Keeping it Real, #IMMOOC, Week 3

I just finished watching Tara Martin’s interview for #IMMOOC Week 3, and a big part of her message was encouraging transparency and sharing the process, not just the end product – i.e. keeping it real.  This is what I needed to hear this week, because for me, this has been the week of push-back in our Global Innovation Exchange Challenge. And I realized that I don’t think I’ve actually described what my students are doing for the challenge on my blog. I’ve been dragging my feet because, possibly subconsciously, I didn’t want to publish until I knew how it would all work out and I could package up a nice, neat, inspirational story. But that’s not how innovation works. It’s messy and scary sometimes. I followed the instinct to just DO, but I didn’t (couldn’t!) have it all perfectly planned or executed along the way.

But now I just need to SHARE – to be vulnerable and transparent in my risk taking, for better or for worse. It’s not all tied up in a nice little bow. For all I know this could somehow still end in my getting fired. (Highly doubt it – I mostly have support, but there’s still time for things to go horribly wrong. You never know.) I’ve blogged for a long time, but it’s all been observations and speculations, with very few windows into my own actual practice, and certainly nothing this risky. Now it’s time to open the curtains. So this post is a combination of #IMMOOC and #InnovationExchange. Enjoy. 🙂 

Student-created artwork for the posters

Our school is tiny, and with a tiny school comes limited resources. When asked to identify problems around the school, so much of what my students pointed out came back to one thing – money. The parking lot is unpaved gravel, which is awful in a Wisconsin winter. Their outdoor basketball hoop is warped and bent. And our class computers are frustratingly slow. My eighth graders quickly decided to try to raise money for the school somehow, and then over several more class periods really honed in on our technology problems as what they wanted to solve. They want new Chromebooks, like the ones the local public high school uses. They researched and identified exactly which ones they wanted to get, and we only need eight for the whole class, so it isn’t a ridiculous goal for fundraising (paving the parking lot was a bit out of reach). And when one student suggested that he’d rather rake leaves and mow lawns to raise money than try to sell something — that’s when the kids really got excited.

So I went with it. Yard work would have to be done on their own time, outside of school, which made things significantly more challenging for me, but that’s the point. This was their thing, after all. A student-led initiative. I tried to be super clear in my communications with parents to remove liability from the school while still encouraging student (and parent!) involvement. I think I succeeded OK in that regard, and I discussed things with the principal as they progressed, too.

But hindsight is 20/20, and there are a few more people I should have talked to sooner. The sweet office ladies who’ve had to blindly field questions for me, for starters. And the board member/part-time IT guy, too. I’ve gotten weird mixed messages from different Board of Education members about the project, some in support and some wondering what in the world I was thinking sending these kids out to do physical labor. But if I talked to my administrator, was I also supposed to go over her head to the board, too? I still think I followed the proper chain of command. And my principal has been nothing but supportive, so I’ll keep my focus there.

My biggest frustration are the number of people telling me why new computers aren’t necessary. “Just improve the wifi,” they say (the wifi is not the problem). “There’s Ethernet in the room – use that instead.” (Seriously? These computers freeze when the kids try to type. An Ethernet chord won’t fix that.) Or my favorite – “Kids don’t take care of things, so they shouldn’t spend their hard-earned money on something that they might break.” (…um… what?)

Quite frankly, none of that matters. The whole point of the Global Innovation Exchange Challenge was to have students identify problems and then do something about it instead of just complaining. If this is what they decided they want to do, I’m not going to take that away from them. (I should note – the school did upgrade the internet a couple of weeks ago, just in case. It has not made a difference in the computer operations. Fortunately, it actually saved the school money in the process.)

Some constructive criticism has been just that – constructive. I really need to sit down with the IT guy to hash out some details. And most people have been very gracious as I explain that this has been a huge learning experience for me, too. I’d anticipated that the challenge would take up an hour a week for four weeks when I signed up, but I blinked and it exploded into something much, much bigger. First quarter lessons went out the window as we discussed writing mission statements, advertising, syncing Google Calendars, and even writing grant applications. Now I have them writing reflection essays to end the quarter, even if a lot of the work is still ahead of us.

I’m blessed to work for a principal who sees the value in what I’m doing and the life lessons the students are taking from it. We may not have read any short fiction this quarter, but the kids have been so motivated and engaged in what we have covered. And no one ever asked how I’m grading this!!! They’re doing it because they want to, not because they have to!

I hope they succeed, though at the time of my writing this, not much leaf-raking has happened yet. But maybe that’s the learning experience for them, too. Don’t just talk. Do.

And then share. Keep it real.


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