TET 715 Blog Post 6: Collaboration Locally and Globally

Being a younger teacher I have not spent much time thinking about sharing my teaching styles with those outside the walls of the school. I feel like it is hard to share with other teachers when I am still trying to figure out who I am as a teacher myself. There are a few times though where I have taken the time to get on the computer and share with others what I have been doing in the classroom. I share with those outside the classroom what has been working for me and what has not worked so well.

At the local level I have taken many opportunities to send emails with projects I have completed in my TET degree program at the University of South Dakota. The one I am most proud of was a short video that highlighted some of the new technologies teachers can use in their classroom to save time and be more responsive for the students. In addition to that video, I have also taken the time to just talk with other teachers who are willing to listen about new web tools I have used that live up to the hype and those that fall flat.

Outside of my school, I have participated in some  Twitter chats with professors and former classmates using the hashtag #eloned. Most of the people participating in these chats are either professors or teachers who graduated from Elon in the past five years. On this forum I could share examples of things I was doing in the classroom. I would also share why these things did or did not work. For example, I shared with my former classmates the disaster of a lesson I created when students were asked to teach a lesson on their own. I shared with those on the Twitter chat why I took the risk (I had read about it in one of the books assigned for my masters) and why it failed (I did not provide enough scaffolding). Through this conversation, we discovered how that lesson can be improved in the future so students can be better served.

Moving forward I want to take the time to participate in more of these Twitter chats. It is so easy to do and every time I participate I take away great insights. It is also encouraging to do them because I am able to see that there are other teachers taking risks in the classroom just like myself. Besides Twitter, I want to start taking advantage of blogging. After reading my classmate’s blogs as well as the blogs by Larry Cuban I am discovering what a great tool they can be for educators across the world to collaborate and share ideas for the classroom. I know there are other new teachers who could benefit from the lessons I have learned in my first year of teaching and I plan to share those lessons on a new teacher blog I create once school starts up again.

TET 715 Blog: Learning Every Day as a Teacher

“Staff meetings were something I dreaded as a teacher” (Couros, 2015 p. 181). This is something I agree with completely when I think about the things I have to do in my profession. I hate sitting around and talking about test scores and working conditions at our school. Rarely do I feel like I accomplished anything when leaving those meetings. Professional development it the same way for me. It is usually one or two days of lecture and then we are sent off to our schools to apply the concepts we are taught. Couros (2015) does not hide that he thinks this method of professional development is not the way to go. He says the best way to learn is through collaboration and observing other teachers teach. We learn best by applying the things we want to apply in our classrooms.

A couple  weeks ago I was at an AP teachers workshop. I had to go in order to continue to teach the AP class at my high school. According to the College Board teachers must go and listen to another teacher tell us how they teach their class. Once we have done that we are deemed “worthy” to teach an AP class. The problem is I got nothing out of the week long session other than some free books and online resources. The educator who was leading the session I attended teaches at one of the best and richest schools in Kentucky. Most of her suggestions for teaching were not possible at my school because we do not have the funding and the resources to implement her suggestions. Because of this I wasted a week when I could have been planning and gearing up for the upcoming school year.

With that being said, my principal does a wonderful job of letting me experiment with new programs and technologies. He allows all of us to explore new things to see if they work. He does not try to micromanage his teachers. Now if something is not working, he will tell us that we need to reevaluate what we are doing in our class, but for the most part we are allowed to find what works for us. Teachers send emails back and forth, observe other classrooms and informally share ideas in the teacher’s lounge or in the hallway before and after school. My school is small which creates a family like atmosphere where we are comfortable talking with any teacher in any environment.

The way we could improve the collaboration is making it more organized. Many schools have started hiring people who are technology experts. This is something I would like to have in my school. Even though will have a Master’s degree shortly there are still times when I wish there was someone I could call to bounce ideas off of and get help. This person could also be a great advocate for using new technologies in the classroom. For example my district will not let me use Twitter to send updates to my students. Even though it could be an efficient and innovative way to share information and answer questions, the school is worried about liability issues. If there was someone to ease the concerns of the administrators we could be more forward-thinking with the technology use in our school.

In the end, I like the ability to share ideas with other educators in an informal way. Short conversations in passing or a 15 minute observation can help me learn way more than a week long professional development session. I hope schools start to move toward these communities and away from the antiquated staff meeting.

 

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture

                   of creativity.

TET 715 Blog Post #4:How can we create learning opportunities and experiences for students and teachers that focus on empowerment as opposed to engagement?

Throughout college the emphasis in our teacher education program was the importance of engaging learners. We wanted kids to be involved in the classroom and we wanted them to be excited about being there. The instructors taught us to not be the “sage on the stage” but to be a person who got our students involved and engaged. I had never thought about engagement not being good enough until I read The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (2015). In chapter 6 of his book he says, “It is imperative that we teach learners how to be self-directed and guide their own learning, rather than rely on others to simply engage them” (p. 96). I had never thought about it in that light before. If we only engage our students they are like the kids who are never able to ride a bike without training wheels. As Couros  (2015) says we need to empower our students to be learners rather than just engaging them.

When I was in college at Elon our catch phrase was be a LifELONg learner. At the time I thought it was an overly cheesy motto for the school, but looking back on it was a great thing. If we are not empowered to learn as we move forward in life we are not going to be successful. We need to focus on learning as much as we can every day or we are going to fall behind.

For teachers this means that we need to focus on networking and working together. The big push in today’s education world is forming Professional Learning Communities. Couros (2015) tells us that getting feedback at all times is critical to our development as teachers. If we find groups of people that we are empowered to work with and are excited about the opportunities to get better than we will be better teachers in the long run.

Couros (2015) says in chapter 8 of his book that we need to focus on our strengths. Both teachers and students need to do this. There is a reason there are many different positions on the football team. Everybody has different talents, it is no different in education. For students that means having them draw if they are good at drawing rather than making them write a long paper. If they are able to show understanding in this way than the teacher should EMPOWER them by allowing them to draw. Couros (2015) goes on to say that the more we do something that we are good at, the more confidence that we build. Once that confidence is built up we will be more willing to focus on the things that we are not as good at.

What this means for us as professionals is we need to focus on what we are good at as teachers. Once we have that down we can branch off into things we are not as good at. Since we have confidence in what we are doing as teachers the failures we will face can be easier to handle. With students we need to build up their confidence with things that they are good at. Once they are confident failures in the tasks they are not as good at will be met with determination rather than despair. In the long run both teachers and students will be more successful if we approach school and our jobs in this manner.

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture                      of creativity.

Going Paperless: TET 715 Blog Post 3

I was at an AP Summer Institute (APSI) the past week and one of the activities was talking about “things” that work well in our classrooms. As we went around the room there was one person who said something that made my ears perk up. He said his classroom was completely paperless. Though the term had come up in my readings before I had glossed over it because in my mind it was not possible to go completely paperless. However, his comments made me think I could make it happen.

When I returned from the APSI, I sat down and started to research paperless classrooms for this blog post. My Google search yielded an article by Kerry Gallagher written in 2014 about her experiences of going paperless. While reading the article I found many parallels to what students have said to me when we use various technologies in the classroom. The first thing Kerry’s students said was that the technology made them feel more organized. Having notes in one central location that could be accessed from anywhere was a big plus for many of the students. In my classroom that is one of the main reasons that I have allowed students to use the Chromebooks to take notes. It helps them say organized and it is also good because the can never lose their notes (unless the server at Google crashes).

Paperless classrooms grant us the ability to collaborate more. Students can share Google Documents with the press of a button with me or their classmates. Comments can then be added and revisions made quicker than ever before. Kerry said this was one of the things the students liked about the paperless classroom. Something else to think about it students need to be doing work on the commuter because as time moves on they are going to be doing more work digitally and less work with a paper and pencil (Edudemic).

Going paperless forces us to use different applications that cater to students who need more differentiated instruction. They can find various apps and technologies that make learning truly fun. The no longer have to sit in the classroom and take notes while the teacher rambles in the front of the classroom. Allowing students to demonstrate understanding in different ways fits in with the Teaching for Understanding model that many educators are starting to turn to as well.

This new way of administering a class does not come without its shortcomings. It is difficult to implement in rural schools like mine because students do not have computers when they go home. This means homework needs to be given out on paper. The initiative assumes as well that a school would have to be 1-to-1 or have students who can bring their own devices  (which some do not). However, with work and creativity going paperless (or as close as possible) can be a good way to create a good learning environment while also saving our natural environment.

 

 

TET 715 Blog Post 2: What Characteristic of Innovative Leadership Do I Do best?

There might not be a more talked about subject in education today than leadership. It seems like every book that I pick up has something about what we can do to be better leaders. What are strategies we can use? Who should our followers be? How can we be leaders in our schools? These are just some of the questions that books attempt to answer. However, George Couros (2015) provides a simple list of 8 things in his book The Innovator’s Mindset that make an innovative leader. It’s simplicity in a discipline that has gotten too complicated is appreciated by me.

Courous (2015)says innovative leaders are:

  1. Visionary
  2. Empathetic
  3. Models of Learning
  4. Open Risk-Takers
  5. Networked
  6. Observant
  7. Team Builders
  8. Always Focused on Relationships

I feel confident about my skills in many of these categories. My youth makes me visionary, leaving college has given me many great ideas for the future. In my classroom I am not afraid to take risks and I do it often. Building relationships is something that I consider myself very good at.

If I were to pick the thing I am best at though, it would be Team Building. I have been on so many different teams in my life that I have seen the best and the worst. My life has experienced winners and losers. These competitions have taken place in the DakotaDome all the way to the Science Olympiad teams in high school. This experience has made me very comfortable with groups of people.

I view my class as a team of people. Their goal is to be the best group they can possibly be and I want them to see every day as a competition. Now, I do not want this competition to be against other classes or other schools. Rather, I want them to be in competition with themselves. Couros (2015) tells us that innovation comes from groups that are NOT like mined. Groups that are similar are the ones who are going to fail. They fail because they do not have anything to challenge beliefs (Couros, 2015).  These groups are blinded by the status quo. The thing I do better than anything is cause students to challenge beliefs. I am good at creating a class where students can fiercely debate but leave as friends at the end of the day. Some days students may get frustrated with me since I always take up the side that the minority of the class is arguing for. However,  I have found that when our beliefs are challenged we are forced to think. When we are forced to think about our beliefs and then come to a conclusion, they become solid.  I do not shy away from big things like abortion, or gay marriage or transgender issues because they cause great debates and students truly learn from these topics. My ability to create a class with mutual respect that functions as a team is something I am especially proud of.

Couros, G. (2015). The innovator’s mindset: Empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a

                     culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

TET 715 Blog Post 1: What would my dream school look like?

If I had the funds and the opportunity to start my own school, it would look nothing like the type of schooling you and I went through. You would not see desks lined up in rows with the teacher up front being the all knowing master of the material. Ken Robinson in his TED talk discusses this old “industrial” form of education. With the modern student this does not work. Robinson discusses how today is the most connected and interactive time period in history and rather than embracing it, teachers and schools expect students to sit in straight rows and listen to a boring teacher.

The most noticeable thing in my school would be every student would have a computer or tablet to use to take notes and do in class activities. It would look much like the classroom Larry Cuban describes on his own classroom blogs. Students would walk into class, get their computers out and the teacher would have the agenda on the projector or some whiteboard in the room. Students would not have to be at the same point in the lesson. Rather, they would move at their own pace with the teacher providing supplementary support as needed. The teacher would no longer be the all knowing center of knowledge but a sort of “teammate” in the learning process. Their responsibility would shift from content delivery to inquiry organization. The job is to frame the problems in a way where students are asking the right questions to answer along the way.

By doing this we are in agreement with a lot of the things advocated for by George Couros in his book The Innovator’s Mindset (2015). He tells us that we should have students discover the problems so they can then ask the right questions and then solve the problems. In my school students would be given broad concepts and then be asked to create their own questions to answer and then learn. The school would also focus on the growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset. Couros  (2015) tells us that the best and brightest students come from teachers who believe they can grow. My school would have no tracking of any sort. Students would be in classes with people from every SES level, race, gender and intelligence level. In life we are never placed with people of our same ability so why have our schools been set up the same way? The great thing about no tracking is students learn to develop and thrive in a community that embraces diversity rather than uniformity.

I realize a school like this would be hard to create. However, my classroom next year will focus on many of these ideas and I cannot wait to see how they turn out in real application.