My Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

Jonathan So recently had the brilliant idea to share his “top 5 defining teaching moments.” I love the opportunity to reflect, so I’d like to share mine as well. Obviously, I have much less experience — only 4 years of teaching, and 3 years into my longterm leave to raise our little ones — but even in that short time, I have become acquainted with certain people, practices, and ideologies that have thoroughly and beautifully challenged my thinking.

#1: Edna Sackson’s WhatEdSaid: The first clear “defining moment” was coming across Edna Sackson’s blog. With eloquent simplicity, especially in her “10 ways posts” she helped me identify practices that were actually standing in the way of learning, including, but not limited to “playing guess what’s in my head,” talking too much, and focusing on control. She also helped me better understand what student ownership, inquiry, and “flattened” classroom walls look like. Just goes to show that even oceans apart, we can make a profound impact on one another as teachers!

#2: Brene Brown & Daring Greatly: I read this book in 2013 and can honestly say that it changed me, both as a teacher and as a person. I recognized that I was harboring all kinds of shame stories, scarcity mindsets (“not enough”), and vulnerability armor. And once I learned to recognize and dismantle these in myself through vulnerability, self-compassion, and imperfection, I started to recognize them in my own students. I immediately printed (with color ink, mind — you know a teacher means business to have something printed in color) and posted in my classroom her leadership manifesto and engaged feedback checklist, sharing with my students my journey toward greater authenticity and vulnerability.

#3: Learning the principle of modeling: Once I really started getting the hang of that vulnerability stuff, I was able to better understand what real, authentic modeling looks like and can do for student learning/relationships. Not only did I learn cultivate the more vulnerable sides of my own learning (such as creativity), but together with my students, we were able to attain a richness and depth in our writing, reading, math, and in everything else that I had not yet witnessed.

#4: When a parent shared with me years later the impact of poetry on her son. I had heard other teachers share the gratification of having an old student or their parents come back to share thanks at some point down the road. But when I experienced it, it was much more than a sense of gratification — it was unshakable evidence that when we make meaning the priority, it has longterm significance. This parent shared that her son had been so moved by our 5th grade analysis of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou that he had performed a recitation of it in high school. So it was with great joy last spring when I had the opportunity to attend his school’s Poetry Out Loud competition to watch him perform it in person.

#5: Recognizing the value of my voice as a classroom-less teacher. I started blogging shortly after being put on unexpected bedrest. For the first long while, I struggled believing that any educator would really want to read reflections from a teacher that wasn’t actually in the classroom. I even had trouble telling people “I am a teacher” in present tense, because, stripped of my classroom and precious students, I felt like an impostor.

But ever since an epiphany a year ago that helped me better organize my blogging efforts, I have been able to more clearly see my contributions, and to better accept and love my current role (especially as a #TeacherMom with my current, very small students). And this is why, when teachers share ways my words are actually influencing their classrooms/students, I am profoundly grateful because it reminds me that we can reach students in more than one way:

In the course of my blogging/PLN-growing, I have learned about so many other practices that also have the potential to be “defining moments,” but many of them will have to wait for full impact until I’m back in the classroom. So meanwhile, I will keep learning, blogging, and sharing (repeat) in the hopes that my thinking will become more refined and able to bring those practices to light for future students!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto 

Green Kids Craft Box Review #TeacherMom

Thanks to thoughtful grandparents, my daughter received a subscription to the Green Kids Craft Box for her birthday. She gets to look forward to a fresh box each month, and I don’t have to pull out my hair trying to make room for one more toy. Win-win!

First off, what’s in the box? Over the course of two boxes so far (one with a Green Energy theme, the other with Robotics), my daughter has:

  • built a self-propelling wooden boat
  • baked herself a cookie in her own solar oven
  • launched “rockets” using a straw
  • built an art-bot that drew for her
  • navigated courses with her magnetic robot
  • Created a pulley “Glide-bot” (which now resides on our filthy sliding glass door)

As a mom and a teacher, I absolutely love that she has something to fuel her curiosity and creativity for hours on end.

My favorite element of this box is the fact that it provides interdisciplinary opportunities:

  • She has to read loads of instructions (which are very detailed with pictures), so she’s working hard on her reading and comprehension skills.
  • She has to take a lot of measurements, so she’s developing her ability to convert between inches and centimeters, along with other basic math skills.
  • Science skills are by the boatload here (pun intended, I guess, as she actually did build a little boat): hypothesizing, experimenting, data-collecting, reflecting, etc.
  • Even engineering and art (definitely a win for the whole STEM/STEAM endeavor) get a work-out as she has to figure out pulleys, gears, and brads, plus general aesthetic design.

I’m guessing that if I spent enough hours combing Pinterest, I could maybe find most of these activities. However, the fact that I don’t have to go hunt down a bunch of obscure materials is worth my time. And there really is something magical for kids about receiving your own little parcel in the mail made just for you, especially with the added anticipation of a monthly subscription!

Overall, I’d definitely recommend these boxes to the 5-8 year-old crowd!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

The Consuming that Leads to Creating #TeacherMom

While watching DisneyNature’s Growing Up Wild documentary, my two year old son assumes new roles: first, a bear. Then a monkey. Our dog becomes the scary lion. His crawling brother, a baby monkey. The couch, a big tree for scurrying to safety. For the rest of the day, we are not allowed to address him by his name, and with every turn, his surroundings transform into elements of his clearly vivid habitat.

We often hear caution about consuming — with technology, food, entertainment, and more. And especially when people allow themselves to be consumed by their own consumption — that is, they don’t reflect upon and make deliberate choices in what/how they consume — those warnings are probably warranted.

However, I am inspired as I further ponder this cycle of positive, deliberate consuming and creating. My son is currently enamored of the animal kingdom; every new show, book, or toy seems to spark some new fantastical adventure for him. As a toddler, he obviously isn’t yet terribly discerning in his media consumption. But when we help provide him with material that lends itself to his budding interests, he goes from being an passive audience to a vibrant creator.

And it makes me wonder…

…how often do we deliberately fuel our own fires with the things that bring us inspiration?

…how often do we teach our students to be similarly purposeful?

…what if, instead of attaching blanket shame to consuming, we spend our energies teaching our students to become more intentional and aware in their decision-making process?

I love that watching my kids’ creative process unfold gives me the opportunity to reflect on my own habits and interests — one of the more unexpected outcomes of a toddler pretending to be a monkey.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Getting Creatively REAL with Our Students

Fractions. History. Essay-writing. We like to tell ourselves that these are neat, linear, and formulaic. That the perfect boxed curriculum or textbook will give us step-by-step instructions and printables. That we can contain and document the learning in a consistent, objective, and measurable path.

But the truth is that real learning is messy, nonlinear, and oh-so-creative.

I was inspired by this new video by New Age Creators entitled, “An Honest Look into Creativity:”

I was struck by the parallels between what I’ve learned of the learning process and how she describes her creative process.

When I search my memory for the most magical and in-depth learning moments with my students, I find that creativity was usually the common denominator. It doesn’t take long for two specific anecdotes to come to mind:

1. During my third year of teaching, I decided that if I was going to ask my fifth graders to make goals that were truly meaningful and challenging for them, that I should openly lead the way. I shared that I had always told myself that I was not at all artistic. I explained my desire to make more room for art in class and for myself. I told them how I’d always wished I could consider myself creative. And I asked them for their help. For the rest of the year, it was as if they responded to a clarion call. I was amazed not only at their deep interest and support of my personal goal, but at how much more open they seemed to digging deeper and taking risks with their own growth.

2. One day, as my students were working on writing some limericks, I sat down to write my own. During wrap-up, I shared–not just the finished product, but my thought process and inspiration in putting it together. That kind of modeling became more second-nature for me as time wore on, but at the time, it was a risky move in creativity. And again, it seemed to result in opened floodgates of my my students’ enthusiasm and willingness to discuss their personal writing processes.

These and other experiences have taught me that no genuine effort in cultivating a creative learning environment goes to waste. The profound benefits I’ve witnessed include:

  • Strengthen the teacher-student relationship as students sense you are right in the learning trenches with them.
  • Make the process more tangible and open to dialogue.
  • Decrease the hypocrisy of expecting students to do what you would never do yourself.
  • Help students and teachers better understand their own learning processes.
  • Create a sense of authenticity and decrease the perfectionism as students and teachers learn to drop the charade of learning looking a certain way for everyone.

What are reasons you make creativity a priority?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto