Monday, February 26, 2018

Put Yourself Out There!

Put yourself out there! That is easier said than done as I have found out. The thought of blogging actually made me a little nauseous...and that is not an exaggeration. I have started 3 different blogs on 3 different blog sites, the first couple I never posted or told anyone about so they sit with literally zero views. That worked for me, because I felt like I had tried and that was good enough. I have spent the last year reading every book I can to help me be a better educator and once again I felt like at least I am trying. Only now, that I have committed to really blogging and focusing on myself as a learner can I say I get it! I didn't get here on my own though. The process was pretty eye opening. I reached out for help and became the student. When one asks George Couros for help and he says blog...there is no other choice but to blog. Since I felt like I asked for the help I had to follow through no matter how much I wanted to say forget it! The stages I went through surprised me a little. I was nervous and anxious just like what I see in my students when they are asked to do something uncomfortable. When I would ask questions I did not get direct answers just more things to think about, which is what I have come to understand is how we can spark curiosity and ownership in learning in our students. As I lost sleep and needed constant reassurance I decided it was time to make the leap and really put myself out there. I finished my first blog and shared it not knowing what to expect. When I saw that it was retweeted and the amount of views it made me sick at exaggeration. Once that feeling past I began to feel like I can do this and started to wonder what else I was capable of. I realized that my unpublished blogs and huge amount of reading wasn't enough. I have thought more about my relationship with my students, colleagues and myself, which has forced me to really look at how I can do better. What I have learned through this process is I want to give my students what my teacher (George) gave to me. Spark curiosity, stand beside them and watch amazing things happen.

As I watched George, Katie and A.J. during IMMOOC I am even more inspired to commit to the process of reflecting and getting out there. As I post on my blog and on twitter I put myself in a position for criticism. Our grade level has made changes and we have definitely put ourselves in a position for criticism. I am fortunate enough to have a group of supporters who remind me the risk is worth it, because I am doing what is best for my learners.

I loved the question during IMMOOC about what we can do tomorrow. Talk to kids! Give them choice! This year my team has taken the leap to give kids choices, which was pretty scary at first. That would be tough if we didn't talk to kids and get to really know them. Empowering them with choice and in their learning has been amazing to be a part of. I finally understand what was meant when I heard the phrase "student led". We have so much more to do, but that shift has been so incredible for us as teachers as well as for the students.

I am looking forward to the next 6 weeks as I push myself to even more uncomfortableness with the goal of being so much better for my kids! I am so grateful to have the opportunity to learn from some people I admire so much for what they do for education. There is a lot to learn from George, Katie, A.J. and John and I cannot wait to see where this journey takes me.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Curiosity...Passion...Change IMMOOC4

I think it is critical to spark curiosity and ignite passions in learners so we can not only teach them skills, but provide authentic learning opportunities to practice those skills and take them even further. This will happen when they are truly engaged in what they are learning. Tapping into students passions will result in them putting in more effort, retaining more information and work harder. I know for me I started college without a purpose or passion and my grades were definitely a result...a very embarrassing result. When I started my elementary education classes (my passion) my effort increased significantly and as a result I received grades I was proud of and curiosity in what I loved motivated me to go farther than I was required. By providing learning experiences that allow my students to learn through their passions it will encourage their curiosity to lead them farther. 

I can honestly say I have only recently truly embraced the evolving role of an educator. Each year I am excited to bring new ideas into my classroom, but recently my evolution has taken off. I think I have evolved more in the last couple of years than I have in all of my 19 years of teaching put together. As times and my students needs change I knew I needed to change as well or get left behind. At first I thought technology was the key to keeping up and I learned everything I could, but have come to realized a 21st century educator is so much more that being tech savvy. It has taken time, frustrations, failures along with successes and great change. I not only have embraced my role, but look forward to where it will take me. 
If we change the way we learn and how we see our learning we ultimately change the way our students learn. When we change that, they change the world.-Katie Martin Learner Centered Innovation
YES! I can not wait to see the amazing ways my students change the world!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Authentic Learning Doesn't Have to Wait!

In Learner Centered Innovation by Katie Martin I was struck by a section in her book in which she talks about students having to wait until they master basic skills before engaging in authentic learning. So often I feel like students are held back because they have not mastered a skill that they could authentically practice if we as teachers sometimes got out of their way.

       We shouldn't make lerners wait until they master the basics to engage in authentic learning-I couldn't agree more!

She goes on to say what often is seen in schools:

   *Kids are held back from reading books they are interested in because the book isn't at "their level".

Our school uses the Accelerated Reading program to level and assess our students reading. I often heard kids say they were not allowed to read books they wanted, because it was too difficult for them based on the AR level and what I saw was disengaged reading that the students dreaded. One of my favorite times of the day is silent reading. My goal is to teach kids how to find appropriate books that they love and are able to determine on their own if it is a "good fit". I look around the room and see students engaged in reading and able to discuss a book they are interested in. It is so quiet and most are genuinely disappointed when we need to move on to something else.

    *Students are forced to practice their letters over and over before they can create their own stories. 

I have some pretty creative students who love to write! They may not be the best at grammar and sometimes there stories are a little scattered, but because they are writing and writing a lot those skills will come with authentic work that they are excited about doing. I feel like I would be extinguishing their flame of writing if I got in their way. I can guide them along the way instead of waiting until they have mastered specific skills.

    *In math, learners work on basic facts and rote computation before they can try and love complex problems.

My grade partner and I just had a conversation about this the other day. He came to me and asked what I thought about kids using their multiplication tables when they struggled with solving multi digit multiplication problems. My response was it depends... are you wanting them to demonstrate their math facts or multi step problem solving? We talked about it and agreed that although the math facts are important and need to be practiced that they would be able to use the table to help them so they could practice the process without getting lost in the math facts they were struggling with. As they were working through the multi step problem they were also practicing the facts they needed as well.

Getting out of the way of my students was a huge shift and not always easy. I at one time was so focused on basic skills that some of my students were not having the opportunity to participate in authentic learning. Yes, the basic skills are important, but I love that I can provide opportunities for my students to practice those skills along the way instead of stopping until they have them to move on. It is more meaningful and retainable if they actually use the skills rather than just regurgitate them.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

School Culture Matters

Creating a safe place for students to learn, grow and be a part of is crucial. At the beginning of every school year we talk about family in my classroom. We talk about how our class is like a family and how we actually spend more time together in a regular week that we do with our families at home. Also we talk about how we each play a role in that family. I want students to know they always have a place in my classroom no matter how many years go by. School culture matters!
There are so many opportunities to make our family stronger throughout the school year, but for me those relationships do not stop on the last day of the school year. We are in a brand new building this year that has 1st through 6th grade in order down one long hall. It is awesome because every morning our 4th grade team stands outside our door giving high fives and knuckle bumps to not only our classes but the class we had last year as they walk past and the class we had the year before that. Those students know that just because they may not spend the day in my class they will forever be welcome and they take advantage of that. Kids stop in throughout the day...every only rule is they need to read the room before walking in, which they respect. That means if I am in a meeting with either a student or adult they need to come back later otherwise they are always welcome. These relationships are built on trust and respect.

I love days when my own family can come spend time with my classroom family and one of my favorite is our Thanksgiving feast in November. My husband and 3 kids stop at a restaurant and pick up a full Thanksgiving meal then serve it in my classroom to the whole 4th grade. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, but that is not the case for everyone. This is an amazing opportunity to connect with my students and they spend the rest of the year asking about my own kids as if they have known them forever.

Lunches are another great way to build culture. Student love to eat lunch somewhere other than the lunch room so we have days set up in which they can come eat in my room (5th graders get taco days and 6th graders get mash potato days) and on those days there is a classroom FULL of kids. I may  not have perfect state test scores, but I am reminded especially on these days how impactful I can be.

Connecting with students on the playground are some of my favorite times at school. We have a Wellness Wednesday every week that is amazing. It is an extended time outside at the end of each Wednesday in which the whole 4th grade including teachers play a large group game. The opportunities to teach students about good sportsmanship and bonding as a team are priceless. Yes, there is usually a winner, but it always ends with a handshake line and kids saying "good game". Us teachers wear workout clothes that day and any student who has been in our class recognizes the day and often stop to ask us what game we are playing that day for Wellness Wednesday. Many times I have kids say it was one of their favorite things in 4th grade.

It seems more important than ever that we are connecting with our students and creating a culture that is healthy, supportive and empowers kids. My goal is that each and every student that I have knows that they were valued and cared about not just the year they were in my class but forever.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


Change is not easy especially when you know change is necessary, but what to change is not clear. I have been teaching for 19 years and each year brings new challenges and no two years are alike. I shudder to think about what my teaching looked like along the way at times. Worksheets, homework, round robin reading and the list goes on and on. I can honestly say even though each year I grew it is nothing compared to the last few years. I started to reflect on what was happening in my classroom and it was time to make some major changes, because I knew if I wasn't interested in what I was teaching it was a pretty safe assumption my students were not either. They were disengaged as was I, which left me wondering how effective I was being even though I kind of knew the answer to that and it wasn't good. As George Couros asks "Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?" and I could have confidently say NO!

So now what? I am fortunate enough to have a grade partner who was feeling the same way. We started small with flexible seating and reducing the amount of worksheets we used (thank goodness!) and since have completely changed the atmosphere and mindset in our 4th grade classrooms including Genius Hour and flipping our math instruction. Engagement became our focus and then it was clear there is more than just engagement and that is taking it to the next level of empowerment. These changes have not always been easy as each time we take a risk it is met with challenges, barriers and at times criticism by our colleagues. It has also been difficult to choose what changes to make, because there is so much out there to choose from or create. Focusing on what will have the biggest impact has been an enormous challenge for me. Luckily I have had help and guidance, which led me to a book by Katie Martin Learner Centered Innovation.

In her book Katie talks about what a 21st century classroom looks like and if I was asked what that was not all that long ago I would've said technology and how to use it in the classroom. Now I have learned that it is so much more. She says "No longer do students need to access teachers for content, but they desperately need teachers that guide them as they develop the skills, knowledge and disposition to be lifelong learners and critical consumers". Our role as teachers has changed and so has our students. I want and need to provide a classroom that I would want to be learner in. It is still not crystal clear what that looks like all the time, but it is definitely getting more clear. I look forward to the journey I will take as I read Learner Centered Innovation and reflect on my own teaching along the way.

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 ...