Category Archives: leadership

A glimpse into their world

Wow, what a day!

Today was my first day of the 2013-14 school year and it was a game changer for me.  I began today with my message clear.  I wanted to get to know a little about my students, let them know this class would be different than others, and tell them a bit about me in the process.

I opened by talking to them briefly about the class, but not in the traditional manner.  Here is what I said.

Get ready for the experience of a lifetime!  Welcome to your Spanish travel adventure.   I will be your tour guide and if you think this is going to be one of those boring, documentary style trips…think again!  We are going to have fun, get experiential, and hopefully learn along the way.  We will do everything in our power to make learning Spanish relevant, meaningful, fun, and easy.  Wait a minute…did she just say easy?  Yes, we will work with your brain, learning style and preferences to make learning Spanish as easy as possible this year.  You will work with your travel mates (take a look around…see the wonderful group we are travelling with?) to develop language, communicate in an entirely different way, and build a community of learners.

You will pursue your passions in this classroom through a concept called genius hour…To be continued next week.

We will focus on learning.  There are no points in this class, only standards, feedback (from me, your classmates, and yourselves), and assessment.  The word homework is not used here, only practice.

We will embark on  our journey soon, but there are some  housekeeping details we must attend to before departure.

_____

After this, we took attendance and took care of any misplaced students.  Our next activity was to figure out Spanish names.  I let my students decide what they would like to be called in my room, as long as it is in Spanish.  I know this is not reality when they step outside my room, but they really enjoy choosing an identity for class, and we always seem to learn some new words along the way! (I had a student today that chose Sacapuntas as his name – Pencil Sharpener)

The final activity for the day was to take pipe cleaners and create something that tells about them.  Here are a few examples:

Fish
Swimmer
Musical note

We closed by introducing ourselves and the pipe cleaner creations we made.

The moment of the day was when one student approached me on his way out the door. “It was nice to meet you.  I can tell I am really going to enjoy your class.”

Edu-Win.

It’s not the destination, but the journey

As my family and I get going on our cross country minivan tour to Yellowstone, I am reminded that vacation is a great time to let your brain relax a bit, reflect, and let the creativity shine through.

We are taking this trip with my parents and my brother and his family, and I cannot help but notice the uncanny comparison to teaching.
We are all starting from different places, various parts of Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, even New York.  We are all going to end up at the same destination…hmmm, sound familiar?
What a great analogy to the differentiated classroom!  I will find out your starting place, and help you find your best route to the learning destination.  Each student will have a different path, which makes the process messy but fun.
How to travel?  That is an individual choice as well.  My parents are flying, we are driving our minivan, and my brother’s family is renting a 15 passenger van.  We are headed west first, then will head north.  Others will head north first, and I am not sure of the flight pattern the airplane will take!  The routes and means of travel mean nothing, all have chosen the best way to arrive at the destination.
There are various stops along the way for my family, but they are different for the other parts of the group.  We all take our own journey, taking care of individual needs whenever necessary.  I couldn’t be happy making all the stops that other pieces of our family are taking, and I am sure they wouldn’t be pleased with all our stops either.  We again must keep the end goal in mind while making the best individual decisions possible.
And when we all finally end up together, we can share our individual travels and reflect upon the journey.  It will be that much sweeter to reminisce together, much like it is for our students once a major learning target has been conquered.
This is something I will definitely share with my students as we get started this year.  What a great analogy of what their year should be like in my class.

Jump In!

Today I participated in my first edcamp. I first happened upon the idea of these camps this spring via twitter, and when the opportunity to join one from my home this summer presented itself, I jumped at the chance.

Enter EdcampHome put on by some wonderful people Kelly Kermode, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, David Theriault, and Shawn White.  This was a risk for me, because it would all happen using technology that was new to me.  I had a few short weeks to make sure that I knew enough about Google+ and Google Hangouts to try it, but I wanted in on the fun!

I practiced “hanging out”, followed the video tutorials leading up to the camp, and the day arrived.  I was excited and nervous as the time approached for the experience to begin.  I was ready to see what topics presented themselves and to contribute to a productive conversation.  Many people who had attended edcamps before had mentioned the importance of putting yourself out there to facilitate a session, but that would not be me.  I was new at this, and I needed to watch one before I jumped in.

Or so I thought…

We watched the opening GHO explaining how the day would work, and then it was off to the session board to see what every one’s ideas were.  I looked for a few minutes and then in a moment of courage, I submitted a topic.  There were so many ideas going up on the virtual bulletin board, surely mine wouldn’t be one of the ones chosen, but it was.

No time to be nervous, I jumped in and facilitated a discussion on best practices in grading.  You can find the link to the GHO here.  I cannot say enough about the entire edcamp experience, both facilitating and participating in discussions.  I am very excited for the next opportunity!

Ok, so on to the soap box I go for a moment…

If we are going to model the learning experience for our students, we have to jump in.  We need to take a risk, no matter whether we are nervous or scared.  Learning is a messy process with attempts, failure, redos, and eventually success – which was admirably modeled by our leaders today.  In order to get the most out of the experience, we must contribute.  I did today, and I am better for it.  Thanks EdcampHome!

My 5 words

If you had to choose five words to describe your class, what would they be? -Dave Burgess

This question was posed the other evening during planning for our World Languages Teach Like a Pirate chat, and it intrigued me.  How could I possibly narrow down my class to five words?  It was not easy, but I focused on what I would like my students to take away at the end of the year.  Here we go…

Respectful
I respect the learners in my classroom for who they are.  I get to know them, meet them where they are, and show them how to improve.  Respectful tasks, honest feedback, and reflection will be a part of each day.  Everyone will have a voice in the classroom.

Student-owned
Everyone is in charge of their learning.  When I give the ownership of learning to the students, they exceed my expectations.  I have to set the stage for learning, and let them go!   Students must learn to make decisions, even if it means making a few poor ones (opportunities to learn) along the way.  I will model learning, but not dictate the process.
Passionate
We will express our passions this year through genius hour.  I am passionate about Spanish and student centered learning.  I will help my students find their passion, look at it through the lens of Spanish, and then figure out how their passion can change the world. 
Positive
As Starr Sackstein wrote in her blog, we must manifest positivity.  There is too much negativity in our world, especially concerning schools and education.  I will be a positive influence everyday for my students.  I will show them what happens when your life’s work is not just a job, but a passionate profession.  Enthusiasm is contagious, and I am ready to share it.
Shared
My students must know that we share the experience.  We are all learners, traveling together.  I like to see it as a messy trip with lots of stops, and frequent questions that lead us all to new learning. There is no guided tour with a prescribed script, just some destinations with multiple ways to arrive.

What are your five words?

Get out of the pressure cooker!

“It hurts students to accept sloppy or incomplete work, so give it back and release yourself from the pressure of deadlines.” Power of ICU – Dr. Jayson Nave and Danny Hill

Guadalupe’s story

On the first day of school last year I had a quiet, shy girl approach me.  Guadalupe (her chosen Spanish name) was in one of my sections of Spanish 2 and she asked if we could talk.  She let me know that she didn’t feel she could ‘hack it’ at level 2 and wanted to move down.  This is a frequent occurrence during the first week of school as I have high school freshmen and many get overwhelmed rapidly.  As I normally do, I asked her to stay for two weeks, let me really see where her readiness level was, and to relax!  Beginning high school is a daunting task, and many times after a few weeks things calm down.

Over the next two weeks, I informally assessed her level of proficiency with the activities we did in class.  She was appropriately placed, but definitely lacked confidence.  I spoke with her and let her know I felt she could do the work and that she should stay.  By that time, Guadalupe had made a few friends in the class and reluctantly agreed.

Things got better for Guadalupe, she was practicing her skills in Spanish and found that her readiness was very similar to other students in the class.  She was growing, improving, and gaining confidence.

BUT THEN

We had an assessment to complete – students had to record themselves speaking in Spanish, an assignment that generally evokes fear in the language classroom.  She had practiced in class, so I gave her the iPod to record herself and off she went.  I was roaming the classroom while she recorded, helping other students and giving feedback…when I saw it.  Guadalupe was staring down at her palm where obviously she had written what she wanted to say.

I had a decision to make – do I react to this, get upset with her, and dole out some harsh consequence, or do I take a deep breath, walk over there, and talk with her about it.  It may sound like an easy decision, but if you teach you know how hard it is not to be upset when you see a student cheating.  You are disappointed, angry, and hurt.  You feel like the trust between you and that student is broken.  I had to decide who was going to be in the pressure cooker, me or her.  Was it I or she who needed to learn from this?  Turns out it was both.

I took a deep breath and walked over to her.  I got down on her level and spoke quietly.  I asked her what she had done to practice and why she didn’t come talk with me about feeling unprepared.  I reminded her that learning was more important than a due date.  She was embarrassed, sad, and expecting punishment.  I am sure by her reaction to me that behavior similar to this was punished with zeroes in the past.  I told her to go home, practice, and let me know when she was ready to reassess.  I explained I didn’t have any evidence of learning until she did this.  She was shocked, thanked me, and left for the day.  I exhaled.

The next week, Guadalupe came in and recorded her speaking.  I eagerly listened to it and discovered she had really worked hard to improve and feel ready.  We had done it!  We had taken a bad situation and turned it into a learning experience.  This was pivotal for me as a teacher and for her as a student.  Over the rest of the year she worked very diligently in my classroom in part because of the relationship we had built.

I learned so much from this experience… I will never put myself in the pressure cooker again about accepting inadequate or incomplete student work.  It is their responsibility to show me proficiency, and mine to seek the evidence.

getting started

I finally made it! After putting off starting this blog for a few months I felt I could ignore it no longer.  I am not only getting started with my blog this week, but also getting started with a new group of students tomorrow morning. I run the bridge program our high school offers to the incoming freshman class and I couldn’t be more excited to greet 275 members of the class of 2017 as they enter our doors tomorrow morning!

With this excitement comes a heavy load of responsibility.  I have thought long and hard about what I should say to them to make that first impression just right.  Here are a few ideas that I have come up with:

  • High school will be what you make of it, period.  Make it awesome!
  • Keep an open mind, learning is everywhere.
  • Your teachers, administrators and classmates are here to challenge your thinking and help you grow.  They need you to challenge them as well, we are in this together!
  • Pursue what you are passionate about.  Then share it and we will all learn.
  • Connect with someone new, relationships are key.
If on the first day I can let the kids know that I care and I am in this with them, I will feel successful.  Relationships take time, but there is no time like the present to get started.  We begin this journey working together in the spirit of growth and improvement.
If you are wondering about the blog title, I am usually one of those teachers that is seen as thinking “outside the box.”  Many times the easy answer is not the best one for our students, and I refuse to give them anything less than my best each day.  Sometimes, when there is a fork in the road you have to grab a spoon!