Category Archives: engagement

Leaving the comfort zone

I spend a lot of time forming relationships with my students throughout the school year, and it is one of the most important things I do as an educator.  It helps me reach them and facilitate their learning to the best of my ability.  I try to consider their preferred learning profile and interests as we discover and grow together.

One goal I have for this coming school year is to make sure I push them out of their comfort zone as well.  Sometimes I get too caught up in trying to make sure they are working in their best possible environment that I forget the power of working in a slightly uncomfortable one.  There is so much growth possible for students when pushed just past what is comfortable.  If the visual-spatial intelligence is their strength, have them work in the linguistic area for awhile.  If a student is a very practical thinker, challenge them to be creative. Get the visual learner out of their seat for a kinesthetic experience.  You may get a lot of weird looks and doubtfulness, but remember you are taking a risk along with them…time to model!

Risk taking is such an important part of the educational process, but it is easy to bypass. Why challenge someone to work outside of their comfort zone when they are perfectly happy where they are? I have to push through the push back and help these kids grow.  We are not always able to work in the best environment, and we must know how to handle adversity.  I must show them growth is the goal and failing is just a natural part of the process. All of us are faced with tasks in our lives that can be seen as uncomfortable, difficult, and even boring.

How do we as educators help them? Let’s model the correct behavior. I am honest with my students about how I handle difficult situations (and it’s not always perfect – I’m a learner too!). Lead them to look at life as countless learning opportunities. Remind them that they are in control of their emotions, actions, decisions, and destiny. Experiences that may seem routine, unimportant, or overly challenging can be turned around at the drop of a hat. Empower your students to take control. Let them in on this little secret – they have the power to make each part of their day (school included) awesome.

If we can successfully help our students handle tough situations, they may just jump at the chance to throw caution to the wind when we ask them to take a risk!

My journey of change

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
When I started teaching, I was taught that you do a bell ringer, check in homework, take attendance, go over the homework, teach the lesson via a lecture, do a whole class guided practice, and then assign homework for the next day. Repeat 170ish times (to account for exams and such) and that equalled successful teaching.  This way all students stayed in their seats (in nice clean rows of course), kept quiet, stayed at the exact right point in the curriculum (which was basically prescribed per day), etc.  The textbook dictated the curriculum, so that we could all teach the exact same vocabulary and grammatical constructions and turn out little Spanish language robots.
Robots for so many reasons.  I didn’t know who these kids were.  I never fully found out, either.  I knew little about their previous experiences.  I didn’t know much about what they were involved with at school or outside of those walls.  I didn’t know them as learners.  And quite frankly, I was never taught or shown that this was important information whatsoever.  It was safe…much safer than getting to know those 150 kids who graced my presence.  Much safer than discovering the hardships that so many of them bring to school each day.  Much safer than knowing how my kids were truly gifted and when they needed more from me as their instructor.  Robots because the curriculum was predetermined and I never challenged it.  Everything was set, easy (although beginning teaching is never really easy), and safe.  
I did this and received good, even great evaluations of my teaching.  Things were going swimmingly!  Or so I thought…
About 5 years ago, my teaching world was turned upside down.  I had been feeling restless lately, why?  I was a tenured teacher, doing what I was supposed to be doing, following all the preset plans and assessments, and getting good results on them.  I had been evaluated time and time again with the same stellar results.  What could be wrong?
I felt like there was a huge hole in my teaching.  There were so many reasons that I chose teaching as my profession, but what were they again?  Oh yeah, I wanted kids to become lifelong learners.  I wanted kids to go out and be productive citizens.  I wanted the kids that moved on to post secondary education to be prepared and succeed in their endeavors.  Was I doing any of this anymore?  Was presenting the prescribed teacher centered lessons on the right day and keeping my kids in strict seating assignments teaching them anything about the real world or encouraging sustained lifelong learning?  Nope.  I was missing it in a big way.  It was my midlife teaching crisis, time for a change.
Luckily for me, I had an administrator in my district that was always looking for what we could be doing better, a true instructional leader.  He gave me the opportunity of my educational lifetime, even if I didn’t recognize it at the moment.
I am not going to say that the workshop I attended was so mind blowing or wonderful, it was good.  What was life changing was the fact that it challenged the way I was doing things, the way that had been previously celebrated and promoted.  It made me think.  It was a spark in my teaching world.
I was challenged to get to know my students on all levels.  To plan my lessons for them instead of the curriculum pacing guides and quarterly assessments.  To RESPECT them.  That was my biggest revelation.  Over the first few years of my teaching career I had unknowingly disrespected my students.  I had disrespected their individuality, their interests, their backgrounds, and most importantly their ability to contribute to my classroom.
From that point on, I vowed to make changes in my teaching.  I knew it would be difficult, chaotic, and that I would make many mistakes along the way.  However, I also knew that my students deserved better.  Here began my adventures into differentiated instruction, formative and summative assessments, a student centered classroom, standards based learning and grading, and technology integration.  It has been a crazy ride so far, but if I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing…well, I wouldn’t change much.
It has been (thus far) a journey of extreme highs and lows, of success and failure, of support and collaboration along with distrust and solitude.  I have taken this journey with my students, their parents, my administration, my colleagues, and even my family at home.  But to this day it has been worth it, and I will continue to look for new, better ways to reach my students.  I will be the lead learner in my classroom, constantly growing with my students.

A true professional learning experience

Mind blown…period.  I have just experienced what professional learning is all about.  I am motivated, inspired, and excited to try something new in my classroom.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a #patue (Pedagogy and Technology) chat about something called augmented reality.  I had no idea what it was, had only heard about it sporadically via Twitter.  But, I wanted to figure out what it was so I joined the conversation.  From that chat, I made some connections, found some resources, and set out on my journey.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the idea of augmented reality, the easiest way for me to understand the idea is the yellow line on the football field during television broadcasts.  Obviously, the field is real, but the line is not.  Augmented reality allows us to overlay a video on an image of an object using an app.
I spent some time over the next few days reading more about augmented reality and watching some videos.  I downloaded an app, Aurasma, and tried to look at some auras that were already made.  I tried to make my first one, but I wasn’t ready yet…it failed.
So, back to reading a little bit more and thinking a bit more about classroom application.  Then, I tried again, and guess what? IT WORKED! It was very cool to run the camera over my computer and then my face popped up and gave the Spanish equivalent, la computadora.  This is the most basic of uses for augmented reality, but at this point, I just wanted it to work!
I then went to my kids, age 7 and 9, and showed them.  They of course wanted to make one.  So, they shot a quick video of one of them saying this is my iPod, and then did the overlay with the image…and presto!  My kids were so enthused, I can only imagine how my high schoolers will react.
So, we come up on the present day…yet another #patue chat with wonderful gurus on the topic of augmented reality.  This time, I had formed some ideas and was ready to share.  I actively participated in the discussion and got even more wonderful examples about how to use augmented reality in my classroom next year.  What I would really like to do is have my students write about themselves in Spanish and then record themselves in English for the video.  Their parents could use the app to see the video of their child at curriculum night.
Research, attempts, failure, more research, more attempts, success…I am definitely going to share this experience with my students in the fall to show them that I am always learning along with them, trying, failing, trying again, and eventually succeeding.

This is the learning process, and it is wonderful.

Sharing is caring

Around six months ago, I jumped into the sometimes crazy, truly educational, definitely addictive, wonderful learning community that is Twitter.  I had opened an account a few months prior, but didn’t do much with it at first.  I am forever grateful to the everyone I have met, for they have challenged my thinking and helped me grow in countless ways.  Here are a few things that I have learned more about thanks to Twitter:

  • genius hour
  • flipped learning
  • technology integration
  • edcamp
  • augmented reality
  • standards based grading
  • motivation
  • engagement
  • blogging
  • great books to read
and the list goes on…
But one of the biggest lessons that Twitter has taught me is the importance of sharing.  All of these people that I follow selflessly share everyday.  They share their thoughts, ideas, successes, and inspirations.  They share their frustrations, problems, and failures.  At first, I was not eager to be so open about my world.  I was not confident that my ideas could possibly help anyone else.
Then it happened and my world changed.  I had been lurking in several edchats and finally (with a nudge from my husband) jumped into the conversation.  I not only realized that I could learn more from being part of the conversation but also that I could contribute in a positive way.  There are times that I feel underwater because the conversations are flying so quickly, and times that I am uncomfortable because the topic is something new to me.  But the discomfort is paired with an excitement that cannot be matched.  It is the excitement of expanding my world, learning something new, and the prospect of using it in my classroom.  And then there is a calm…because I know if I need any support, my PLN will be there with answers, examples, and a helping hand.  The more I give, the more I get back.
Sharing is caring about others, your students, your school, and your personal learning!  I can’t wait to look back at the list I created above a year from now and see what new wonderful things are on the horizon.  Here’s to new adventures, trial and error, and sharing about it so we can grow!

What’s on your list of new learning?  Share and we will all learn!