It’s been an odd school year for me. I have a lot of freedom and very little to lose, so it’s been a year of throwing caution to the wind and trying new things. I tried the Global Innovation Exchange Challenge, Genius Hour, StrengthsExplorer, and most recently, I ditched our traditional grammar textbooks in favor of lessons based off a quirky workbook with “Clamdigging” in the subtitle (more on that in a bit).
Some of these things have worked well. Some clicked and made a difference. Some royally flopped. But that’s OK, too. I learned, and I think more importantly, my students have seen me learn. They’re seeing me try new things, some that work and some that don’t. When the experiment flops, I admit my mistakes and talk through what went wrong with them so we can all learn together. Continue reading
I teach in a tiny school. The 8th grade class is seven students – and they’re the “big” class. Despite the size, the upper grades are completely departmentalized. There’s a different teacher for every subject, and with the way schedules work out, I never see them. Ever.
Honestly, that works for me, even though I know it shouldn’t. Bouncing around the country for so many years gave me a bit of an independent streak when it comes to teaching. It was survival mode then, but now it keeps me from reaching out or initiating collaboration (I’m working on this now). And from what I’ve picked up in meetings, the overall vision of our school is vague at best. We’re a Christian school and Biblical teaching is given highest priority, but that’s where the vision stops, as far as I can tell.
What kind of academic education do we provide? What learning outcomes are we trying to instill? What are we doing to prepare these kids for high school and the world beyond? If there is an overriding vision, it hasn’t been communicated to the teachers well. All the teachers are very qualified, but we’re all doing our own thing in isolation.
The crazy thing is, by rocking the boat and changing how I teach, I’m now seeing those conversations higher up the ladder. Among other things, the board is talking about pursuing accreditation. Maybe that process will help us define a vision, not just in our religious beliefs, but in our academic practice, as well.
I have a passion for strengths. I heard Marcus Buckingham speak about strengths research in 2011, and it changed my life. It sparked a drive in me that took this blog to over 9,000 followers for a time. I’ve read the books, taken StrengthsFinder 2.0 (…twice), even dropped $300 on a class for the StrengthsQuest program, even though I was unemployed at the time.
I know the theory. I love it. Let’s focus on what’s right with students, rather than what’s wrong! Let’s give them a chance to thrive! Let’s improve student engagement, academic achievement, personal well-being, empathy, and so on!
But then I’m convicted. Because now that I have my own students again, I’m discovering that I’m not great at putting it into practice. It’s easy to spout the catch phrases, but then I fall back into old habits of fixing mistakes more than playing to strengths. I did have my class do a strengths assessment, but identification without application is useless. So what am I doing on a daily basis to promote strengths? How do I teach grammar and vocabulary from a strengths-based perspective?
I’m trying harder this year, mostly through Genius Hour and class-wide collaborative projects. I’m toying with ideas for novel studies that would give them more say in their reading choices. Grammar becomes a stepping stone in the process of blogging their passions to an authentic audience, and so on. But it requires deliberate habit-changing on my part. Passionate ideas are not enough if I don’t put them into practice.
The Innovator’s Mindset, p. 110
I’ve thought of myself as a “good” teacher ever since my second full-time teaching job (for new-comers to my blog, I’ve held 13 different education-related jobs in 10 years and six states). Before that I was green, still finding my footing as a new teacher, but I hit my stride at that school and found a confidence in my abilities that has carried me through all my transitions to where I am now.
There are a lot of things that contribute to that confidence – qualities that I list on my resume about connecting with students, building rapport, making real-world connections to curriculum, and so on… But there’s something else, too.
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. 🙂 Continue reading
It’s funny how easily I sat down to write last week’s post, and how much I’m struggling with this one. I’m good at asking questions and pointing out problems. I’m good at talking about what’s wrong. Coming up with an actionable game plan for fixing those problems? That’s a little more challenging. But if I don’t, I’m no better than the students who complain and complain but don’t do anything to fix the problem. So how am I creating opportunities for innovation in my teaching?
Well, I’m trying, but I’m still so new at it that I don’t have any kind of “success” track record yet. I’m trying to create opportunities for innovation, but my first two dabbles – StrengthsQuest and StartEdUp’s Innovation Exchange Challenge – have yet to provide demonstrable results. I’m slightly dreading parent/teacher conferences in a few weeks because my classroom has been so non-traditional this quarter, and I don’t have much to show for it.
When I started blogging five years ago, I began by exploring the concept of “Emerging Adulthood” and tossed around terms like “the boomerang generation” and “Peter Pan syndrome”. I was looking at my peers — college graduates — who weren’t reaching recognized markers of adulthood until their 30’s, and it scared me. I explored a lot of reasons behind this phenomenon. I graduated college in 2008, so financial difficulties and lack of opportunity certainly played a hand, but the trend had already started before the economic struggle hit. I saw lack of initiative, a culture of complacency, too much focus on “following dreams” and not enough realistic pursuits of paying the bills, good jobs requiring higher levels of advanced degrees, and so on.
I saw a lot of problems before I’d ever heard “innovation” as an educational buzzword. I saw a system that focused more on identity explorations than it did on skill development. I saw grades failing to represent ability, and the grades mattered more than the skills. I saw intelligent, capable men and women moving back in with mom and dad while they tried to figure out what they wanted to do after they graduated, and I couldn’t help but wonder… What had they been doing during college if they still didn’t know? Continue reading
I’m constantly amazed by how timing works out. I’m teaching my second year at my tiny school, comfortable enough to branch out and experiment with non-traditional teaching methods. I have a smaller group this year than last year, but in some ways that’s OK. The group I have has a culture I can work with, so I tried the StrengthsExplorer and then started dabbling with Genius Hour. And right when I decided to make that attempt, Don Wettrick announced his Global Innovation Exchange Challenge. So I jumped on it. I figured the worst that could happen is that it would flop and we might have a slightly embarrassing skype call with another class in a month.
But that isn’t what’s happening. I planned an hour a week for this project, and somehow it has taken over almost everything we do. I don’t know if my students’ plan really fits the definition of “innovative” – but the big thing I see is that they’re choosing to take action to fix a problem – and a substantial one at that. That’s huge for them. The project deserves its own blog post, so I’ll save the rest of the details for later. Continue reading