Monday, July 28, 2014

Accepting Change to Reignite your Passion in the Classroom

Teaching is a profession that transcends all others, carrying the responsibility of preparing students for every career path possible. Like the expectations we have for students, built with the end in mind, we must have the same accountability for ourselves. Our end goal must always be student success in learning and guidance towards realizing their true potential. With this great accountability, we owe it to our students to stay current on educational research and facilitate class everyday full of passion for the content we teach. This can only be accomplished with an open mind to new ideas, meaningful professional development and a deeply connected PLN.
In my career I have been presented with many opportunities for growth and blessed with mentors who encouraged and challenged me to be better for my students. Several years ago I was working in a district that adopted a new vision challenging the very core of how I viewed the classroom model. This new vision pushed teachers to reevaluate their idea of true student centered instruction. It was supported through professional development that encouraged innovative teaching strategies and  risk taking to meet the diverse needs of the students in our classrooms. Strategies such as Project Based Learning, Flipped Classroom, and Blended Learning opportunities were encouraged. I knew that I needed to be open to the change and allow my mind to embrace an idea that would empower my students. I finally decided to jump in, what I experienced changed the way I facilitated my classroom and viewed my role as the teacher. I understood learning in a whole new way. Students learned their objectives through real world projects that they created. They were given the expected outcomes on day one and we would work together to find the best way to meet their goals. Though it was an amazing experience,  it was not an easy transition. Students and teachers  both questioned the change. I knew then, it was my duty to advocate for the great things I was seeing in my room. My typically low performing students, were coming out of their shells and showing potential I hadn't seen in my old classroom setting. My AP students were forced to step out of their comfort zone that resulted in them using the information to solve real world problems instead of simply memorizing. This prompted me to open my classroom to any teachers who were interested and speak out to encourage others to join the coalition for change. Reminding myself when I was uncomfortable and felt like a fish out of water, it was what was best for kids; not what was best for me. 
A fire  was ignited that year  that has driven me to help others reclaim their passion for teaching and growing students. This was made much easier through the power of my PLN on Twitter.  I have learned to "Teach Like a Pirate", redesign learning spaces with inspiration from Stanford D. School, edchat with some of the most brilliant minds in education,  and discovered the potential for proffesional growth at an EdCamp. These are just a few of the great things I have learned as a connected educator. All of these things have helped me make deeper connections with students and facilitate learning experiences for them that I would have otherwise not been able to. 
The profession of teaching will continue to evolve. It is our job to be accountable to our students through constant self-evaluation, commitment to life long learning, and teaching with passion everyday. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

11 Ways to Include Students in Planning Their Learning Experience

 Project Based Learning, Flipped Classroom, and Gamification are just a few of the strategies teachers are using to facilitate student centered instruction. As an educator I have dabbled in all of these areas and have found one component that is crucial; including your students in the planning process. 
As simple as this might sound, we are not utilizing students in our schools as much as we should. Educators stress and plan over new ideas that will ultimately effect students. Why not ask them what they think? There are many ways to go about this, the following are only a few ideas that may work for you. 

As a Classroom Teacher: 
  • Student Advisory Committee for Planning Projects, Creating Videos for Flipped Classroom, and Creating Relevant Game Components to Support Gamification: This can be as simple as opening your classroom during lunch ocasionally for students to give input on an upcoming project. 
  • Student Created Tutorial Committee: Encourage your students to create resources for other students that focus on the content they are learning. 
  • Classroom Design TeamChallenge students to redesign the physical environment in the classroom to support their learning styles. 
  • Class Social Media Team: Students can plan class blog posts, provide content for class Twitter and Facebook Page, ect...
  • Students as the Teachers: Enlist and train your students to tutor and assist their peers. If your students are given guidance, they can be a great resource for RTI intervention groups. 
  • Student Feedback on Lessons: Encourage your students to reflect on the Lesson after it is over. Encourage them to discuss how deep they were able to dig, what did they like, what would they do differently? (Make sure that some of their suggestions are reflected in future lessons and activities.) 
As a Campus Administrator:
  •  Student Technology Team: Help teachers and their peers with new Apps and Tech Tools.
  •  Campus Advisory Team: Bring issues and solutions to the table that Administrators and Teachers may not see. 
  •  Student Design Team: Students can brainstorm and design spaces throughout the school that reflect the personalities and learning styles within the schools. 
  • Student PD Team: Students can lead PD opportunities for teachers on the campus. You will get a higher level of engagement in your after school meetings if a student is doing the talking. This is also a platform for your students to become better public speakers. 
  • Student Public Relation Team: Selected students go out and send out updates on school happenings, sports, events, and celebrations for the campus. 

There are many ways that educators can include students in planning their learning. I challenge all educators looking to create a more authentic learning experience to ask the experts on their class roster! 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Tech Geek or Teaching Geek?

I recently came across a blog post that has me reflecting on my own reputation as a “tech geek.” The Tempered Radical by Bill Ferriter highlighted the top five tweets to come out of ISTE 2014. In the post, he reflected on those tweets and why they were important to him. It lead me to do a little personal reflecting of my own.

The title of “techie” or “tech geek” is not a true representation of what I stand for, but I've been called it none the less. Like Ferriter stated, I would like to be known as a “teaching geek.” I will admit, I am an active member on Twitter, an EdCamp Junkie, I followed every tweet coming out of ISTE 2014, and am always giddy when TCEA is approaching. I have even gone so far as to have a “Twargument,” (Twitter argument) with a fellow teacher leader about the value of the free professional development associated with social media. That aside, I consider myself to be a “teaching geek,” not a “tech geek." I am involved with these activities because I want to give the students and teachers I work with the best learning experiences out there.  Ferriter tweeted, ” I don't look for technology that motivates kids. I look for learning opportunities that motivate kids. That's not the same thing. #ISTE2014.”

I have been considered a campus leader and a “go to” for technology integration ideas. When I bring up tech in the classroom, I believe that it must correlate with engaging instruction, not games and fluff. Teachers have to be comfortable with relinquishing some of the power. Step away from the role of "smartest person in the room," and replace it with the possibility of blowing the ceiling off how far students can dive into the content. Bringing ideas to the table that add value to a teacher’s lesson and not just “fluff,” is key.

Watching students become experts is empowering. Through the use of digital learning tools, the possibilities for exploration and creative delivery are endless. I’ve had a student with a strong connection to math present a project that displays concepts of the universe entirely through statistics, a natural born writer compose a collection of poetry that addresses the standards associated with the phases of the moon, an artist create an interactive abstract painting that combines technology and art to describe the effects of the moon on the tides, and a bilingual student create a web based resource for other students in their native language over the content we are covering. All of these student projects involved the same standards. As a teacher, I could not have differentiated my instruction to that degree without access to unlimited information and resources. A project or a lesson can be greatly enhanced by connecting students with global contacts and virtual field trips that will enrich the student’s experience.

Seeing my students connect to the content like never before is why I became passionate about naturally extending and taking risks with technology. The title of “techie” is not a true representation of what I stand for, "teaching geek" is what I would prefer to answer to from now on.