Providing the Right Learning Spaces for Students to Explore and Create

 

When looking at the design and structure of classrooms today, they may look quite similar to the classroom setting that you experienced when you were a student. Structurally, students in most schools follow a set schedule each day and spend time in different classrooms throughout the building. Unlike years ago when I was a student and even as recently as five or 10 years ago, learning was still confined to the physical classroom space. However, through the capabilities we now have with technology, the opportunities to connect students with learning that takes them out of the classroom space are incredible.

For most students, learning took place in the classroom and on-the-job or real-world learning experience had to wait until the end of the school day or in some cases, after high school graduation. Of course, there were students enrolled in vo-tech or career and technical education programs outside of the school building, taking them to a new learning environment to interact and collaborate with students from other schools, learn from different teachers, explore ideas and strategies, and even different types of careers. These types of learning spaces helped students to better understand the skills they might need in the future. However, not all students had access. But today, we have the power to offer these opportunities to all students. With the resources that we now have, we owe it to our students to offer them learning experiences in as many different learning spaces as possible so that they have time to explore and build the skills that they will need when they leave our schools.

So where or how do we provide these different learning spaces for students? We start by making sure that we are connected in the right spaces ourselves. As educators, this means being connected in a space that goes beyond our school community. It means leveraging social media and different networks, attending conferences, reading blogs, listening to podcasts for ideas or picking up educational books on topics that we wish to learn more about. We must make sure that we have the right knowledge to stay current and relevant so that we can design the best learning experiences for our students. Not that we need to create everything for them; we just need to get them started so that they can take the initiative to design their learning path in the space they decide best fits their interests and needs.

How to Provide Space for Students to Explore

1. Project-based learning (PBL): By implementing PBL, we empower students to look for problems or challenges in their community and globally, try to find solutions, and focus more on learning as a process. Beyond just doing PBL in a class, there are schools opening which are PBL schools, like Gibson EK, a public high school located in Washington. The motto at Gibson EK is “Real World, Real Learning, Real Life.’” Students do not enroll in traditional courses, instead they “earn academic competencies through projects” and work with a mentor through internships two days per week. The school is designed on principles such as “Stop learning for school, start learning for life.” I truly believe that students need opportunities to explore their passions, design their own problems or challenges, and have the time to work through the learning process. To best prepare students for the future, whether college or career ready, they need to decide on their learning space, experience productive struggle, reflect, revise and continue on their path of learning.

 

2. Student Organizations: Schools that have student organizations like the Model United Nations empower students to build skills of advocacy, leadership, critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and self-confidence. In my school, I have seen remarkable growth in the students who have become involved in the Model UN under the leadership of Mr. Ken Kubistek, a history teacher, who has led this group through conferences and competitions for many years. Through work with the Model UN, students engage in authentic learning experiences that take them out of the classroom and connect them with real-world learning and global issues. Students develop their voice and build many vital skills for the future by exploring new learning spaces through organizations like the Model UN.

 

3. Media Creation. Students need opportunities to create their own space to show learning. Whether students create a YouTube channel and develop their own show, explore an emerging technology trend or prepare a solution to current event issues, there are many ways that students can create a different type of learning space for themselves and for others. Perhaps a student-created podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth, where they invite guests to discuss current issues, focus on themes for education or anything that interests them. A podcast designed with the goal to help educate not only classmates and members of their school community but the public at large. Opportunities like these promote more meaningful learning while also building digital literacy skills and empower students to find space that meets their interests.

 

4. School Community Connections: I recently gave a keynote about the future of education and how the look of school is changing.  I received a lot of great questions and comments and one suggestion that led me to think about the power of creating more community connections. The idea was to have students go to local senior care facilities where they can share some of the things they are learning in school, and engage in discussions with older adults to learn about each other’s experience in education, work, and life. I think this would have a great impact because of the connections that would form between students and members of the community. The learning space can be anywhere and it would be an authentic way to engage students with learning about the world around them. Build connections and greater understanding about what things used to be like, what things are like now, and make predictions for the future.

 

5. Brainstorming ideas: Push student thinking by asking them to brainstorm ideas for the top five or 10 challenges in a certain area of the world, maybe based on geography, a certain industry, or perhaps ask students to come up with a list of complaints or things they notice about the world around them. Give students space to develop plans for how to solve these challenges or how they could have solved them better. Another idea is to have students be part of project event management for planning. In my school, students can take an entrepreneurship course in which they design products, make sales pitches and plan large scale events. The course also takes students out into the Pittsburgh area to tour businesses and learn about different industries, where they can get that close view, ask questions and make connections. They begin in the classroom and then find the space to pursue new knowledge and explore.

 

There are many ways to expand where and how our students can learn. We have access to the world as our classroom and the more we can increase the learning space we provide the better prepared our students will be for the future.

**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  

Educators: 10 Ways to Make Time for Self-Improvement

Originally published on Getting Smart
As educators, we need to make more time for self-care. In order to bring our best selves to our classrooms and our schools, we must make time for our needs each day. Over the holiday breaks, making time to do some normal things like catching up with family and friends, and sleep in late, are good ways to recharge over the summer break.

When we have these breaks, it is easy to get into a new daily routine, finding time for all of the things that we wanted to do but couldn’t fit into our schedules throughout the year. It may take a few days to adjust, but I find that in a short amount of time, I am well into my winter break routine of catching up on some work and enjoying the extra time with family. The days are still filled but on a more relaxed schedule. Many take advantage of the extra time and lack of a set schedule to engage in personal and professional development. Whether it is a time to travel with family and friends or something more professional like attending conferences or taking a class, we all find ways to fill all of that extra time. We get used to a new routine, and likely feel pretty good about our improvement and feel some balance until August arrives and educators return to their classrooms, hopefully, recharged and excited for the new school year.

This has been a challenging year and educators can quickly become burnt out trying to prepare everything and keep up with the changes. We can struggle with finding balance and making time to keep up our personal and professional growth during the school year . So how can we still do ‘all the things’ and stay balanced and find enough time for ourselves?

Here are ten ways to add in more time for you and to be more productive each day:

  1. Connect. We are surrounded by so many people each day in the midst of thousands of interactions. But how many of those interactions are truly meaningful and give us the needed time to pause, lean in and really listen? Are we able to connect with family, friends, students, and Professional Learning Networks (PLN)? Find a way to connect every day. Make time for family first. Share a meal together, go for ice cream, take a walk, watch TV, or play a game. Family time is critical; remember to make time for your ‘school family,’ too. Whether it’s by greeting students at the door, spending time in the hallways or the teachers’ lounge, or using social media to connect through messaging, make time for those moments. Find at least one person to connect with each day. It helps to keep us grounded and gives us access to a constant support system.
  2. Have a routine. Sometimes it comes down to just having a little bit of consistency in each day. Maybe this means setting aside a specific time to read in the morning, listen to music, respond to emails, or simply reviewing your schedule for the day. Personally, I find that having these activities during the day is one way to keep myself in balance. Knowing what my day holds or starting each day with a certain task like reading a blog keeps me accountable for taking time for myself.
  3. Choose one. There are so many choices we have for activities that are worthwhile for our mental and physical well-being. Our days become quite full, and the worst thing we can do is overwhelm ourselves by trying to do everything. Some good advice I received from a friend is to simply choose one thing. Get outside and walk, meet up with family and friends, whether once a week or as often as your schedule allows. Try to pick one activity per day that will be good for your well being.
  4. Disconnect. We all stay connected by a variety of devices. Technology is amazing because it enables us to communicate, collaborate and access information whenever we need to. However, it disconnects us from personal connections, takes away a lot of our time, and can decrease our productivity. It’s beneficial for us to make time to truly disconnect. Whether you leave your device at home during a vacation or simply mute notifications for a period of time during the day, it’s important to take a break. Pause to reflect, and be fully present with family and friends. Personally, I struggle in this area but have been more intentional about taking a break from technology.
  5. Exercise and movement. Think about the students in our classrooms and the learning experiences we create for them. Do we have them stay seated in rows each day or are there opportunities to move and be active? Finding time for exercise and movement is important to our well-being. Go for a walk, have a dance party, or use an on-demand or online exercise program. Get up and moving with your students, and take learning outside whenever you can. Exercise has so many benefits that even setting aside 10 minutes a day is a great way to boost energy and mental wellness. Invite a friend or colleague to join you and hold each other accountable.
  6. Time to rest. Just like exercise, it’s also important to get enough rest. How many times do educators stay up late grading papers or writing lesson plans, and get up extra early to prepare for the day?  We can’t bring our best selves to our classroom if we are tired. Lack of sleep and quality rest will negatively impact our mental and physical health. Our students and colleagues will notice our lack of energy and possibly even mental clarity, so we need to ensure time for sleep to receive the positive benefits!
  7. Reflection. It is important that we model lifelong learning and the development of self-awareness and metacognition for our students. This involves setting aside a period of time where we reflect on our day, the progress we made, the challenges we faced, and even epic fails that we might have experienced.  Finding a way to capture these reflections whether in a blog or journal or using an audio recording to listen to later, are all great ways to track our progress. Then we can revisit our reflections and ask ourselves, “Am I a little bit better today than I was yesterday?”
  8. Learning. Education is changing every day. There are new topics, trends, and tools that make keeping up with everything tough. There are so many ways that we can learn today that don’t take up too much time, however. While traditional professional development training and in-person sessions are useful—especially for the opportunity to connect with other people—the reality is that carving out availability to do this on a regular basis is a challenge. Instead, find something that meets your schedule. Whether it’s listening to a podcast or participating in a Twitter chat once or twice a week, watching a webinar, reading a few blog posts, or joining a group on Voxer to discuss what’s on your mind and ask questions about education. There are many ways to learn on the go!
  9. Celebrate. Make time every day to celebrate something. Whether it’s a positive event in one of your classes, something one of your students did, recognizing a colleague, validating your own efforts or just a random celebration, focusing on the positives will impact your well-being in the long run. No matter how big or small, the steps toward success and achieving goals and even some mistakes should be embraced and even celebrated. Modeling a celebration of the learning process, especially from failures, sends a positive message and is a good model for students.
  10.  The power of no. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to say no. Educators are often asked or volunteer to assume additional responsibilities like sponsoring a club, joining a committee, chaperoning an event, or participating in other school events. There are so many things that comprise our role as educators and with our passion for teaching, it can be difficult to say no, especially when it comes to education and our students. But as hard as it is, sometimes it’s the best choice. Think about what is most important to you and the limited time that you have. I focus on why and how my participation or acceptance of whatever it is can benefit my students and the school community. Saying no is tough, but it is more than reasonable to say no sometimes. We have to do what is best for ourselves, so we can do what is best for our students.

These are just a few ways I’ve tried to maintain more balance and be more effective and productive in my work. We have to start each day with a focus on self-care, because that is how we can make sure that we are bringing our best selves into our classrooms, into our schools, and home to our families each day.

**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  

What’s Your Green Sauce?

Guest post By Brent Coley, @brentcoley

Principal, Alta Murrieta Elementary School, Murrieta, CA

#EduInfluence

Most people have a favorite restaurant. Ask 20 people to identify their favorite and you may get 20 different answers. Some may name a fine steakhouse like Ruth’s Chris or Morton’s. Fans of sushi might select as their favorite a local establishment serving up this Japanese delicacy. Ask a small child to name his or her favorite and you may get McDonald’s or Little Caesar’s as the answer. To each his own.

What about me? What’s my favorite restaurant? If you hadn’t already read the title of this blog post, the answer may have surprised you. My favorite? El Pollo Loco.

That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

Seriously, Brent? El Pollo Loco? Out of all the restaurants you could choose, your favorite is a drive-thru fast food restaurant serving a variety of inexpensive chicken meals? That’s right. El Pollo Loco.

I love this restaurant. It’s affordable. It’s relatively healthy when compared to other fast food options that serve up only burgers and fries. And there’s a location only a mile down the road from my school. I’m not ashamed to say I order lunch here multiple times a week. I get the same thing every time. A $5 Pollo Bowl Combo with flour tortillas and a large tropical iced tea. Mmmm. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

But it’s not the taste of the food that keeps me coming back, though I do enjoy the combination of chicken, beans, and rice. It’s not the value either, though being able to fill my stomach for under six bucks is a fact my budget definitely appreciates. And it’s not the comfortable ambience I used to enjoy before COVID-19 forced the closure of all restaurant dining rooms in my community. So what is it? What pulls me to this restaurant like the Millennium Falcon caught in the Death Star’s tractor beam? (You’re welcome, Star Wars fans.)

It’s the avocado salsa, what I affectionately call “green sauce.” I absolutely love it. Seriously, can’t get enough. It’s flavorful with just the right amount of kick. I could drink it like water (which I actually did one time to win a bet, but that’s another story). I love smothering each bite in this liquid slice of heaven.

If I hit the drive-thru and discover upon returning to the office they forgot to put my green sauce in the bag, my mood turns grumpy. The birds stop singing, and the day seems darker. The meal just isn’t the same. I go to El Pollo Loco for the avocado salsa. I go for the green sauce. If the restaurant stopped serving it, I can honestly say I wouldn’t eat there as frequently as I do. I’m not sure I would go at all. It’s that important to me.

​It’s salsa for crying out loud. A side dish. No, it’s not even a side dish. A condiment. It’s a condiment, something extra the restaurant gives away for free, but it’s what keeps me coming back over and over. And over.

So let’s tie this into education. Ladies and gentlemen, my question to you is this — “What’s your green sauce?”

What is that extra something that keeps your students wanting to come back to your classroom, to your school? What is it that, figuratively speaking, makes their mouths water when they think about getting to spend time with you?

While this question focuses on the “extra,” let me be clear. The main dishes we serve in our classrooms, lessons in reading, writing, math, or whatever subject you teach, are important. Very, very important. It’s imperative we provide our students with rigorous opportunities for learning, that we fill their “stomachs” with nutritious “food.” But my point is this — the main dish may not be what gets your students up in the morning. It may be that something extra you provide, that cherry on top. It may be the green sauce.

So I ask you once again, “What’s your green sauce?”

  • It may be your smiling face that greets students each day when they enter your classroom or the front gate of your school.
  • It may be the high five, fist bump, or hug at the door each morning (current physical distancing restrictions aside).
  • It may be the smelly stickers you put on your students’ exams when they do well. That’s right. A smelly sticker may be making a student’s day, may be what he or she is looking forward to. And this is not just limited to the elementary grades.
  • It may be the instrumental music you play in the background as students are working, or the upbeat music you have playing in the room as students enter each day.
  • It may be the corny dad jokes you tell every day. You know, the ones at which the students outwardly roll their eyes, but inwardly look forward to hearing.
  • It may be the class Instagram account you created to share the great things taking place in your classroom. Or maybe you’re on TikTok, creating funny videos, making you “cool” in your students’ eyes.

In the grand scheme of things, these are all actions or gestures that could be considered small. These may not have been the things upon which your professors focused when you were studying to be a teacher. But that doesn’t mean they can’t and don’t make a big difference in the lives of those we serve. Don’t underestimate the power of the little things, because more often than we may think, it’s that little something extra, that green sauce, that our students are thirsting for and what keeps them coming back for more.

​What’s your green sauce?


Want to hear more? I devoted an entire chapter of my book Stories of EduInfluence to the topic of how small actions can make a big impact. Click/tap here to listen to the Audible version of “Chapter 8: The Power of the Little Things.”

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the book, available in paperback, Kindle, and audio versions, head over to Amazon.

**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  

************ Also check out my THRIVEinEDU Podcast Here!

Join my weekly show on Wednesdays at 4pm EST on Learningrevolution.com THRIVEinEDU  Join the group here

CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX

Guest blog post by Jillian DuBois  @JillDuBois22

When COVID chose to collide with our lives in March, teachers and educational leaders defied time and space by achieving more than we could ever dream of doing in our profession.

FOR our STUDENTS.

We gave up Spring Break. We sacrificed family time. We had sleepless nights. We KNEW what needed to be done, followed through, and gave it our all.

Some described it as distance learning. Homeschooling. Virtual school. These types of schooling require months, even years of preparation before taking on that challenge.

In the simplest of terms – it was far more than that. It was what I called CONUNDRUM schooling (conundrum – An unstable time or period, usually marked by intense difficulty or danger. Thank you to wordhippo.com for the explanatory definition.). Traumatic schooling that was disruptive, stressful, and anxiety-inducing, leaving little time for research + planning. Teachers sent up an SOS.

We grieved over what was lost. In just one critical moment, we somehow surrendered our community, fellowship, daily routines, and a predictable schedule that gave us satisfaction + security in our profession.

But we persevered. It was muddled, unpredictable, and often frustrating. We came out of it still breathing and somehow able to exhale, knowing that during our physical time away from our students we had gained meaningful pedagogy in our learning strategies and skills.

Thankfully, the #edtech platforms we chose provided excellent facilitation and reinforcement for the majority of our instruction and learning. In turn, that opened up a new path as to how to process + present our instruction differently and more efficiently. Teachers met via teleconferencing and innovatively collaborated together. We shared lesson plans, ideas, and exceeded what we assumed we could do – like superheroes.

So as I begin to conceptualize the next few weeks in preparation for the new school year…I am drawing a BIG, FAT…blank, that leads to…

CONUNDRUM SCHOOLING: PART DEUX.

The current space available in my head is not prepared for academics + curriculum planning AT ALL. I don’t even have the words to properly and politically respond to friends and family who ask how I feel about returning.

BLANK. NADA. NOTHING. (and if you know me at all, I don’t blank on anything, that’s NOT what teachers do. We are masters at improvisation.)

Moment of truth? I believe I’m a darn good teacher. The last semester drained every ounce of imagination + creative skill that I estimated I had. I’m slowly rebounding. What I DO know is that I WILL be brave + undaunted. I will NOT let fear worm its way into my tenacious spirit. I refuse to give in and give up.

WILL consider + celebrate the progression that I made as a teacher last year.

I have cultivated new ways of being FLEXIBLE + RESILIENT. I was able to give up control and allow my students unique opportunities to drive their own learning. They participated in the decision-making process by expressing their choices when given the chance. There was extended time for inquiry + building out their curiosities with enthusiasm.

They had questions that I did not have the answers for…and that was truly amazing. There was project-based learning alternatives that sparked many in-depth conversations, ‘a-HA’ moments, and periods of self-reflection. JUST this alone was worth the efforts. We honored the process of learning + accountability as a class…together.

There MAY not have been any stellar discoveries of new content during this time of conundrum schooling, BUT there was incredible facilitation of educational experiences that they will never forget. Neither will I.

What will I carry into this new year? These things I just mentioned. I will join tens of thousands of other teachers who will be using their newly-gained expertise to keep some semblance of normalcy + security for our students.

Unlearn the conundrum. Relearn confidence with conviction.

I will teach them honesty, kindness, empathy, justice, and inclusivity. THAT is where I will begin. I know I will get to the planning + academics, don’t you worry. But FIRST things FIRST. I love them already.

We need time to heal together.

We will get there. There’s still a steep learning curve ahead with no signs of caution. Education will now be in stark contrast to what was before comfortable + traditional. As we launch with students, we will crawl along slowly. Next, steadily we will learn to walk together as weeks go by. Possibly, we may even start to run again. GRACE + PATIENCE will be generously granted each day as we encounter new circumstances and ways of life.

We are in it for the beautiful mess that it is. It will be SUCH a monumentally great year if we allow ourselves to take one day at a time, appreciate our vision + mission, and lean into our passion for our students.

Oh, and don’t forget the #impartEDjoy.

Best wishes for an amazing conundrum of a journey.

Jillian

 

**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.

Here are my books available. Find them at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

When you feel like you’re not getting anywhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what the problem is or where to start when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. What I mean is that as teachers, we may have days when we might feel like we’re just not connecting with the students. Sometimes when trying to create a lesson or some new experience for students, we are met with less enthusiasm than we had hoped for, and sometimes, it might even be nonexistent.

About two years ago, I really struggled with finding ways to engage my students in learning. I reached out to my PLN to ask for advice, I tried Twitter, pretty much anywhere that I could think of to gather ideas from other educators who might be experiencing the same thing. That’s probably the most important point if anything out of my thought process, is that had it not been for those connections and knowing where to look to find help that I greatly needed, I would have been working through it on my own in isolation, as I had been for many years of my teaching career.

It’s not easy to ask for help especially when as teachers, we feel like we are supposed to be the experts when it comes to students and learning and teaching. There may or may not be assumptions about our abilities to manage our classroom, deal with student behaviors, to be flexible in our instruction, and to balance so many different things every day. But without having a way of connecting with others, we would be stuck doing the same things we’ve always done. While in some cases that might be good if the experiences went well, often times it might not be that great. And that is how it was for me.

Last year is what I considered to be probably my best year in teaching and it came to be because of relationships I had formed over the years and also because I got away from doing some of the same traditional things I had always done and pushed the limits a little bit and tried some different things in my classroom. There were some things I just didn’t appreciate any more like standing in the front of the room and talking at my students. It was exhausting trying to think of ways to spend 42 minutes leading the class and keeping the students “busy.”

I had reached a breaking point early in September two years ago when I just decided to get rid of the rows in my classroom and see what would happen. The combination of these actions and everything in between is what I believe led me to have the best year yet. I felt connected with the students, I could see them learning and that they were more engaged. Students would come in throughout the day and say how much they liked class better than the prior-year. I just felt that there was a different vibe, I sensed a more of an excitement about being in the class and while at times it was uncomfortable worrying about if my class was too noisy or if students were off task on occasion, I really felt good about it

So I decided to keep the same kind of methods and habits in the new school year, making changes here and there, but I was not seeing the same results. I had different students than I had in the past and so it kind of led me to go back and rethink what I had been doing. What had worked so well last year was not working as well this year. I did not expect that because I was assuming that things would be the same as they were the year before. Thinking like this, the “way we’ve always done it” is what gave me some trouble in the first place. I taught the way I had been taught using methods that worked for me as a student and even as an adult, but these methods did not work for all of my students. So by doing that I was doing them a disservice. Flash forward to this school year, trying to use the same methods and strategies should not work because I had different students than the year before.

There have been days that I left school feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, a bit uneasy because like I said, last year I had a great year. And I had not experienced that type of struggle in several years. so trying to figure out what the problem was and how to work through it has been something I’ve been working ever since. I felt some moments of success and other times I thought I just couldn’t do it anymore. Sometimes I became so frustrated at the behaviors, whether it be lack of respect or lack of wanting to work or negative attitudes that instead of trying to better understand the students and focus on having conversations, I responded to their behaviors and the reactions. I lost my “cool,” I lost my composure, my eyes filled with tears of frustration and I didn’t like it. I even told them that it was something that would bother me the rest of the day and for days to come, because that was not like me but I had “had it.” I had been doing everything that I thought I could to help them and I was getting nothing or the bare minimum in return. I just wanted them to hear me and to understand that their behavior matters. Being respectful matters, and that it doesn’t matter how great your grades are or what you have in life if you are not a nice person. If you do not show respect and you don’t take time to listen to others and give them their attention when they ask for it or when they deserve it, that makes it very uncomfortable.

I thought it was just me, I had convinced myself that it was something that I was not doing. There was something wrong with me that I needed to fix within myself. But the more that I talked to people I was connected with locally, nationally and even around the world, I soon realized it was not just a problem that I was facing. Again, if I was still in isolation staying in my room and not connecting anywhere in my school building, I would feel exactly like I did. It’s just me, I’m the problem. Because I had those connections, I was able to recognize that it isn’t just me it’s a struggle other educators face and there are different ways that they deal with it that may or may not work for me.

I had lots of recommendations, great ideas, stories of how changes in different classrooms made a big difference for different friends of mine and for every suggestion they offered I felt terrible telling them that know it just would not work for me. While I may not have all the answers, I know my students well enough to be able to figure out what might and might not work for them. So while I did not come up with a magic solution to any of the challenges that I feel like I’m facing, which in the scheme of things in the rest of the world they’re not that big at all. But there are bumps in the road, a road which prior to this year had finally been mostly well paved with occasional potholes along the way.

But a new year, new challenges changes just to show why we can’t teach every year the same way that we were taught. You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and as Don Wettrick’s dad said: “Don’t teach the same year 20 times.”

I guess I felt that because my methods worked so well last year, that I should just do the same thing again this year. I was wrong. New year, new beginnings, some changes, a bit of discomfort, challenges, through all of it. Yes, please. That’s what keeps us moving, what keeps us active and engaged and although sometimes you feel like you’re becoming disengaged from the profession when you sit back at the end of the day or in the middle of the day or whenever it is that you reflect, you must stay focused on your why. The why is your purpose, your passion for what you do and why you’ve gotten up early every morning and worked through weekends, holidays and even summer vacations. It is when you come full circle and realize that you’re there to make it work to find an answer and a solution because it might be that you are the problem

And sometimes you might be the problem creator, it’s never the same. It’s always changing, it’s uncomfortable but it’s how we grow. And if you don’t share your experiences with others then you are going to be limited to only growing in your own space. To put yourself out there, be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it, that is not a sign of weakness it’s a sign of tremendous strength. When you can identify that you have a need, a weakness, an area of struggle, you show that you are vulnerable and that is more than okay. Because as many times as I’ve said it, I will continue to say it twice as much:

I’m not an expert.

I don’t know everything.

I make tons of mistakes every single day.

I’m willing to try and I’m willing to grow.

I’m willing to get up no matter how many times I’m knocked down and go for it again.

I am a work in progress and I am learning as I go. 

 

**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  

 

What we deny

Check out the Podcast too: “Just Conversations” with Melanie White and Amanda Potts. https://voiced.ca/project/just-conversations/

Only in our isolation and disconnectedness do we discover that everything and everyone is localized and connected. And, in this distancing, I am beginning to question what we deny.

Rebecca Solnit kept appearing in my daily consumption of media and I’m beginning to wonder if this is the work of a latent existential force drawing my attention to something I should have known or done long ago. I listened to her voice in an episode of On Being last week. She wrote, “When all the ordinary divides and patterns are shattered, people step up to become their brothers’ keepers…and that purposefulness and connectedness bring joy even amidst death, chaos, fear, and loss.” The unusual lilt of her voice and calm intellect still spin in my mind’s ear. And, this morning, I stopped scrolling my Twitter feed struck by this linguistic wisdom. She wrote,

“Inside the word ’emergency’ is ’emerge’; from an emergency new things come forth. The old certainties are crumbling fast, but danger and possibility are sisters.” #RebeccaSolnit

And then on Twitter, Gianpiero Petriglieri wrote that an “old therapist friend” told him why everyone was “so exhausted after video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting. Our bodies process so much context…” I stopped to think about that wording, “plausible deniability”, and the more common legalistic use for one escaping criminal repercussions as a member of a corrupt organization or political power.

However, I couldn’t wrap my head around this experience of dissonance and the connotations of “plausible deniability” as something happening to us rather than something we choose to avoid like the truth or an injustice. According to Wikipedia“the expression was first used by the CIA” but the idea apparently has a longer history. I needed to understand the term, like Solnit explored “emergency”; it was an itch that pressed me, so I read further. “Plausible denial involves the creation of power structures and chains of command loose and informal enough to be denied if necessary”.

Then a thought struck me. What power structures are currently in place which I deny? What small almost imperceptible movements have made me complicit in this dance of distraction? Solnit reappeared during my longer moment of breakfast reading in The Guardian article entitled: “The impossible has already happened: what coronavirus can teach us about hope”. How marvelous and uplifting it is to read her vibrant words calling us to action and existence, to make the most of the worst.

While I cannot deny there is absence in my new-found isolation, I can also see that my thoughts attend a new experience. I am paying attention to moving about my house, to walking the dog, to gazing out the window with no real productivity pressure of this instant. And, yes, I am teaching remotely, but connecting, supporting personalized learning is my focus rather than a product on the line of academic factory life. This is where I cannot sense Petriglieri’s Tweet about “plausible deniability”. I am now working on processing the context of my daily life which I previously ignored in mind-numbing haste consumed by the blind goals of my own productivity or some socialized version of productivity.

My body is processing the context of my life in isolation and thinking about the actions needed for when we might connect again. I am trying not to deny my own physical interaction with and existence in the world.

 

**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  

Riding an edu-emotional roller coaster

 

Opinions expressed are those of the author.

 

Last week those of us in BC ed had no idea what this week would have in store for us. When I was a kid, “self-isolating” was humorously coined for those who rather not deal with the public, “social distancing” was something told to us by supervisors at teen dances, and “quarantining” was something learned in history units.

But like it or not, we have been hit in the face with a crisis of epic proportions. It’s been an emotional roller coaster navigating the slings and arrows of toilet paper hoarding, Bonnie Henry updates, and beachy trip cancellations.

And now, BC teachers are faced with uncertainty as to how we will continue teaching without students in our classrooms. Over the last few years, we’ve been besieged with a renewed curriculum and just started to understand how proficiency scales can be used in our classrooms. Some of us have been making waves by leading teachers on a gradeless mission. Since yesterday’s announcement, I cannot help but wonder if all the work we’ve done will now be undone. I could scream and cry at the same time.

I know it might seem like an unrealistic conundrum to be contemplating the fate of gradeless at a time like this. Like many of you, I’m hanging on pins and needles waiting for our school board to announce how, specifically, we will meet the needs of our students after spring break. I have so many questions from communication to assessment. I’m worried about my at-risk students and how my colleagues will weather this storm. How will my student LEARN at home?

Learn. Hmmm…

Learning is the focus of gradeless teaching and assessment. You’ve heard me explain so many times over that when we remove grades and focus on the individual child and their growth, a child will develop a growth mindset. When we put the needs of each individual child instead of comparing them to each other or categorizing them by grades, we build a culture of learners, not grade grabbers.

Amid this edu-crisis, do we have to stop? Should we still consider gradeless? In fact, isn’t now, more than ever, the time to rethink what our goals are for our students? Is uncertainty and anxiousness a reason to revert to old habits, like handing over packages of content heavy worksheets, and abandoning single point rubrics? Or is this an opportunity to practice…really practice putting learning before grades? Isn’t this the time to think about the needs of the child? Shouldn’t our focus be on how the child will learn instead of how will I teach under these different circumstances? So many questions!

One thing I know is, now more than ever, students do not need grade pressures. They don’t need us to hover a “here’s what you need to pass” over their heads because we’re worried about getting through “the curriculum.” At home, students are juggling feelings of isolation, parents being laid off, themselves being laid off, lack of technology, too much technology, empty grocery store shelves and empty cupboards, never mind the questions: When will we return to school? Will there be a grad ceremony? Why can’t I see my friends?

In my opinion, if the government (or school board, or whomever makes these decisions) is smart, they’ll deemphasize grades. This will reduce the burden on educators. But like letter grades, even discussions over pass/fail, if that becomes the new norm, should not be considered or discussed with students until the end of the year. We can, instead, focus our energy on creative ways to meet students’ social emotional needs, develop a distance classroom community, and give voice and choice. Teachers will need to let go of being an eyewitness to learning in their rooms and we’ll really need to let go of content. If we hand over miles of notes, worksheets and google-able essay topics, we’re asking for trouble in the form of disinterest, cheating and plagiarism, and crushing failure. We’ll need lots of time to settle into a new routine. Students will need time to adjust.

Ultimately, before we start teaching, we need to figure out a balance between Maslow and Bloom….for all stakeholders: students, parents, and us. We need to lower our expectations and big dreams for the perfect online or distance education course. We need to take care of ourselves and our families first, connect with students and their families second, and collaborate with colleagues on implementing curriculum third.

When we implement the curriculum, we need to use the skills that are the focal point of the BC curriculum as a platform for meeting student’s social-emotional needs. If we give students some voice and choice as to what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, it will feel less like us pushing our agenda on them, and more like welcoming students into this new learning environment and building trust. For example, an English teacher (well duh…of course I’m going to use an English example) might begin by asking students to journal every day from a series of prompts but use prompts that are flexible and open to interpretation. This will give teachers some insight into students’ social-emotional levels/needs as well as meeting curriculum requirements to foster reflection and thinking. Information from those journals could springboard into a project-based learning assignment. Creative writers could write a story, critical thinkers could research a topic, and visual learners could create a collage or PowerPoint. Content pieces can be slipped into to individualized projects to try to meet curriculum requirements.

I understand the pressure that content heavy courses like science and math have on teachers. This dilemma has been systemically ingrained in school culture for years. Right now, a math teacher is reading this blog and thinking that there is no way they can do PBL when they have X number of chapters to get through in the textbook by June. My hope is that teachers incorporate a bit of hands on learning in order to make learning in seclusion enjoyable and fun. The reality is, the content students do not learn this year, can be incorporated into next year’s curriculum. Yup it can. But that’s next year.

I’ve made a point to vocally de-emphasize prepping over spring break, but I know that recommendation has fallen on deaf ears. I cast no blame, for if I were to, that would draw attention to me as a proverbial finger-wagger instead of me the genuine worrier for the well-being of my colleagues around the province. I confess, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I will handle my own new teaching situation, as, but I lost sleep thinking about how my colleagues are handling the pressure. I already see the formation of chats and groups with sole purpose of collaborating on resources and expertise. While these groups have good intentions, I hope teachers are using this time to focus on themselves and their families.

Teachers wear their hearts on their sleeves. We want to do what is best for our students. We naturally lack patience when gaps of information are left without direction. We overthink. We care so much. We worry. We’re teachers. Heck, I’m writing a blog in order to manage my own stress. It’s how I roll. It’s how I cope.

It won’t be long and spring break will be over and we’ll return to school. It will look and feel different. We’ll have to collaborate virtually with our colleagues who work just next door. Staff meetings may very well take place in the theatre so that we can sit 2 meters away from each other. It will be weird. Nothing about this pandemic is familiar. It’s important that we don’t expect to recreate what was in our classrooms and in our buildings. It’s important to accept the feelings of uneasiness and frustration that will come. Pause. Breathe. Accept. Repeat.

Focus on yourself. When you are ready to focus on how you’ll teach your students in this new reality, make learning and the social emotionally well being of them the priority. They’ll be just fine. So will you. We are, after all, in this together.

#mygrowthmindset

 

 

**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  

How I Created a Podcast PD for Teachers

Guest post by Laura Cahill @engageducate

I’m always looking for ways to innovate professional development. Teachers are busy people and sometimes those after-school, face-to-face sessions just aren’t doable. I actually prefer PD that comes to me…webinars, Twitter chats, blog posts, podcasts…so I ran with that and created a podcast PD for the teachers in my district. Think book club, only with podcast episodes and online discussions. This was really simple to set up, especially because we are a G Suite for Education district but this could be done in other platforms as well. To get this running, I:

  1. Posted a sign-up to my district (this could be done at any level; district/school/grade-level/etc.)
  2. Created a Google Form with links to 20 episodes for participants to vote on (I chose all Cult of Pedagogy episodes for this initial session because I am familiar with the high quality of them but episodes could be from any/many podcasts.)
  3. Chose the top five episodes and created a Google Classroom with the link to one episode per “assignment”.
  4. Added open-ended discussion questions (What resonates for you? What do you agree/disagree with? How can you see this working in your own setting?)
  5. Set two-week “due dates” for each episode.
  6. Sat back and watched amazing conversation unfold…I didn’t really sit back, I participated, BUT I was shocked at how rich and thoughtful the conversation was!

Some logistics:

  • I offered 2 professional development hours for each week (10 total), assuming that listening takes about an hour and posting/commenting takes another hour.
  • We require that our PD participants demonstrate learning through some type of product, so we are going to create reflection videos at the end.

The participants are already asking for additional sessions and I’m thinking that participants could make suggestions for podcast episodes in the future! Such a simple solution to creating accessible and relevant PD for educators!

 

************ Check out my THRIVEinEDU PodcastHere!

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  

An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Guest post byAndrew Easton: teacher, edu-blogger, podcaster, and future author for Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Follow him on Twitter @EastonA1, on Instagram @andrew.d.easton, or at andrewdeaston.com/

 

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 

Fail. 

What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.

Fail.

Next, we tried using a checklist. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

 

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that each day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.

Success.

Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped her writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, she, unprompted, wrote for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

 

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

 

 

**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  

Teaching HardDoes Not Always Equate to Teaching Well

Opinions expressed are those of Guest Blogger

Guest Post by Kwame Sarfo-Mensah, Founder of Identity Talk Consulting, LLC. (www.identitytalk4educators.com

Math Educator & Teacher Development Specialist, @identityshaper

 

I have been in many situations throughout my teaching career where I spent countless hours planning, what I thought, was the greatest lesson ever!   I then delivered the lesson plan with the expectation that all of my students will be successful. Over the course of the unit, I provided classwork & homework assignments, conducted small group instruction for students in need of additional support, sacrificed my lunch periods to tutor struggling students, and pretty much did everything in my power to reach all of my scholars.  After weeks of teaching my heart out, I gave my students an end-of-unit test with the confidence that all my efforts would translate to passing test scores. To my dismay, the converse of that expectation happened and that left me totally dumbfounded and wondering where it all went wrong.  

 

For too many of us, we’re quick to place all the blame on our students for their failures and stand on the notion that we did everything we needed to do to fully prepare our students for success.  As I write this piece, I’m not questioning the effort and energy that I exerted into our lessons nor am I questioning my dedication and love for them. The paramount question I had to ask was whether I taught the lesson well enough for my students to demonstrate mastery of the academic standard.   Given my past failures, I surmised that my students had gaps in their understanding because I had gaps in my own understanding of the academic standard. That being said, I had to ask myself the following questions:

 

Did I unpack the language of the academic standard? It is one thing to identify the academic standard but it’s another thing to decipher its language and develop a complete understanding of what it actually means.  I visited the Common Core Standards website to identify the standard of focus and read it carefully to identify the verbs (i.e. what students need to do), as well as the nouns (i.e. what students need to know) within it.  Some standards require students to perform multiple skills so I needed to make sure to highlight each individual skill.        

 

Did I identify the prerequisites of the academic standard?  To determine the starting point for my lesson, I had to figure out what prior knowledge students should already have in order to master the standard.  As I’ve taught previous lessons, I realized that I didn’t give some students a fair shot at having success because I never addressed the gaps in their basic skills foundation.  By identifying the prerequisites of the standard, I was able to determine if I needed to reteach previous grade-level concepts before formally introducing the new standard to the students.

 

Did I closely monitor and assess my students’ progress throughout the unit? Throughout any lesson or unit we teach, we should be actively assessing our students’ understanding of the content.  The assessment of student progress towards academic standards should be daily and ongoing. Regardless of whether the assessment is formative or summative, we should be gathering data and analyzing what type of errors they are making in their thinking.  Are there specific concepts within the unit where students are demonstrating a level of mastery? When students are sharing their thinking verbally or through writing, are we solely focusing on their response or going the extra mile by asking them clarifying questions to investigate the thought process they underwent to arrive at their response?  The bottom line is this…….if we are proactively assessing how our students are progressing throughout the unit, then we should have an accurate gauge of how well they will perform when given a final assessment.

 

Did I make the tasks challenging enough and accessible to each and every student in my class?  With any new standard, teachers have to thoroughly assess the scope of it and determine the appropriate tasks or assignments that our students need to complete in order to build their knowledge of the standard.  Every student enters the lesson at a specific developmental level so using a uniform instructional method probably won’t yield the best results. Some students may be further along the learning curve than their peers so teachers need to differentiate their instructional approach and create tasks that will meet the diverse academic needs of their students. To assess the difficulty level of the task, I used Bloom’s Taxonomy as a reference point.  If I’m only giving my students “easy” tasks so they can feel good about themselves, I’m doing them a huge disservice.

 

Teaching is a hard enough job as it is.  With the overemphasis of standardized testing, we sometimes find ourselves in a position where we don’t always have the time allotted to thoroughly assess how well we are teaching.  However, our students cannot excel academically if we don’t develop the habit of asking the aforementioned questions and take the time to evaluate our performance as facilitators. If we are bold enough to point the finger at our students when they fail, then we must be equally bold enough to point it back at ourselves when we fall short.

**********************************

 

**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  

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