Friday, March 30, 2018

"What If"

As I finish up a book that has helped me see things more clearly one of the very last parts really resonated with me. Lately I have been thinking a lot about those kids who seem to have behaviors that get in the way of learning, but "What If" (thank you Katie Martin) we looked at them differently? Katie talks in her book about Captain Underpants, which is a movie I watched for the first time this year during a spontaneous lunch date with my class (I should not admit this but I giggled more than the students).  The boys in this movie are always in trouble for the antics they pull, but if you really look at who they are you see they are incredibly genius with their ideas.

Just recently I read the book Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt and had that same realization that "What If" we really knew what the underlying issues were. "What If" we took time to look past the poor behavior and saw the real child. In this book the main character has dyslexia and it takes until 5th grade for someone to realize it. Her poor behavior overshadowed her inability to read. Underneath her acting out and pushing people away she was an incredible artist and extremely intelligent. 

This past year I have embraced risk taking, but at times worry about taking the wrong leaps. What if I take some  leaps that harm more than help my students? As I reflect on Learners Centered Innovation, Captain Underpants and Fish in a Tree they all lead me to feel confident my risks are what is best for kids. By providing my students with more choice and empower them to own their learning I am preparing them for more than just school. I had one of those amazing teacher moments this week as we were talking in class one of my students asked me what would happen if one of them made poor choices. I was a little confused at the question so took a second and realized although we had gone over rules and consequences at the beginning of the year we haven't had any issues this year that require discipline in my class. At that moment I knew the risks were completly worth it. I feel as though my class has taken ownership in our room as a community and have had the opportunities to own their learning. This has resulted in less time or desire for poor behaviors. I am not saying my students behave perfectly, but I am experiencing a much different year than I have in the past. I know who my students really are better than I ever have, which allows me to truly differentiate.

Some of the risks this year: 

*Flipping math class using the Grid Method, which focuses on student mastery at the students pace
*Embracing standards based grading even though our grade is the only one doing it 
*Introducing Genius Hour
*Planning lessons around students interests and passions
*Taking risks, which include failing and succeeding in front of my students. 
*Eliminating homework
*More flexible seating
*Blogging and Tweeting (putting myself out there)
*Empowering students!

None of it was easy, but each one was worth it!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Teach the Way I Would Want to Be Taught!

The way I see things is training is to teachers as teaching the content is to students. I have fully embraced being a student as I have navigated my way through new ideas lately. As I think about how I want to learn it directly correlates to how I should be teaching as well. I use to dread our inservice days and still do at times. There was nothing worse than Google training on the last day before Thanksgiving or learning how to use our Smart Boards on the last day before summer break. I was checked out and definitely unengaged. If we were expected to learn and use the knowledge I can assure you it was wasted on me and most of my colleagues. Last summer, I spent much of my spare time reading books, researching and planning on how I wanted this year to go. It was on my own time at my own pace and I learned a ton. I was highly motivated and felt ownership.   Because I see the value in the changes I want to making I am sitting on my couch on a Sunday writing this blog, I participate in Twitter chats and spend time connecting with other passionate educators who help me be a better version of myself. This school year there has luckily been a shift in how our work days are carried out. We spend less time in training and more time in collaboration.  We have a ways to go to completely embrace a culture of learning, but we are moving in that direction and it feels good.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sometimes We Need to Add but Know When to Subtract Too!

I found myself completely overwhelmed with new ideas to implement in my classroom. I downloaded apps and registered for the newest and greatest ways to engage student learning. The result was TOO MUCH to do. Not to much content to teach, but too much time spent trying new things! I love learning and finding things to make my classroom better for my kids, but I had grabbed on to way too much, which became counterproductive and I was frustrated. If I was frustrated my students had to have been too. I have purposely slowed down and ditched some things as well as let some things that look cool go by. My misconception was that innovation was adding more and in reality that is not true. Coming to understand this was so refreshing. I realized I needed to pick just a few things to focus on and start letting go of the rest. 
"Innovation in education is not just about adding it's also about subtracting" by Katie Martin -Learner Centered Innovation
One of the major changes I made was to spend more time looking at myself and my practices in the classroom. Reflection on what I can do and what I can stop doing for my kids has led me to a place I am so excited to be. I can keep constantly reflection and adapting, I can keep building strong relationships with my students, and I can focus on meaningful rich learning experiences. I can stop focusing on the end result and rather focus on the journey, I can stop giving meaningless busy work, and I can stop answering my students questions and have them find their own answers that will hopefully lead to more questions.
As Katie talked about in her book too often success is defined by test scores. This is definitely a frustration as I have students pulled out to drill-and-kill or engage in less authentic learning experiences so they can perform better on tests. I battle with this because these are the students who desperately need to make a connection and go beyond the standards, but get held back from some of the meaningful learning taking place in the classroom.
A challenge I see in our school is the one size fits all curriculum. I feel very fortunate to be in school district that allows us to take risks and take our own path in how we achieve learning in our students. Our grade level began to step away from our given language arts curriculum, which included worksheets and reading passages the students had no connection to, a few years ago and a little at a time. We restructured our classrooms to provide more personal and authentic learning. We use picture books and the students own reading choices to teach skills and the result is a much better understanding and the ability to actually use the skills in their own reading. This year we have also taken a leap away from our math curriculum to teach in a student paced much more flexible way. This also includes reteaching and retesting to achieve a better understanding of concepts. I feel like there has been growth in motivation and learning.
Yes constraints are in my classroom and in my school, but that just means we need to get creative and be willing to take some risks! 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

WHY or HOW do you do your job?

WHY or HOW do you do your job? 

I see the first as a question we ask ourselves and the second is a question others ask us. Especially these days with fear of our safety, demands and frustration growing in the classroom HOW do we do it everyday? WHY do we do it everyday?

WHY is a question I have been focused on as I reflect on who I am as an educator. WHY did I choose this career and WHY do I continue to move forward in it.
When I think of my WHY I could answer with all the right things like I want to make a difference, I love seeing curiosity form into amazing discoveries and a million other reasons, but although these are all true my real WHY has more to do with what I have experienced.


I was raised with kids and lots of them! My parents took in foster children my whole childhood. There were times I would wake up in the morning and run into the next bedroom to see if "new friends" had arrived in the middle of the night (which happened often). These children came from unimaginable places and had been through more in their short lives than anyone should have to endure in a lifetime. I came to understand and empathize with them. I also worried about them long after they left us. When they left us they often went back into the same awful situation they were pulled from. I knew that for a lot of them school would be there only safe place. It would be the place they knew they would get a meal, be warm and should be a place where they are loved and feel safe.

My WHY is also my brother who struggled with ADHD in a time when it was not accepted and worked with like it is now in schools. My WHY is my son who told me he felt like noone at school believed in him. My WHY is the kids who stop in every morning on the way to class that come to get a high five or sit and take a breath before starting the day. My WHY is a senior (who I had in a reading program 7 years ago) that brings me a coffee mug that reads "TEACHER, because Badass Miracle Worker is Not a Title".  My WHY is because I don't ever want a child to leave my room feeling like they don't matter and that they know there is always a safe place to stop whenever they need.

If you have ever seen the movie Girls Just Want to Have Fun with Sarah Jessica Parker (from the 80'S) there is a scene where she is a high school student introducing herself and she pauses and says "I love to dance" (which is what the movie is all about).  When I was a kid this was much more dramatic in my own head than it really is when I see it now, but that is what I think of everytime someone asks HOW I do my job everyday. I think as I do a dramatic pause "because I love to teach".

I think my love of what I do is apparent to most who know me especially my family. My 15 year old daughter has her first job and she told me the other day how lucky she was to have a job she loved....she works at a child care in an elementary school. Everyday I pick her up she talks nonstop about the kids and what happened that day. Even at 15 I can see her passion for kids and know she will make a difference in so many lives.

The HOW question I feel is a more difficult one to answer, because it is tough to put into words the feeling of seeing kids be curious, daring, innovative, successful and amazing. I know right now with school safety at the front of everyone's mind people are worried and so am I, but we can't live in fear. We have a job to do and it is more important now than ever. Kids are changing and the way we connect with them is changing. We need to change with the times or become irrelevant. So my HOW I do this job is I have found a tribe of people who remind me almost everyday how amazing and important our job is.

I was watching the news the other day and was completely overwhelmed by the students standing up for what they believe in in Florida. What they are doing is EXACTLY what I see as the powerful outcome of empowering kids. George Couros, Katie Martin, Dave Burgess, Jimmy Casas, A.J. Juliani and John Spencer are just a few of the people who I see as huge influences on where our education is going. Because of this I don't see WHY or HOW I could not love what I do!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Sometimes You Just Need to Dance!

Sometimes you just need to dance! One of my least favorite subjects to teach is writing. I am not a great writer myself, it is not a passion of mine so I find it difficult to provide meaningful learning opportunities when it comes to this subject. I know I need to do better so I have tried new things. This was my favorite this year! We were working on sequencing so we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which I am sure is a common sequencing writing project. Because I am flexible and go with opportunities as they happen when one of my kids starting singing Peanut Butter Jelly Time I seized the moment! Quickly I typed in the song title and turned up the volume. When I did that this video happened....there are so many fun things happening I couldn't help but laugh. And YES that is the worm happening in the background!!

The best part is the energy every time I played the song to announce writing time. In all my years of teaching there has never been this much excitement to write! Not only were they excited but they were motivated and engaged to write well once the music stopped. If we stay open and flexible great things can happen. I would've missed this great opportunity if I had stuck to my lesson plan.

My takeaway was always be ready to go with the flow and seize opportunities that get students excited about learning. In other words....Sometime you just need to dance!

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What conditions are critical to support learning and innovation?

For so long my classroom was taught around compliance and I never even thought about it that way. I have spent a lot of time refectly lately on who I am as a learner and who I want my students to be as learners. I learn best what I am self motivated, part of decision making, see my work as fulfilling and challenging and get to solve problems creatively all things Katie Martin points out in her book Learner Centered Innovation. If I learn best this way why would I not provide all these things for my students? A question I had not spent nearly enough time thinking about in the past. I am amazed at the difference in how my classroom culture has evolved when I plan keeping these things in mind.

This year I have tried to really change my mindset on how the student's in my class are learning. I loved the idea of teaching my students to be free thinkers and owners of their own learning, but in all honesty I had no idea what that would look like or how to provide that. Slowly by the use of Twitter, reading blogs and asking amazing eductors for help I have begun to understand more clearly what that means. A great example was just recently our students needed to learn about matter and to make things a little more difficult I had to teach it. In the past my grade partner would tackle science and I would take on social studies. The more we collaborated the more we felt the value in working together on both subjects. As a team we've talked alot about having a more student led classroom and this was a perfect opportunity to provide that! Each student was given a state of matter and would spend time learning about it and then give a 60 second elevator pitch on what they learned. After that they were grouped in a way in which one solid, one liquid and one gas were members of the team and instructed to find a way to demonstrate all three to the class. I was a little nervous about the direction they would take, but was completely blown away by what they came up with. Each group chose a demonstration along with an explanation of the states of matter. The best part was one of my reluctant learners, who seems uninterested in putting forth much effort in anything, was so excited about the project. He even said "Mrs. Erickson, this is the first time I have been excited about an assignment. I love this and want to keep doing it" followed by a "Science! Science! Science!" chant by the whole class. I think I found what my ideal classroom looks like!

What Can We Do to Keep Shining?

Sometimes a school culture can feel a little toxic. The judgements, criticism, burn out, bad attitudes and some just bad days. We are at a ...