Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

Monthly Archives: September 2019

To say that the summer of 2019 was tremendous is an understatement. Besides having time to spend with family and friends, I enjoy having extra time in the summer to participate in professional learning opportunities and to connect with educators from around the world. As educators, it is important that we continue learning and involving ourselves in opportunities to build our own skills and also to contribute to the personal and professional growth of others. I am fortunate to have been asked to be one of the writers for this year’s Education Write Now book.

In July, ten of us met in Boston for three days to work on chapters that will become part of Volume 3 of Education Write Now, a book whose proceeds will go toward The Will to Live Foundation, a non-profit organization founded to support teen suicide prevention. The time together started with a welcome from Jeff, an introduction to what the organization does, and an opportunity to hear from John Trautwein, a father who lost his son to suicide. John created The Will to Live Foundation to honor his son and to provide support for other families and their children.

It was an honor to be a part of this project and work alongside and collaborate with Jeff Zoul, Sanee Bell, David Guerin, Josh Stumpenhorst, Jennifer CasaTodd, Danny Steele, Katie Marin, Ross Cooper, and Lynell Powell. It was a great experience, although initially, the thought of writing a chapter within a short period of time of two days was a little bit stressful. However, having that time to work together, have peer feedback time, to listen and share out what we were writing with the other collaborators, made all the difference. It just reaffirmed the importance of connections and building those professional relationships. We need to make time to share what we are doing in our classrooms, exchange ideas, solve problems together, and embrace risks and face the challenges that are part of education today, but to do so with a supportive network.

The theme for this year was “Solutions to Common Challenges in Your School or Classroom.” In thinking about this theme, I decided to write about teaching in isolation and sharing my own story of how I chose to be isolated for many of my years of teaching. In my chapter, I explore how isolation happens and offer ways for educators to escape what can sometimes become an isolating profession.

Here are a few excerpts from my chapter, Chapter 2: Choosing to teach in isolation is a choice to isolate our students from a world of learning opportunities.

Have you ever experienced any of the following?

You have to make your very first phone call home to a parent and you are worried that you won’t say the right thing.

You are going to be observed for the first or fifteenth time, and you are worried that you will make a mistake or not use the right instructional strategies. The class starts in five minutes.

How many of these statements can you relate to? For each one, think about if you reached out to someone or just kept it to yourself. Did you choose isolation rather than asking for help?

Clarity:

You are not alone

For years I struggled with classroom management and student behaviors. Rather than ask for advice, explore resources, or try to work it out by talking with my students, I kept it to myself and did my best to make it through each day. I hoped for improvement, but I did not actively try to make changes. I did not ask for help or even talk about the problems that I was having. I did not know where to begin but at that time, so I thought that I was better off keeping it to myself. My biggest mistake was hiding in my classroom and not reaching out to colleagues or other educator friends.

Isolation is not something new

Life as an educator, trying to complete everything that we need to can lead to a career spent in isolation if we let it.

Ten ways to break free or avoid isolation

There is so much potential for connecting regardless of where we are and the amount of time we have. We must take the first step and just start somewhere. We can leverage technology to check-in with colleagues, even if they teach next door to you. Sometimes seeing our neighbors does not happen on our busy days, which are most days. There are ways to stay connected while driving to and from school, taking a walk, wherever you are and on your schedule.

In the end

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone.

You are not alone in feeling like you do, like the job is difficult, or there are too many things to remember, too many initiatives to keep up with.

We all understand the importance of asking for help; Those who achieve big things are the ones who accept it when it’s offered. Simon Sinek

The choice is now yours, how do you want to connect?

 

Be sure to check out next week’s post from Jennifer Casa-Todd, Chapter 3 “The Challenge: Broadening our Definition of Literacy.”

 

This post is sponsored by Abre. Opinions expressed are my own.

The story behind Abre

Beyond knowing what a particular tool does or how a platform works and the benefit for educators, families, and schools, I enjoy getting to know the people behind the tools. Understanding their story and motivation for creating their product helps to make a more authentic connection with them. I had the chance to speak with Damon Ragusa, CEO of Abre and Don Aicklen, VP of Sales, to learn more about the platform and what it offers for education.

What is Abre?

Abre is a platform that grew out of a need to help schools provide more for educators, students and the school community at large. Chris Rose and Zach Vander Veen, co-founders of Abre, noticed that there were so many different apps and tools being used in education that it was becoming challenging to keep everyone informed consistently. The concern was that staff, students and parents were using multiple tools which led to an increase in confusion and the amount of time needed to manage them. Chris and Zach then created this platform for use within school districts.

Why Abre?

Parents, educators, administrators, and students need to be able to exchange important school information, access school data, track student progress, and facilitate communication between home and school efficiently. The challenge with multiple apps and tools being used throughout one school system is that it becomes more difficult to keep everyone connected as they need to be. Now school districts have a better way to solve the disconnect and provide more streamlined communication, school news, access to critical information like student data and software solutions to carry out the daily work. The answer is Abre.

How does Abre help?

Abre offers so much within one platform that it resolves many of those challenges initially identified by the founders and that are still faced by many schools and districts. Without having to manage multiple logins and learn a variety of single-purpose systems, Abre helps educators to save time, reduce paper, create digital workflows and offer a highly efficient way to exchange information. The value in Abre is through the connected software apps, which makes it easier for teachers to use tools that will positively benefit students and learning. In addition to the teacher, there are many other benefits for school- and district-based usage. Abre provides easy access to a wide variety of student data in one place for staff and parents to obtain information directly from school, without the need for multiple tools and extra time. It also provides students and parents with exactly what they need to feel connected to the school community via announcements and headline features. Administrators can explore how Abre promotes a better workflow and enhances collaboration within the school community for a typical school day.

Comprehensive and Consolidated

Abre provides a single hub for all school and school-home related communication for staff, students and parents. It streamlines many of the important and required tasks that need to happen in schools and helps to reduce the number of apps being pushed out and the time required to become familiar with a new system. Using Abre, parents will be more connected to the school and have access to information when they need it. With one consolidated platform, it resolves the problem of knowing where to find information or keeping up with multiple apps used in different classes and by the school.

Single Sign-On and Integrations

It is easy to sign-in to the Abre platform whether using Google or Microsoft or even Facebook for parents. Once logged in, Abre users are automatically signed into many of the apps provided to them via the Abre platform.

Privacy

When deciding on a digital tool or a platform to use in our schools, it is important to first verify that it is in compliance with COPPA and FERPA. Abre is compliant with both.

Teacher Benefits

There are many integrations available within the platform to enhance student learning. As a classroom teacher, several of these apps caught my attention and are tools that I use in my class such as Duolingo, Flipgrid, and Quizlet. Being able to use these within one platform would save time and I believe encourage other teachers to implement more digital tools in the classroom. For schools using Learning Management systems like Moodle or Schoology, Abre can connect to and enhance these tools as well as replace functionality. Teachers have access to everything they need to enhance workflow for curriculum planning and instruction as well as professional learning and much more.

Consistency is important

Personally, I have used anywhere between four and six different apps and websites to complete a variety of tasks for attendance, grading, assessments, communication, and student projects. Abre provides solutions with all of this functionality. My next post will speak to the main solutions, beyond the hub, that Abre provides.

To learn more, check into Abre and get started with a demo today!

Guest Post by Kim Weber, LINC Transformation Agent,@mskimbaweb 

 

Throughout my work in schools as a LINC Coach, there is a concern consistently expressed by teachers; one that results in the biggest deterrent for those who are beginning to transform their teaching practice by leveraging technology: What do I do when students misuse or break the rules for technology?

Just about any teacher who is using technology has encountered this in one form or another. For those of us at the early stages of implementing blended learning, this can be the roadblock that stops us in our tracks. We spend hours (at home) finding and figuring out the perfect digital tool that will enhance students’ learning. We introduce it with so much gusto, it sounds like we’re about to announce the winner of the lottery. We are well-prepared: all devices are charged, apps loaded, logins created, and we even have an offline back-up plan. We get the kids up and running, and are all set to work with a small group on targeted instruction, and you hear it…the giggling. You see it…the repeated covert glances at you. And you immediately know, they’ve broken the trust and digital contract that you and the students thoughtfully created to be the foundation of this type of learning. Most likely they’ve gone to an inappropriate website, broken a cell phone rule, vandalized classmates’ work on a shared document, or any other creative, disruptive shenanigans they’ve concocted. (Student innovation in this department is legendary.)

What comes next varies, but it often goes like this:

  • Stop the entire class.
  • Lecture everyone about the rules that were broken.
  • Close and collect all devices.
  • Switch to that offline (probably traditional) activity you had planned but didn’t really want to use.
  • Divvy out appropriate punishment to those who committed the transgression.

It is no surprise that many teachers feel uncertain about how to address these types of issues. According to a recent ISTE article,New OECD Report Shows Major Gap in Preparing Teachers to Use Technology Effectively, “In the U.S., only 45% of teachers stated that they were ‘well prepared’ or ‘very well prepared’ for the use of information and communication technology for teaching, the lowest rating of all dimensions ranked.”

I’ve developed some alternative approaches for addressing these difficult technology-related issues in our classrooms to help teachers feel more prepared:

First – View this as a teachable moment for the student(s) involved and the entire class. These are often the same kids who would find some other way to disrupt the learning in a traditional lesson. I once heard an educator explain it this way:

In the past, when a student would throw a pencil, a teacher would take the child aside and sternly explain that he/she could have poked someone’s eye out. Then, with the rise of a cautionary eyebrow, the teacher hands back the pencil back with a directive to get back to work. Conversely, our common reaction when students make poor choices with technology is to immediately confiscate the device and have the student “do something else.” Chances are that “something else” does not afford this student access to the same rich, personalized, engaging work you had planned. 

I suggest you consider alternatives to removing technology as it may not be the most effective response. These transgressions are moments that lend themselves to restorative practices and require patience, flexibility, and thoughtful actions on our part. At the heart of a restorative practice approach, the person who makes the mistake has the opportunity to be held accountable for their actions and repair the harm. By using restorative practices, you create a safe space for students to develop critical life skills and learn from their mistakes. This is often more productive than a response that is punitive in nature and stops the student from having access to learning.

Second – It’s never too late to revisit the contract and shared visioning work you did before you introduced technology into your lessons. If you didn’t start your digital instruction with these student onboarding lessons, then now is the perfect time to hit the stop button and do this essential mindset work with students. The key is to first help them understand “the why” of blended learning and second to co-create rules and expectations that help them view technology as a tool and not a toy. LINCspring, our online professional development platform for educators, provides ideas, resources and lesson plan templates that will help you structure this important work. This might also be a good time to show students the technology features that allow you, the teacher, to monitor behaviors such as revision history in Google Docs or how an LMS identifies user names on posts.

Third – In these moments of frustration, I suggest you remember our commitment to preparing students for the world they are entering. Why did we begin blended learning in the first place? Is it something that we can stop doing and still meet our students’ needs? From my observations and personal experiences as a teacher, I have seen blended learning work in ALL learning environments for ALL students. I’ve seen students who were grade levels behind catch up and students who were completely disengaged, engage. Changing the way we teach is challenging work, and the stakes feel higher with technology. It is easy to revert back to methods we are more comfortable with due to fear and loss of control. For inspiration through the rough spots, look to places like Twitter or follow podcasts such as “Cult of Pedagogy.”  Better yet, find someone in your school who can collaborate with you in this work. You can begin by creating PLCs to support one another. Just today, I was observing a blended learning classroom and another teacher walked in and proclaimed, “I want to do this too!”

If you have other strategies for addressing student mistakes with technology, please send me a note at kimweber@linc.education.

Kim Weber, LINC Transformation AgentKim Weber is a Transformation Agent for LINC, the Learning Innovation Catalyst. Before joining LINC, Kim worked for 20 years as a public and private school teacher in California and New York City. She is a presenter and coach for schools across the country who are embarking on school transformation projects that focus on creating classrooms that put students at the center of learning and help teachers become pedagogical problem solvers.

***Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Buncee and Immersive Reader: A Winning Combination for Assistive Learning

For several years, Buncee has been one of my favorite creation tools; both for personal creation needs and for classroom instruction. While there are many digital tools to choose from when it comes to teaching and having our students create, Buncee’s versatility, ease-of-use, and recent integration with Microsoft’s Immersive Reader make it a go-to tool for all creative needs and accessible for students of diverse ages and abilities to learn 21st-Century Skills and express themselves. What my students love the most is that Buncee offers something for everyone, and I love that they love it.

Always keeping their finger on the pulse of their community’s needs, Buncee listens to educators about the needs for our students and takes action to find solutions! Their integration with Immersive Reader is a perfect example of this.

Immersive Reader: It’s About Opportunities to for ALL Students

This summer, Buncee added Microsoft’s Immersive Reader to its platform, increasing accessibility for students and offering more robust ways to learn. Immersive Reader is full-screen accessibility tool, supporting the readability of text in a Buncee for students with dyslexia, visual impairments, and for language learners and their families. Any text added into a Buncee can be translated and read aloud in over 60 + languages.

There are many ways Immersive Reader can enhance the learning opportunities for all students, build their confidence, and create an inclusive classroom environment. The use of Immersive Reader in Buncee will enable students to do more than just create Buncees, it will help them improve reading and language learning skills, while engaging more with the content in authentic and meaningful ways.

Imagine the possibilities for reaching and engaging students and their families who are just learning to read, who may be struggling with identifying parts of speech or word recognition, or who may be coming from non-native English speaking homes. Educators can use Immersive Reader to create lessons, make interactive flashcards for students and also for communicating with families. Being able to provide for students and their families of different backgrounds and learning styles is something that the Buncee team is definitely passionate about and does well!

How Does Immersive Reader Work in Buncee?

There are several ways to help students to build their skills through the different options available within Buncee and using Immersive Reader.

Getting started with Immersive Reader in Buncee is easy. By clicking on the Immersive Reader icon when viewing a Buncee, options pop up that you can work with to help further personalize the learning experience for students. Immersive Reader can then access the text in a Buncee. For example, it is easy to adjust the reading speed and make changes to the font spacing to help students who might need some adjustments in the visual appearance. You can also choose to display the text in shorter lines, or break down the syllables, to help students process the information in ways that meet their needs.

Navigating the Options

I decided to create a Buncee using some of the new 3D objects and also explore the options available through Immersive Reader. When viewing my finished Buncee, clicking the Immersive Reader symbol takes me to a new screen where I have additional options to further personalize the appearance of the creation. For first time users, it is easy to figure out how to adjust the settings. In preview mode, I clicked on the speaker symbol to listen to the text. Students could use this as a way to practice their own pronunciation, especially when using it for language learning, by repeating after the speaker. Students can also build listening comprehension skills by focusing on the written words and making connections with the audio.

By clicking on text preferences, I can choose the text size, increase spacing, and select from three choices in font style. These are great options to help with readability for students. There are also 21 color choices for the background on the screen. I find this to be very useful, especially as someone who can be sensitive to certain colors when reading. I’ve also had students experience difficulty with reading on certain colored backgrounds, so this is a definite plus.

The grammar options enable you to turn the syllables on or off and also color code the different parts of speech. Being able to use the color codes to help with the identification of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs will help students to build their grammar skills. These labels can be turned on or off, which means that families can work with their children and use it as a teaching tool for review.

Just to experiment, I turned everything off except for the verbs. Displayed on the screen were the two verbs in the sentence both highlighted in red. I then selected a different color for each part of speech, I chose purple to identify nouns and green for the adjectives. I was amazed at how quickly this could be set up and the possibilities for helping students with reading comprehension and language skills. Using this as a way to further engage students with identifying parts of speech and making the visual connection is another option for more interactive learning.

Under reading preferences you can focus on one line or on the entire text.

When you focus on a line, it closes the screen down to that one specific sentence, which you can also make narrower or thicker depending on your choice.

There are more than 60 languages available for translation. I decided to try French first, and when I clicked on a word, it showed me the word in French and in English. I also explored other languages, including Spanish and was impressed with how much it offered to reinforce the content and to provide a more personalized learning experience for students. You can choose the voice and speed of reading, so it provides a great way to reinforce speaking skills as well as listening, reading and writing.

In his book, Digital Leadership, Eric Sheninger talks about the critical competencies needed by learners to be successful in today’s world. These competencies are in alignment with the ISTE standards for students and teachers, and can be addressed through the use of Buncee. Now with Immersive Reader integrated, the possibilities to address these standards is open to all learners. Beyond the potential for creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, using Buncee, students can build skills in digital media literacy, entrepreneurship, technological proficiency, and digital citizenship. Students have the opportunity to use technology as a tool for solving real-world problems or making real-world connections. We have to look beyond simply using digital tools to engage students in learning and instead, empower them through opportunities to apply what they have learned in unique ways.

Guest Post by Laura McDonell@lmcdonell14

A look at What Actually Worked for Me

david-lezcano-1xzSAlZUVSc-unsplash

Reading is one of those things that I go to the wall on.  Growing up, reading was something I struggled with. As a teacher, I see how critical it is to overall success as a student.  Today, one of the reasons my life is so incredibly rich has to do with the books I read. As a parent, I am determined to give my kids opportunities to find success with reading. As with everything in life, some days everything comes together, connects and makes a beautiful picture.  However, there are other weeks or years where the struggle is real and seems like it is never going to end.

It doesn’t matter where my kids are starting from (I can still remember checking out different copies of the Dick and Jane anthology because it worked, and my middle son needed repetition.  While all three of my kids have grown up in the same environment, they have all been unique in regards to what works best for each of them as readers.  Overall the key is persistence, and never giving up no matter how challenging it might seem. I have found success as a parent by visiting the library often, allowing them to change their minds about what they like, becoming their personal assistant, reading and talking about books in front of them, using audiobooks, hosting a book tasting and celebrating accomplishments.

  1. Visit the Library Often.

jaredd-craig-HH4WBGNyltc-unsplashLibraries might seem dated, but they are in fact one of the best-kept secrets.  We got library cards for our kids as soon as they could write their names. Today, cards can be used to check out everything from audiobooks to new release movies.   Apps like Hoopla and Overdrive are amazing. With a library card, these two sites offer thousands of books, movies, and music. Giving kids the opportunity to borrow a stack of books without any cost is ideal for many families.  Taking advantage of MEL, the state’s interlibrary loan program, allows people to request books from all over the state of Michigan and have them sent right to your local library. Showing someone how to use the library unlocks a world of possibility.  Anything can be learned by using the public library. And, using the library saves a lot of money. Surrounding kids with books is one of the best things you can do to get them reading. The library makes reading an inexpensive activity. I am not alone when it comes to using the library.  Several financial enthusiasts highly recommend it.

2.  Allow them to Change Their Mind Often. 

When my middle son was in first grade, he loved the Nate the Great series. The books were right at his reading level, and I thought I had struck gold since there were several of them in the library.  I requested every copy I could find. After reading about 10 of the books, one day he said, “I don’t really want to read Nate the Great anymore.”  At first, I was a little sad since there were still books to be read, but after thinking about it, I was excited that he was willing to be honest about what he wanted to read.  Minutes later, I realized had a new challenge. I had to help him find his next book, and do it quickly so that he did not lose momentum to continue reading. Humans are always evolving.

matthew-fournier-G971e4EFKtA-unsplashA few years ago one of my boys really got into hockey. We found all of the Matt Christopher books about hockey in the library, and he eagerly read each one cover to cover. Last summer my daughter was obsessed with learning about swimming.  We raided the library for any nonfiction book we could find on the topic. During the winter it was graphic novels, and today she loves to dive into anything related to fairy tales. Even though I have a pretty good idea about what each of my kids likes to read, I had experiences where I selected a book or two I thought might be perfect, only to have them not show an interest in what I picked out.  I do not take it personally, since there is no cost associated with it, and know that as a reader I don’t read every book I take home from the library.

3. Be their Personal Assistant.  

Kids need to be taught skills to thrive on their own. However, when they are starting out, they need someone to guide them:  like a coach, or a personal assistant.  The personal assistant does not do the work but instead sets a person up for success.

If we want to raise a reader, the more times children can be successful will improve the overall possibility of them sticking with reading early on, and then eventually becoming adults who are drawn to books.

Personally assisting a child, looks like helping him or her find books, help them find books that are just right for their level, challenging them, suggesting new authors, reading a chapter aloud, placing books in their path, and helping them organize their schedule to support reading time. As an adult, I have read a lot of books and heard hundreds of titles and authors, and because of it I am in a great position to offer guidance.  Scrolling through Bestseller Lists helps me to find current and high-interest reading material.  As my kids get older, I have started to transfer this responsibility. However, it is still important for young adults to have help in selecting books. My husband even enjoys it when I pick out a book for him tailored to his interests.

Reading aloud the first chapter of a book can help a child get into a story.  I knew my middle son would love John Grisham’s Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer books.  I was also aware that some of the terminology, setting, and background given in the first chapter could be very new, and confusing.  So I offered to read the first chapter to him. After hearing and then talking about the chapter, he was hooked and settled in for a great series of books.

4.  Read in Front of Them.  And Talk about Your Books.

dan-dumitriu-3w1XBUGj4ds-unsplash.jpgWhen I first started teaching, I would ask the parents of my really motivated readers who seemed to always be reading, “Tell me how you did it?  What do you think has made the difference in getting your child excited about reading?” Almost every time I was given the same answer, “I suppose he just sees me reading all the time, and it just seemed like the thing to do.  My nose is always in a book”.

If you expect your kids to read, you have to also be a reader.  You gain credibility when you pick up a book on a regular basis.

It is also important to be a “Real reader”, and model what it is like to struggle with something in a book, fall in love with a new series, or make the choice to abandon a book because you cannot get into it.  It is helpful for kids to know that they are not alone in how they think about books.

5.  Use Audio Books

When my kids were really little, I would get audio CDs with the corresponding picture book from the library.  It helped me to team parent with myself, as I could catch a break where my kids could listen to a story and follow along with the words.  As my kids have grown older, they continue to enjoy audiobooks. We listen to them on vacation in the car, and two of my three kids absolutely love hanging out in their room listening to a book while putting together Legos or doing chores.  We have found that they are awesome for the kids to fall asleep listening to.

Lastly, as a Spanish student, I remember being able to listen at a higher level than I could read or speak.  One of the coolest things about audiobooks is that students can comprehend at higher levels than they can speak or read.  Plus, audiobooks give kids practice listening to correctly pronounce words, perfected grammar, and give them the opportunity to work on fluency as a reader.

6. Do a Book Tasting.

hannah-busing-0BhSKStVtdM-unsplashExposure to good literature and authors is one of the best gifts we can give our readers.  I absolutely love sharing some of my favorites with kids. Just as we could taste cheese, wine, sauces, desserts, or other menu items, book tastings are a great way to try new things.  I typically put a book in front of each place setting. Each child will get a chart to list the title he or she tasted along with the author, genre, and the likelihood that he or she might read the book.  The tasting is timed to keep it moving. And so after a total of several, ninety-second tastings, kids are able to walk away with several new titles that could be considerations for future reading. This activity can be adapted to any size (I have had great success with it in the classroom).

7.  Celebrate Success as a Family.

daniel-olah-VUGAcY35Ubw-unsplashThere are times that I find my kids book hopping, and not finishing titles.  I have also seen my kids plateau as readers. It is fun when we all work together and focus on completing a challenge that encourages reading and celebrating the success of others.  It works well for us to keep a running list of books read on the refrigerator. We set a goal for a number of books to be read and immediately start brainstorming how to we will celebrate our success.  It is nice to focus on working together and cheering each other on.

Maybe some of these ideas will work for you. What works well one day to encourage reading, might not work as well the next.  Plus, reading is personal. Everyone is motivated differently. But, the important thing is as a parent or teacher, you never stop trying.  Persistence is so important. Sometimes it is really tough to find the perfect author or series for a child. But, there is always one more book, genre, author, or method to try.  It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

Read more from Laura: Her blog site

***Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

bit.ly/Pothbooks

 

Guest Post by Maureen Hayes, #4OCFPLN

Connecting With the Past…Meeting With Former Students (#2): It’s All About a Feeling

It’s All About a Feeling 

This is the second in a series of blogs about meet-ups with my former students. As I shared in my first blog, my students now range in age from 22-34 years old. I recently connected with many of them through Facebook, and plans have been made to get together and catch up.

In 1996, I was fortunate to be part of my district’s multiyear classroom initiative (AKA Looping), which means I taught the same students for two years; from first to second grade. I loved being a looping teacher! Having the same group of students together for two years was an incredible experience! Essentially, we were given the gift of an extra month of school together, as September of 2nd grade became a continuation of 1st grade. There was no “first six weeks” of the new year for getting to know each other and establishing a classroom culture for learning. That had been done in first grade, so we began September right where we left off in June. I knew my students well, and the connections we made through two years together was strong. We were a family.

I taught my second looping class from 1997-1999, and the end of our second year together culminated (for me) with the birth of my daughter. As I was waiting to become a first-time mom, my students pampered me and even threw me a surprise shower. Of course, watching my stomach move around while I was teaching math (right after lunch) became entertainment for my students (and me!) by spring of that year.

Our Looping Class during Year 1- 1996
Rachel is right next to me.

Rachel was one of my students in this looping group. I remember that she always had a smile on her face, and was a genuinely happy kid. Rachel’s twin sister was in the other looping class right next door. I honestly couldn’t tell them apart, but I always knew Rachel because her face would light up with a smile when she saw me.

Rachel and I recently met up for dinner, and the first thing we realized is that we hadn’t seen each other in twenty years! After my daughter was born that June, I transferred schools within my district to shorten my commute. I hadn’t seen her since.

Rachel’s first question to me “how do you remember me?”.  Honestly, I remember every student from my looping classes. They have a special place in my heart. 360 days together over the two years where students demonstrate more academic and social-emotional growth than any other years in school was pretty significant to me.

Rachel shared that she doesn’t remember a lot of details from our classroom. She explained that it was more about the atmosphere, or feeling she remembers and less about the specifics. She does know that she liked school and that she felt smart in first and second grade.

Rachel and I on Halloween

She did remember our class hermit crab (Bud) and hamster (Speedy), and a class trip to Duke Gardens in second grade. Reading groups (guided reading) was a special time and she has always loved reading. Rachel specifically remembers changing groups during the year, and that she was intimidated at first in her new group because she knew they were the “good readers”.

A memory Rachel shared that I don’t recall, is that someone once put glue on the toilet seat in our classroom bathroom. Apparently, I was not happy.

On the whole, we both agreed that this class was a pretty amazing group of kids. There were very few behavioral issues…we really couldn’t remember much of anything,  but these were six and seven-year-olds so there had to be some amount of behavioral issues/lessons, right? I guess I just forget things like that 😊

We looked through pictures together and remembered the students in our class. Rachel is still in touch with several of them, and her classmate Megan is still one of her closest friends. We both noted the lack of diversity in the class and the school as a whole. We had a great conversation about education, equity, and multiple intelligences. It was a fun time together reminiscing and telling stories.

The thing that most resonated with me after my dinner with Rachel was her comment about her memories being rooted in a “feeling”. Though specific memories fad, the feeling of connections, relationships, and belonging remain. Children need to feel a sense of safety and belonging and that someone cares. Only then are they ready to learn.

Rachel and I at dinner together 2019

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Guest Post by  Laurie Guyon, @smilelearning

If you have met me at a conference, a workshop, or in a school, you would consider me an extrovert. I’m friendly, always smiling, and comfortable talking to anyone.  Even as a self-proclaimed chatterbox, I get anxious in certain social situations. One on one conversations makes me nervous. My mind reels with thoughts like “will I talk too much” or “will I overshare” or “will I say something stupid” or “what if there is a lapse in the conversation’.  These thoughts have caused me to avoid what might have been a wonderful conversation. I try to step outside my comfort zone and engage in these moments more often. I know that these thoughts and ‘what ifs’ are part of being human.

“I restore myself when I am alone.” – Marilyn Monroe

While reflecting on these moments, I thought about my teenage daughter.  She is a self-proclaimed introvert. Her anxiety in social settings is completely the opposite of mine.  She is fine one on one, but crowds get her inner thinkings reeling. She hates public speaking and will avoid group situations whenever possible.  She once told me that my teaching style would give her hives because I like a loud and active classroom. She prefers quiet and independent work. In our classrooms, we have students with all different communication abilities and fears.  How do we foster an environment that can support all learners and communicators?

 

In the TED talk about introverts by Susan Cain, she defines shyness as fear of social judgment.  She states that introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation.  In the classroom, there is a multitude of stimulation. These can be visual noise, people, and expectations.  How each of our students responds to this stimulation tells us if they are comfortable or not. We may even discipline students based on their behaviors.  But, what if we are pushing students outside of their social norms?

 

Bob Dillon and Rebecca Louise Hare ask educators to make sure that there are spaces for all learners in their book, “The Space: A Guide for Educators”.  They mention creating areas that give students a chance to learn and work so they can thrive. When I taught 6th grade, I created a variety of learning spaces.  I then asked my students to choose the spots in the room where they feel they could learn best. I learned so much about my students by giving them the agency to choose.  I utilized choice boards to give students autonomy. Students were more likely to create quality work when given a choice on how they would showcase what they learned.

Have you ever gone to a presentation or a workshop and the presenter asks you to do something you don’t want to do?  For example, I was in one recently where they asked us to do charades. I am not a fan of playing that game for a variety of reasons, but we had to.  I did everything I could to be the guesser and never have to act it out. Then, at ISTE I lead a mini engagement session with the amazing MCE Melody McAllister and Nearpod.  In the session, we had to lead the participants in a rousing game of charades. Once again, I was outside of my comfort zone. The energy of Melody, the Nearpod team, and engaged educators allowed me to participate in the activity.  It was the support and encouragement that allowed me to be successful.

“The greatest art is to sit, wait and let it come.” – Yogi Bhajan

To reach all learners, we need to think about our learning spaces.  We need to think about the amount of agency we give our students and give them a chance to be inside their own heads.  We also need to encourage them to try and do what may not be in their wheelhouse. We can support them with encouragement and time to build on their comfort level.

We want to maximize talent and success for all our students.  This does not need to always be group work and active activities.  Sometimes, the best activity is in speaking softly or to work alone in silence.  But sometimes, it’s using our talents as part of a community that can make us successful.  Finding this balance is what will help us reach all learners.  

 

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