve been on amazing teams. Teams that worked together, each of us playing a pivotal role in our grade level’s success. I’ve partnered with another teacher. This partnership of helping and guiding each other through new curricula, a new frontier. This partnership can be non threatening, simple and so powerful.  I’ve also worked alone, not by choice. I worked alone because others did not feel the need to progress or to seek change. Choosing to abide by the status quo. This isolation is the most difficult to bear. I often wonder why teachers would want it this way.

If there is something I believe in when it comes to collaboration, I believe in this…

“The greatest resource that teachers have, are other teachers”

 

But sadly, teamwork and collaboration are not commonly found in schools. What keeps teachers from supporting their team and being a team player? Building a team based culture requires administration to set aside time and emphasize the importance of teacher teamwork instead of simply suggesting that it occur on its own. These meaningful conversations can open doors for sharing, for encouragement and insights while establishing the empathy that drives all great schools. Teamwork should not be optional.

With all the change that teachers are implementing in their classrooms, isn’t now the time to increase collaboration opportunities, be they formal or informal?  Does your school make space for teachers to engage in deep conversations about teaching and learning? Where and when do your best conversations with colleagues take place? I think the time has come to build bridges between teachers to strengthen their teams. How else can our students use us as their support structure?

Grow Their Brain

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How do you grow a brain? It’s Saturday morning and I’m deep in thought. I’m revising a growth mindset unit for the following week. After 18 years, I still begrudgingly work on Saturdays. Why is it that teachers don’t like to write lesson plans, but like to be prepared?

This week was the kick off to our Growth Mindset unit.  This inquiry based mini unit focuses on praise, empathy, grit, risk taking, reflection and feedback. It also includes collaborative projects and team building activities.  My learners become familiar with Kid President Pep Talk videos and his words of wisdom and encouragement. It will also be the foundation for our creativity and innovation (creativation) sessions for George Couros‘, The Innovator’s Mindset Online Course #IMMOOC.

Why begin our innovation course with Growth Mindset?

Well, I think about a fixed mindset and growth mindset this way: If teachers or learners subscribe to a common belief that things are good…right here, right now…and not progress forward in any way, the result will be, okay at best (fixed mindset). This way of thinking will most likely not produce anything innovative. If teachers and learners think freely, embrace change (rather than the status quo) they are more likely to create environments that produce risk taking and creative solutions. In other words, a growth mindset will lead to innovative solutions.

When it comes to innovation, I feel a fixed mindset will squash creativity. If my gifted and talented learners believe their innate skills and their current level of intelligence is what helps them succeed, they will fail to recognize the power of continuous learning. They will fail to recognize what they may become.

Can we change a learner’s mindset? How can we best cultivate, nurture and operate a growth mindset within our classroom of learners to drive innovation?

I enjoy constructing units of study. My previous school district did not have a “textbook series” for Language Arts, Social Studies, or Math, when I first started teaching 1st grade, 15 years ago. Our lessons reflected best practices, our learners interests, and each individual teacher’s unique style. They were authentic and real. It’s easy to ditch a textbook, when you never relied on one.

This Growth Mindset unit is called “Growing Our Brain” and it begins with a mini lesson which focuses on the impact of praise. We discuss what praise is, why we give it, what phrases we’ve heard, and how it feels when we work hard on something and then DON’T receive praise. You know, you put your blood, sweat and tears into a project and your work is over looked. OUCH.

As we were discussing this, the conversation turned towards failure and how our learners deal with it. So, I shared two quotes about failure, one from Michael Jordan and one from Thomas Alva Edison. I asked my learners to analyze and interpret these quotes. Some wrote down their ideas, others struck up a conversation. When their responses began to sound similar (they’re about not giving up); I asked them to go deeper, and use their critical thinking skills. I waited patiently. Then, a learner’s profound statement came. He said…

“If we keep trying, and keep trying, and don’t stop trying then we don’t fail. We don’t fail because we’re still trying…we’re still working it out! Failure is when we stop, when we give up. We gotta keep going. Don’t let failure win.”

~ 3rd Grade learner, G&T, Commonwealth Charter Academy

Whoa. My learners “get it”. They understand an important part of Growth Mindset is grit and perseverance. It’s about the process, and sticking with the problem until they figure it out. They begin to understand that their “giftedness” is not so much an innate ability they have, but they can grow their intelligence, continuing their learning. Challenges and working through them will grow their brain. Most importantly, they realize they can succeed in areas that they don’t feel strongly in. They just need to stick with it and grow their brain.

How do you help your students grow their brain? What foundation will you lay for your learners to innovate? How will you do this? Will you adopt a growth mindset? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation Is A Hot Mess

 

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Every September this working mom feels like a hot mess. Unfortunately, the start of the school year is always busy for our family. I have three very adorable, very active kids. I teach all day and I drive home to do the after school activity shuffle. Each day, my home gets messier and messier.

One day, I was home in our office thinking about innovation in my virtual classroom.  I have read George Couros‘ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, a few times. It’s phenomenal and I can not encourage teachers enough to get the book, read it, and share your thoughts. I have also signed up for his online course that mirrors the ideas in the book. My next few blog posts will reflect how I will be incorporating my innovation sessions (Creativation) into my virtual lessons. Yes, I  have a plan…I think!

For those of you who may not know, I am a cyber teacher. I teach learners online and throughout the year invite them to our family learning center.  I feel I innovate everyday as a cyber educator. I work with some amazing teachers, true innovators and educational pioneers; they are finding ways to enhance learning in a non-traditional school…everyday. No, there are no “how to teach the online learner” books out there, nothing to help us (Dave Burgess, you listening?). We focus on pedagogy and best practices just like every teacher out there, but we do it online. I feel we are at the fore-front of providing rich, thought provoking, innovative lessons to all learners regardless of where they live (inner city, rural, suburbia) in the state of Pennsylvania.

As I look around our messy home office, strewn with back to school calendars, sport forms and paper work, the questions begin to swirl around in my head…

What conditions are ideal for creative innovation?

How important is the working environment to innovation?

Are there ready made barriers in classrooms or cyber rooms that could discourage students and impede innovation?

All of my learners are home schooled and each of their home environments’ are different. Some live in more urban areas, in small apartments, others may live in homes or on rural farms. Will one environment provide a better platform for creative innovation than another?

When I think about my gifted and talented class and our innovation sessions, I don’t worry so much about the actual virtual room environment. We see each other via webcams, they talk and interact with one another.Our relationships are strong. We have breakout rooms that provide a small group setting for collaboration and individual work. I know many learners feel comfortable, eager to participate in our lessons and hungry to learn. However, I know some will have difficulty with risk taking. I know many will struggle with multiple solutions. “Is this right?” they will ask. Most gifted and talented learners struggle with growth mindset. Some learners will have a hard time with the amount of freedom to innovate. I am anticipating some sort of issue with generating ideas and being open to others ideas. I have not thought about their physical working environment and it’s possible impact in regards to innovativeness.

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This quote speaks to me and makes me wonder. Could the environment we’re in, lead to more innovative ideas?  I’ve never been a fan of having an extremely messy desk or house, but I’m starting to think I might need to leave it messy more often. It may be time to test this theory. What conditions will you have in place for your learners to innovate?  Will you be changing your physical working environment for learners during your innovation sessions? How? Why?

Going Bananas Over Apps

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This summer was an extremely hot one. Often times the heat index surpassed the 100º mark. It was almost as hot as the Pokémon Go app that came out in early July. I remember being at Sunset Beach, NC with my family, as my children and their friends were playing it. They were trying to find and capture Pikachus, wandering throughout our complex, glued to their iPhone screens. They stumbled over curbs, bumped into people, and were even honked at by passing cars.

A day later, the Twitter buzz on how to bring Pokémon Go into the classroom developed. Before I knew it, there were numerous Twitter Educational Chats and blogs on enhancing units of study with the game. I even tweeted an article about it. As I look back on it, I cringe a bit. I usually don’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I am the fish that swims up stream. I like to question, and want to feel confident in what I am putting out there to my followers. As a cyber educator, I am not skeptical in using apps as learning tools. I use quite a few to enhance learning in my cyber classroom. I’m skeptical in an educator’s need to rush into using them. I have so many questions surrounding the benefits of using the latest app phenomena into a learning environment.

Why do we as educators feel the need to rush into incorporating “the latest app” into our learning?

Are teachers over eager, latching onto the newest apps, for that tiniest sliver of learning, or for an easy connection to their learners?

Is it about the learner or the app?

Are we robbing children of owning something for themselves?

When I look at the numerous apps my own children use (Instagram, Snapchat, PokemonGo, Musical.ly), I can’t help but think that we may be robbing them of the joy of exploration, discovery and ownership. I have seen it with my own children. My daughter Sophia greatly enjoys the arts. As Ms. Creativityshe thinks creatively, and sees things differently. She has even created her own line of plant based lip gloss for teens, infused with vitamins (lip gloss with raspberry juice, and hardened coconut oil). Sophia always finds the next hip app and creates something amazing with it. Musical.ly is an app she greatly enjoys at the moment. She loves to make music videos.When I asked her what app it was and if I could join in, she said, “Mooooom, really? Can’t this just be my thing?” Her comments sounded so similar to my own youth, when my teachers would try to impress a class by reciting lyrics from a popular song. Some learners thought it was cool. But it made us want to find a “new” song because we didn’t like them in “our territory”. We didn’t want our “coolness” to be associated or connected to our teacher or any adult for that matter.

If we as educators rush to incorporate the next best thing, are we robbing our learners of their youthful identity just because we as educators are struggling to reach them?

I feel our learners need an identity. We as teachers don’t need to poach every single thing kids like and try to use it for learning. I think the older the learner gets, the less receptive they are of us, as educators, hijacking their interests. In all honesty, I’m not sure Pokemon Go is the future of learning. The idea of using it in the classroom is still focused around finding things, not around powerful learning ideas, and being empathetic to student needs. Learners need personal connections, more than another learning fad.

The use of Pokémon Go as a learning tool has died down tremendously. I am sure that there will be another new and exciting app around the corner, waiting to be hailed as the next latest and greatest learning tool. As I write this though, I still have many questions surrounding the use of apps in learning. Are we personally experimenting with these new apps, trying to find the connection and relevance of bringing it to our learners?  How do you know which one will be the right one for your classroom environment? Enlighten me. What are your thoughts?

 

Don’t Sweat The List

When MIND is WEAK, situation is problem. When MIND is balanced, situation is challenge. When MIND is strong, situation is opportunity.-2

When I worked at a traditional public school, my friend & colleague would wait…and wait… and wait…impatiently for it. During the month of August, she would check her mailbox everyday, sometimes twice a day hoping to spot it. She would stop at our school secretary’s desk, and ask “Is it ready?!”. She would wait in anticipation for that list. You know which one; THE class list. I never understood the hoopla surrounding the class list. What’s the big deal about that list anyway?

“Who do you have?!” she would ask as she tore the list out of my hands. I watched her eyes dart back and forth feverishly quick as she scanned the list.

“Awe, she’s a cutie pie. This one too! You will love her! ”

“That family is so nice, very supportive!”

“Oh …you got him…he’s trouble, watch out”

“You have 7 special needs kids and no aide…tough year for you!”

I heard what she said about my list, but I didnt pay any attention to her remarks. The names on the list are just that…names on a list. Some teachers spend hours analyzing why they ended up with who they ended up with. I don’t. I believe in fate. I’ve always believed that each learner is different in each and every classroom they enter, for each and every teacher they have, and in each and every group of students they are with. Why analyze?

It’s quite different preparing for a new school year as a cyber school teacher. There aren’t any classrooms to set up; no bulletin boards to do. We don’t wait in line to use the copier. Our set up is much less labor intensive, much less expensive too. However, we do have that list. That class list still brings much anxiety to teachers, even in the cyber school setting.

A few weeks ago, I overheard some teachers discussing their class lists. Each teacher was hopeful for a great bunch of learners, yet their tone of uncertainty was clear. Why were they anxious? What is it about a new group of learners, new families that get teachers worried? I pondered this for quite some time, coming to the conclusion that maybe their uncertainty had to do with a lack of self-confidence. You know, that little shadow of doubt deep within us. It usually peeks through around mid-August.

I did sweat my class list… once. I was teaching 1st grade. On the first day of school I was introduce to a student who never attended preschool, Pre-K, or Kindergarten. I was informed to teach both K and 1st grade curriculum, help her adjust to our setting & day. I worried about her and how accepting other students would be towards her. I remember some colleagues telling me not to do anything different or extra for her. “Treat her like you treat everyone else”, and “It’s not in our contract for you to work with her during these times”. Contract? Knowing what I know about this child, how could I even think of not helping her? How could I put a contract before her needs as a learner? My fear wasn’t a union contract, my fear was not doing enough for her. Can I do all this? Can I help her feel comfortable socially, emotionally, to achieve and accomplish all that we needed to? It was quite a challenge. Luckily, I like challenges.

She worked so hard learning letters, letter sounds, writing her name, identifying sight words. We worked together every chance we could. Maybe other teachers would be upset at a challenge like this, but I didn’t have time to think about that. This was an opportunity for me to challenge myself too. I never questioned why she was placed with me, I just kept focusing on the task at hand and her success and achievement. Her growth and progress was amazing! She left first grade reading on a Fountas and Pinnel level J reader. I will never forget the smile on her face as long as I live.

When I think about the many learners on those lists, I realize that they were placed in my room for a reason. Was I going to be teaching them an important life lesson? Would they be teaching me one? Thanks to each specific list of learners, I learned quite a bit about myself as a teacher. All of the class lists of students I had, helped to shape me into the teacher I am today. My confidence, my patience, my grit, empathy and love came from that list of learners. Each and every learner on that list played a very important part in my role as a teacher. Students on that list shape the teacher. They are our opportunity for change, for growth, for us to become better teachers.

What ever you do, do it to the purpose; do it thoroughly, not superficially. Go to the bottom of things. Anything half done, or half known, is in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads.” ~ Lord Chesterfield

As I think back to that day, overhearing my colleagues, I wish I had spoken up. I wish I had told them what talented educators they are. I wish I had told them that there’s no need to sweat the list because whatever learner comes their way, they would reach them, teach them, inspire and motivate them. I know they’re going to be up at night thinking and planning, writing and revising, correcting and grading, molding and shaping; working to the bone to ensure that their classroom of learners have every opportunity to be successful. I wish I had told them that list doesn’t matter. It’s not that list that ensures you a great class; it’s YOU as a teacher. It’s your acceptance and love for your students, meeting them where they are. It’s overcoming the challenges that present themselves and embracing each student and opportunity. This is what makes a great class and year.