13 March 2017

It's not all about the content or the grades or the assignments...

Over the course of my 17 years teaching, I have never been about the grades or the assignments, homeworks or tests. I am about the content simply because it's my passion however, I have to come to realize that none of these have helped me forge the relationships that I have with anyone in my school.  To some extent (and some to a lesser extent), all of the above have a place throughout my day and in my career. Building relationships is paramount. Something I tell my students is that if they leave my room knowing more than they did the class before, then I've done my job and they've done theirs. Not everything is measurable and we need to take pride in our personal progress because that is different for each learner in your class.  If they feel that you value process over product, they'll know you care about them as learners. This sets up your classroom to be a safe environment for them to share and take risks and be themselves and it makes you more than just their teacher.  So many students feel comfortable telling me about their lives (and not just my own students) because they know that you value them and that you'll take the time to listen, even if you do get off topic for a minute or two.  As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as being on task 100% of the time and it's ok. You and your students will get so much more out of your education (yes, we can learn from each other) if you can be flexible and find a balance between content, grades and building relationships.

12 March 2017

School and learning NOT School vs. Learning

My thoughts on George Couros' School vs. Learning

While I do agree with the differences laid out nicely in George's image below, I do have to say that I am not sure that I would see school as negatively as it can be portrayed.  I think in a perfect, utopian world, school and learning are so intertwined that you cannot pull them apart so easily. Maybe it can get there if more teachers were in it for the passion and not the paycheck. Maybe it would help if more administrators encouraged risk-taking and more teachers availed themselves to a great #PLN that would help them be more innovative.  I am not sure that this can happen in our lifetime but I am optimistic that if we can effect change now, some of our students will someday become the educators that make it happen.  Plant the seeds, give them plenty of nourishment and let's see what we can accomplish. Hopefully, we could see a future when we say school and learning instead of school vs. learning.

What if we rewrote some of this to have school not be against learning but together with education?  In order to not make this post lengthy, I will only look at a few points from the image below and would love to hear comments from readers! What struck you? Do you agree? Disagree?


"School is scheduled at certain times. Learning can happen any time, all of the time.

What if it read instead: Although your hours in school are set, teachers spark your learning to continue beyond their hours and their classrooms so that you never stop learning.


"School is about giving your information. Learning is about you making your own connections."

What if it read instead: School opens the doors to information through all who participate- teachers and students alike- to encourage you to make your own connections, creating a deeper, more relevant understanding.


"School is about finding information on something prescribed to you. Learning is about exploring your passions and interests."

What if it read instead: School provides information on various topics so as to open the eyes of its learners so that they may delve deeper and explore passions and interests they may not have been exposed to yet."

I think my goal is to make school not the enemy but the spark that ignites the passions and innovation in our students.  Thoughts?


The concluding part II of the The Innovator's Mindset  presents the reader with some really thought-provoking What if questions.  One of these that really had me thinking was "What if we hired people who did not look at teaching as a "career" but as a "passion"?  As I read this question, I immediately began to think of what my school could look like if that was one of the top questions on the minds of those involved in the hiring process. I imagine students going from class to class excited, engaged and ready to learn.  When you think of teaching as your "job", it definitely comes across to the students that way.  Teachers who are just going through the motions, teaching on autopilot one ditto at a time are really doing our students a disservice. When you are passionate about what you do, it's easier to inspire others. I think it communicates that you not only are knowledgeable in your subject area and enjoy it, but you also have a need to share it with your students, which in turns sends a message to them that you are invested in them.

A second question that resonated with me was "What if we empowered students to make a difference in the world today and in the future?"  It has become increasingly apparent to me that when you set the tone to ensure a safe classroom environment where students feel comfortable sharing without fear and are treated with mutual respect, it will serve them in all aspects of their lives.  If fostered from the early grades and reinforced throughout their academic career, I believe it creates an atmosphere where real learning can take place.

One last note on this What if concept.  Last year, I read Warren Berger's A More Beautiful Question and this reminded me of how questioning can be one of the most important tools for creating innovators.  In his book, he says that there are three steps in questioning, Why? What if? How? I think these could easily be applied to education and to an innovator's mindset.  

So, I offer this scenario:

Why are our schools failing our students?
What if we could change this?
How could we use our innovator's mindset to do so?

05 March 2017

Am I innovative?

I get how innovation is defined as new and better but I am struggling to find a way that I can define what I do as innovative. I always thought that I was pretty innovative because I never conformed to anyone else's curriculum. I have always painstakingly designed my own curriculum because I felt as if simply following someone else's would not be me. I believe that in order for me to be the best teacher for my students, I have to be me.  I cannot be Mr. So-and-so. I always say that we all have different teaching styles and that's ok.  It doesn't make one way better or worse, just different.  I believe that being your true self and sharing your own passions in your teaching will make the connections you make with your students stronger and more authentic.

That said, I am struggling with the idea that although I may be doing things in a new and better way from how I previously did makes them innovative in my field.  Even though I feel like I am always looking for ways to be better and make my mark in my career, I have a hard time believe that I might be the only one to have come up with an idea.  I often feel as if there must  be other educators doing what I'm doing and that I'm not that  special. A good teacher, sure, but cutting edge- debatable.

Here's an idea that I had and really I just adapted from another activity that I found in a book. In learning a new language, communication is king.  To that end, it is important to offer the students opportunities to use their new language in an authentic way.  Meeting new people is inevitable and so often we have our students engage in a dialogue in which they ask each other's names, where they live, how old they are etc.  This is usually boring because in most cases, these kids have been together for years and so they know their names already, everyone is more or less the same age and they all live in the same town. Result = answers are all almost identical. I came across an activity in which students were given a worksheet with different people from different areas and had different ages. They had to pretend to be these people and simply fill in the worksheet.  Ok, so that was better because they had to pay more attention to names, ages and where people lived and it increased their vocabulary but it still seemed a little boring. What I did was tell the students that they were going to be given a new identity and had to meet and greet with everyone in the room. The worksheet didn't have as many different characters as students as I had, so I created additional ones. Each student was given a slip of paper with their new identity and was asked not to share the details until they were asked specific questions. They all had a worksheet with only names and then had to fill in the rest of the details as they "met" each other. This activity was a big hit.  After this informal meet-and-greet, I did the same activity in a formal setting so they would know how to interact in different social settings and I included different nationalities and professions to add to their vocabulary.  Can this be defined as innovative? On a personal level, I would say yes. But I'm not so convinced nobody else ever had this idea so I really don't know if I could take the credit.

Even though I may not feel like I can apply for membership in the Elite Innovator's club, I do feel that I do have many qualities of an Innovator's Mindset.  Some I think I can easily attribute to myself are:

1 - Empathetic - I think that I often put myself into my students' shoes because I always say that I wouldn't ask them to do something I wouldn't do myself.  I often offer examples of what I might be looking for, using previous student work and my own. I tell them to take my work and make it better because I know they can.

2 - Risk Taker -  I have many times thrown out an entire unit plan because something came up a class discussion or in the news that seemed to be more relevant to my students and so I rebuild a unit.  I will try anything at least once if I think my class can benefit from it. If it doesn't work out, it was only one day, my kids won't be ruined and it's not just a learning process for them!

3 - Networked - Although I have had some reservations about technology and social media, one of my classes a few years ago walked me through the whole set up process of Twitter and showed me how it worked and I have them to thank for all the educators I have connected with. It has proven to be an invaluable tool and I don't know what I'd do without it now.

4 - Reflective - This characteristic has served me well. Being able to look back on what worked, what tanked and what was ok but could have been great if I only did x,y, or z has helped me become more organized, more in tune with my students and most of all made me realize that I'm also human.

Can I claim Innovator status yet? Not sure. If we're being honest, the best I could say is maybe but I still have a ways to go.