Unleashed

I will go ahead and admit it…I was the teacher with the cute call-backs (macaroni and cheese, everybody freeze), the structure, the “do it my way” kind of teacher.  I was that way for many years.  My students knew how to behave and I was proud of it.  Other teachers came to me for advice on classroom management.  Things were going well.

Then, about a year or two ago, I began to really look at how I ran my classroom and asked myself if I would want to be a student in my class.  Would I want my life run to the last minute of the day with little to no time for choice?  The answer was a resounding “no”.

George Couros presents an interesting idea in Chapter 6 of “The Innovator’s Mindset”.  He says “Power is about what you can control.  Freedom is about what you can unleash.”  What a mindset shift!  I began to think about my students in a completely different light.  What could I unleash in them if I gave up my need for compliance?

I found the answer last year when I implemented Genius Hour with my 2nd grade class.  Even though it was merely an hour out of the whole week, the kids learned so much in that short amount of time!  They were collaborating, creating, curating, sharing, thinking critically, and communicating about a project they were passionate about.  It still related to the curriculum, but the experience was so much more powerful because the kids were empowered to learn and create on their own.  They were unleashed.

Unleashed

Control Vs. Freedom

Chapter 6 of The Innovator’s Mindset is so full of highlighted bits and pieces, there is almost more yellow than white on the pages!  The main idea I took away from the chapter is the idea of control vs. freedom in the classroom.

Classroom management is such a huge deal for teachers.  The first 4-6 weeks of school are spent setting expectations and practicing procedures.  While it is important to set the tone for the year, many times teachers come across as dictators of the classroom where students have no say about how the classroom will be run.  Sure, some teachers allow students to give input for the rules, but if we’re really honest, teachers are leading students to the rules they want to have.

What if (!) teachers spent those 4-6 weeks showing students how much freedom and empowerment they would have during the year?  What if expectations of learning were set with student input instead of just how to line up and where to sit?  How can we find the balance between the two?  I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What If?

Cloud Question Mark

Ah, the good ol’ question “What if?” As a parent, I have answered this question countless times from my two daughters.  The latest was “What if we mixed lotion, soap, pencil shavings, and crayons all together and put it in the fridge overnight?”  As tempting as it was to say “please don’t do that”, I had just finished chapter 7 of The Innovator’s Mindset, and decided to let them just go for it.

One of the questions George Couros proposes is “What if schools operated as if we should all be learners, as opposed to students being the only learners?”  This question resonated with me because both campuses I serve are Professional Learning Communities (PLC). Richard DuFour defines a PLC as “an ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve”.  According to DuFour, “professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators”.   This is easier said than done as a leader on a campus.

What I have seen most often in my short time experiencing the PLC mindset in action is that teachers want to go see other teachers in action to learn from them, but if anyone from administration wants to go and see what’s going on in a classroom, it’s because that teacher is doing something wrong.  When Couros wrote about how he would just spend the day in a teacher’s classroom, and eventually become invisible in a sense, I have to admit I was jealous.  I would love the opportunity to just hang out in a classroom for even half the day and become a fly on the wall.  Not because that teacher is doing something wrong, but exactly the opposite!  I am certain each and every teacher on my campuses is a stellar educator, and I want to model the PLC process by being able to observe them without a stigma attached.

So, I guess the next question for my campuses and administration is “What if we made it a point to go hang out in classrooms for a couple of hours to learn, not judge?”  How much more comfortable would teachers be with me coming in to planning as well?  How much better would I know their kids and classroom environment?  I’m sure the outcome would be nothing short of positive.

Oh, and what happens if you put lotion, soap, pencil shavings, and crayons in the fridge?  Spoiler alert…not a lot.  But my girls now know that they can come to me again when they have another “What if?” question burning in their brains!

Drop Everything and Reflect

It’s week 2 of #IMMOOC, focusing on just what is having an innovator’s mindset and how do you use it in the classroom?  I’m in a new position as a Digital Learning Coach.  I’m split between two elementary campuses.  I still work with students some, but my main focus is supporting teachers in using technology in their classroom.  Just like a class of students with varying degrees of knowledge and skills, teachers are proving to be no different.  This year, when I have found a new idea through my PLN, it’s been harder to see it come to fruition because I have to convince a teacher to try it instead of just jumping right in on my own.  With everything teachers have to do on a daily basis, sometimes adding one more new idea is too much.  However, I have been successful with one new tool at both of my campuses this year…Seesaw.

 

seesaw

The Journey Begins

Portfolios have always been a part of lower elementary.  We had four conferences throughout the year with parents, where we went through the portfolio and discussed the evidence of learning for each  student.  That might sound all well and good, but as a parent, four times a year to discuss how my child is doing in school is not enough.  I knew I was not alone in my thinking.

I first heard of Seesaw in September of 2015.  My tech coach at the time mentioned it one day in a planning meeting and I had it set up the next day.  Seesaw acts as a digital portfolio, which is new.  But what makes it better is that parents are notified of new items added to their child’s journal in real time.  No more waiting until October, February, March and May for a conference to find out what and how a student is learning!  I used Seesaw for the rest of the school year and had rave reviews from parents.

Sharing With Others

In my new role as a tech coach, I knew I had to share this resource with the teachers at my campuses.  At one campus, they had a goal to communicate better and more often with the community.  Bingo!  The principal allowed me to have a full day  for training before the school year even started.  90% of the teachers were open to using it, and parents have been very happy with having access to their child’s learning throughout the day.  Teachers have enjoyed finding new and better ways to use Seesaw as well, and not just for keeping a digital record of learning.  I love that this one tool has helped teachers be innovative too!

Not A Plug

This was not a shameless plug for Seesaw, but truly an example of something I see as innovative in the classroom.  Parents being able to get a real time glimpse into their child’s classroom each day is amazing!  Teachers using the tool to read tests to students who struggle with reading, or to “flip” their classrooms just a little bit, or simply to introduce young learners to the ability to comment on someone else’s work is even better.  Students are using Seesaw to emulate many of the characteristics of the innovator’s mindset.  Students are creating their own work, observing other students’ work, showing resiliency when something doesn’t go right the first time when creating a product, and reflecting on their own learning.

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Because the use of Seesaw was campus-wide, teachers were automatically in a network together to support and guide each other through the process.  Teams created roll-out plans together and were able to reflect on how everything was going, even if I wasn’t right there with them.  New ideas are shared at staff meetings.  Students and teachers are benefitting from this innovative resource!

Schools of the Future…Now

future-schoolThis week marks the first week of Season 2 of the #IMMOOC, studying “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros.  After reading just the introduction and Chapter 1, I am inspired to spark change at my campuses.  Questions like “How can we make this lesson new AND better?” and “What do I hope students will learn in school that will positively impact their future?” are rolling around in my head.

As I attend planning meetings of K-5 teams, it is my job to help them integrate technology into their classroom.  Five years ago, it truly was a matter of planning out how to use the devices and in what context.  Now, technology integration shouldn’t have to be planned.  It should just be.  The image below perfectly illustrates my point.

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So, with that in mind, what would schools of the future look like?  Are they  really schools of the future, or should the concepts be a part of schools now?

John Spencer shared that every time you learn something, you become more curious.  Schools should be filled with opportunities to act on student curiosity through student-chosen projects.  Design thinking, Genius Hour, Passion Projects…no matter what you call it, the focus is still on students choosing how and what they will learn.

What about curriculum?  Many teachers will say these types of projects aren’t in the curriculum.  George Couros’ response to that is “Neither are worksheets.”  At the beginning of the year, teachers are given a scope and sequence for each subject.  This maps out the “what” of teaching – standards, units of study, etc.  This map does not tell you how to teach the concepts.

Changing the mindset of teachers to see the curriculum lessons as a guide instead of something set in stone is no easy task.  Administration should model the idea of planning activities as if there were no rules.  What would staff meetings look like if you didn’t follow the set agenda each and every time?  What could PD look like if you taught the same concepts in a new and better way?  If principals and assistant principals were on board with modeling innovation, teachers would be more likely to try it too.

In future schools, teachers would seek out opportunities to foster curiosity instead of over-scaffolding activities.  Knowing what you have to teach is half the battle.  Figuring out how to teach it while still honoring student ideas is crucial.

Critical Thinking and Creativity

Through design thinking or Genius Hour projects, students are able to use technology in a meaningful way to create and think critically.

Using technology to research, collaborate, and connect with experts in fields of study is essential for projects like these to be successful.  When you plan with these projects in mind, you realize you don’t really have to plan for how to use the technology – it is seamless.  When students are able to curate their resources and share them with an authentic audience, they are not only learning content, but also 21st century skills life skills.

After curating resources and collaborating with peers, students are then able to create a finished product of their choosing.  Sure, some will choose a non-tech way to present their learning, but most of the time students will choose some sort of technology application in order to create their product.  Again, allowing students to have a say in what and how they learn ignites their curiosity to learn more.

Standardized Testing

What would go away in schools of the future?  The easy and obvious answer is standardized testing.  Recently, George Couros wrote a blog post about differentiated instruction and standardized testing.

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He makes very interesting points on the difference between the students taking the same test, or students having the same understanding of a concept.  He writes, “If I ask students to show that they understand the same objective, does the way we assess truly have to be the same?”  It is truly a question to ponder.  

Students should be held to a standard of mastery, but how you assess that standard could be different for different students.  What do you think?  Do standardized assessments have a place in the classroom, or could the concepts be assessed in a differentiated way?