A few posts ago I wrote about our school's personalized PD through ChromeWarrior. Over the last few days a few things have happened that have prompted me to share some of our progress.
Last night, our school held a Book/Maker Fair night. I'll save the details for another post as it was a great experience. One thing that I wanted to talk about was a question I was asked regarding our PD. It was shared that I was the first person to finish Level 3 (out of 4). Apparently, our district is getting ready to roll out the "game" for district wide PD, and the questioner wanted some feedback. While he knows that I am the self-declared "Tech Queen" on campus, it was the others he and I were more interested in. These were the ones I wanted to talk the most about.
Two other people and I are all close in points and game play (one even finished yesterday, whereas I finished only the day before!). We all have different reasons for playing the game quickly and getting high amounts of points. We are a little competitive, but that’s not the biggest reason we play. The person who is right behind me is a (FANTASTIC) special education teacher who does not have a class of her own full time. She wasn't sure how she could play a game for points based on things to do with students in your class. Boy was she wrong. Sometimes she would "borrow" some of my students for activities. She also figured out how to make it work for her without having a class all day. During a discussion about the game, her response for playing was, "I want to be able to help the students when they come to me." What a great reason for professional development. By the way, she retires in 50 days (going to be a hard day for the rest of us for sure!)! As I said in another post, for her, "It's for the students."
A second person who is almost done with Level 3 considers herself so not “techy”. She even made herself a gold star (a fairly large one she wears on her shirt) for when she can figure something out without another teacher or student’s help. The adults who work with her are amazed at how far she has come this year in what she can do, both with technology related activities and fixing tech issues with the Chromebooks or her Smartboard. She doesn’t really need her gold star anymore, but she still proudly puts it on when she does something new and innovative.
Another person I shared about is not anywhere near the top for points or levels. She is slowly chugging along, kind of a Little Engine that Could. Her reason for playing: to learn as much as she can to make her class better. She is completing every activity in all areas, whether it is something to do with her students or herself. She WANTS to learn it, not just get the points or to get to the next level. Without the game, she might not have gone out of her way to learn a few of these things on her own.
The questioner was happy to hear that although I was able to get through the levels quickly, there were activities for me to learn from as well. These typically were things I wanted to try, but never quite found the time or the drive to investigate how to do. The game pushed me to take the risks I kept talking about with the class. I couldn’t have done the activities or leveled up as fast as I did without their willingness to try something new so I felt it only fair to reward them as well. They can’t wait to see what they are getting for the latest reward as this one took us the longest to get through.
Today I was given my Level 3 award, a school t-shirt in bright pink. (Our colors are teal/black so the hot pink stands out, but looks awesome with the teal!). The principal proudly called me up in front of the school during our morning ceremony to show off my “winnings”. My students cheered loudly as they know my win is theirs as well. Other people around campus were clapping too. While there were a few comments that some were not surprised that I was leading and won the shirt (not meant in any negative way), my thoughts went straight to the others who are right behind me going beyond what anyone thought they could do so quickly.
As I await what Level 4 will be (so far it is a secret!), I will help others around campus reach their next stage so that everyone, especially the students, will get the benefit of completing all the activities that makes our school so great.
This past week I attended the National CUE conference in Palm Springs. There were many reasons to attend the conference, but one of the best was getting to hear George Couros speak. His book Innovator's Mindset is inspirational. Hearing him in person was even more so. (Yes, I have a little #educrush.) Of the many things I enjoyed from Mr. Couros's talk, the one that resonated the most was about making the positive louder than the negative.
While leaving one of the sessions a colleague of mine overheard a very dissatisfied attendee. He was complaining that the conference needed to be more organized in what they offered. He felt he was "above" whatever session he had just attended in terms of technology. Apparently he didn't understand that he could search the online sessions calendar for information geared towards those who were advanced in their tech ability. This is really besides the point. It was the fact that he couldn't find the positive in what he attended. While I found some of my sessions were not quite what I wanted, there was always something I could find. I chose to be positive in my learning. There is a rule to "vote with your feet". It means if you don't like the session you are in, find another one that would work better. Logistically there might be reasons to not leave a session, but there should be something you can get out of anything.
This experience made me think of the students in our classrooms and our colleagues. Students can't just get up and walk out of our classes. They tend to get in trouble if they try (sometimes even when they just need to use the restroom). So how can we ensure that they want to stay? I could talk about how you need to engage your students more, come up with innovative activities, or all of the other things I have written (or will write about) in my blog. However, it really is the relationship that a teacher has with the students that makes them want to stay. For them, YOU might be the only positive they have.
Recently, I was told of two occasions where there wasn't a lot of positive where students were concerned. One was a meeting for a student possibly going into special education. Thankfully no student was there. What made me incredibly sad about the situation was that there was nothing said about the student that was positive. Every child has something good. Why wasn't it shared at the meeting? The teacher who shared this experience with me was an outsider asked to attend. We were both appalled that no adult could find the positive. How do those adults affect the child when he/she is in their presence? Another occasion that was related to me was a teacher who was struggling with this year's class. The students tend to ignore directions/instruction and struggle with academics. The teacher has tried many things with the students, they are just a tough class (we've all had those). Unfortunately reaction to the class made it worse. Instead of praising those who are doing well, there was a lot of negative. The students have no reason now to listen or learn.
We all have our bad days. There are some where I walk into the classroom and tell my students I am not in a good mood. Some experts have said you should try to "fake it until you make it". In other words, pretend to be in a good mood, even if you aren't. Most of the time I agree. However, there are days you just can't. It's ok for students to see that you are not always at your best. I want them to see that I am not perfect, nor do I want them to be. With that said, I do let them know it is a temporary thing and their behavior/concern usually gets me out of whatever it was that got me in the wrong place to start with.
As Mr. Couros said, "We need to make the positives so loud, that the negatives are impossible to hear." Find at least one positive in each student/class/session. Will you be the positive that makes the student want to be in your classroom or the negative that gives them another reason to want to leave?
My "Blog-versary" is coming up in a week. I thought of doing a recap of what I have talked about and learned over the last year. However, between the great wisdom shared by @CoriOrlando in her "Yeah, but ..." blog and various conversations in my recent experiences, I decided I needed to share my own answers to those who are not sure they are ready for a change in education.
1. Flexible Seating - I'm starting with this one because it is usually the biggest question mark for those who find out about my classroom. Many have asked how I keep the students from misbehaving or talking too much. The answers here are pretty easy. First, I want them talking. Collaboration is a HUGE part of what we do. After students finish their schooling, most will not go into a career where they aren't going to work with other people in some way, whether working with co-workers or clients. If we teach our students that you are not working if you are talking, they will not learn how valuable sharing information can be. Secondly, most "misbehaviors" teachers complain about (and I used to be one) was about students who couldn't sit still or moved around the classroom at inappropriate times. Having various seating options and the ability to move the furniture to fit the needs of the moment have prevented most of these students from needing to fidget or get out of their seats. We still have moments where they are working independently and stay where they are, but because I have yoga balls, rocking chairs, and bounce bands to name just a few options, very few of my students are needing to leave their seat. It's for the students that I have flexible seating.
2. Technology - Another big question I get a lot has to do with using technology. If I think back to what really started my switch in education, it is having the ability to use technology. While we are currently 1:1 with Chromebooks, we weren't always that way. Tech is second nature to today's students. Instead of fighting it, I am embracing it as a great resource. Knowing how to use the internet and technology in general for more than just social media is an important skill. Why not start encouraging appropriate use in elementary school? Many teachers say that they don't have the time to look at what is out there because there is too much. I find that I have way more time now that I have chosen to use tech in the classroom than when I was running off hundreds of worksheets or correcting too many workbook pages of boring questions/problems. Others say they just don't understand how to use it. Classrooms have the ultimate resource: students. Have them show you how to use it, or better yet, LEARN TOGETHER. Students love when they get to show off their skills or a teacher that is willing to take a risk with them. The best resource for technology is TWITTER. I don’t mean get on it and follow your favorite celebrities (although eduheros are pretty cool!) or post about your food. I mean use it for education. I only follow people with something to do with education. Join a chat or several. When I get stuck or need an idea, my PLN (personal learning network) on Twitter is often my go-to source. No longer am I limited by personal contacts (mine do rock though!). The world has become my resource. It’s for the students that I use technology and Twitter.
3. Going Paperless - While I am not 100% paperless in my classroom, we have definitely saved more than our fair share of trees. We still use paper to write an occasional essay or to create our PBL or Makerspace activities. Students need the physical act of writing or hands-on activities that involve paper to be successful. However, we spend most of our day using technology that makes all of our lives easier and more engaging. My go to for paperless is Google Classroom. Students receive their basic activity instruction from here. Once they have it though, they are free to use the internet as they need. We've used many resources outside GSuite that have enhanced what they are doing. They aren't just learning information, they are creating products to reinforce what they understand. Currently the class is exploring how to use more video in their projects. These activities allow me to dig deeper into what they know than if I gave them a piece of paper with a bunch of questions/problems. It's for the students that I choose to go mostly paperless.
4. Not using the textbook - I have not blogged about this one, but it is another big part of my class. It's not that I'm against the textbook as a resource for the students to use as they gain information. What I have a problem with is going page by page and doing what the manuals tell the teachers to do/say. First, the publishers don't know my students. Even if they differentiate in their guides, they may only have three levels of instruction and I have 5. Besides, for students who work independently doing a workbook page, are they really learning anything other than to complete a few problems they will never see outside the classroom? My alternative instruction comes from different sources. While I may not follow all of the components of a true PBL (project based learning, a big part of our instruction) for every activity we do, the students are involved in hands-on, real-life, collaborative projects (usually with at least one technology component) that take their learning well beyond what a worksheet could provide. Other avenues of instruction come from #MysterySkype, #hyperdocs (great for differentiation and reflection!) and BreakoutEdu. It's for the students that I do not use a textbook.
5. Time - While it's usually not the last question I get asked, it is part of every conversation. How do you have time to do everything you do. Simple. It’s my passion. It has been since I was 9. That being said it has not always been easy. What I found is that the more I'm having the students take control over (such as create a project for ____ instead of do this worksheet I copied while standing there doing nothing else) the more time I have. Work in the evenings or on weekends has become WAY less. I might spend extra weekend time going to a conference (or 10) but it will save me time later when I try new and innovative activities in the classroom. When you have a passion it no longer feels like work, at least for me. There are rough days, but the more fun we have the more time I seem to have outside of school to spend with my family and friends. Not sure if this is really the case or not, but it doesn’t seem to matter because it’s for the students.
There will always be those people who don’t agree with what I’m doing (although parents and several others in education are enjoying what I am doing almost as much as the kids). Hopefully I have inspired a few to take a risk and just try one new thing or give one less worksheet or workbook page. This blog ended up being more of a reflection of past blogs and activities than I thought it would. That's ok. In the end, it’s for the students that I do it all.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching