“Mistakes Are For Learning” #TeacherMom

On Monday, my first grader came home from school and announced, “Mistakes are for learning.” Throughout the rest of the day, she repeated the mantra in various contexts–including sharing it with a restaurant manager helping us out when we found wax paper in a burger.

Pleased though I am that she seems to finally be grasping this essential element of the growth mindset, I can’t help but marvel at how long it took for this concept to sink in.  After all, having studied Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, I’ve made it a point over the years to try to help her celebrate failures and recognize opportunities for growth.

But it wasn’t until a first grade teacher shared it in such simple terms as “Mistakes are for learning” that things clicked. And I couldn’t be more grateful for the timing. First grade is packed with pivotal moments for learning, failing, and growing. With a fresh school year, she’s still dazzled by every aspect: practicing spelling lists, listening to audiobooks, participating in a computer math program that advances users as they demonstrate mastery.

But I know that it won’t be long before the novelty will wear off. The tasks will become more challenging. The routine will become less enchanting. Mistakes will always be for learning, but that will not make them frustration-proof.

The key will be to help her maintain her understanding of the positive outcomes even amid the discomfort. To recall previous moments of victory as a result of repeated effort and failure. (Like when she recently wrote a book title, and when she asked me to read it, and I read aloud phonetically, “The Kumfee Kav,” she dashed off saying, “OH! I forgot ‘cave’s’ silent ‘e’ to make the ‘a’ say its own name! I can fix that!”). To remember that though progress may be slow, as Khan Academy’s video below emphasizes, “[She] can learn anything.” Most of all, to celebrate the journey along the way.

So to all the teachers currently in the classroom, thank you. Thank you for stepping in, shedding light, and reaching our kids in ways we parents can’t always do.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Come back next Wednesday for another “#TeacherMom” post. Read here for the rest of my weekly blogging topic schedule/background.

An Epiphany: Blog Posting Topic Schedule

You know when you get those moments of clarity that make you giddy with excitement? I’m currently in the thralls of one of those right here!

I’ve been reflecting lately about my blogging habits that I know are holding me back. Like the fact that my brainstorming process reminds me of chicken feed scattered thin across a yard (I have several dozen Google Documents of ideas I start and then abandon to jump to something else). Or the time I waste second-guessing myself before I hit publish. Or the mental energy I squander with worry that since I’m not currently in a classroom, my ideas are less valuable.

But today, I’ve had a stroke of inspiration that I hope will help me better organize, focus, and refresh my thoughts and time. I’ve decided to try joining those bloggers who create weekly topic schedules for their posts:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

Some background on each topic:

Mondays: Inspiring Inquiry

I feel like I’m constantly stumbling across beautiful and thought-provoking images, articles, or videos that I think would make incredible Provocations or conversation-starters for students (for those not familiar with International Baccalaureate or the PYP–Primary Years Program–a Provocation is a component of an inquiry unit that provokes students’ questions and thinking, hopefully orienting them toward that unit). Sometimes I’ll tweet them and sometimes I’ll bookmark them. But I’m generally left with a nagging, back-of-mind worry that I’ll want to find that one resource again for my future students, only to be thwarted by my hopeless lack of organization.

So I’m setting aside Mondays as “Inspiring Inquiry” as a personal goal to not only better organize provocation-worthy material, but to share with my fellow teachers. In addition to publishing my favorite resource of the week, I’ll also plan on listing open-ended questions you can have students consider.

Wednesdays: #TeacherMom

I’m particularly excited about this one. I’ve often heard the advice for bloggers to “write what you know.” As a teacher writing for an educational blog, I never anticipated this being an issue (after all, despite being on year two of my extended parental leave, I still can’t seem to turn off “teacher mode”).  But the longer I’m away from my classroom, the more difficult it’s becoming to reach back to write about my experiences in the classroom. And if I’m not reflecting about personal teaching experiences, I worry about originality–I don’t want to just recycle other people’s ideas.

What’s more, child-rearing has taken center stage on the “what I know” front while I’m home with our three little ones. And I don’t often turn to this all-encompassing aspect of my life for writing inspiration because it’s not the classroom.  

But I recently realized how very silly this has been. Though my students are much smaller, they still offer rich learning opportunities every day. And not only run-of-the-mill parenthood learning (ie, don’t lay down on your picnic blanket during a crowded library storytime, or the toddler behind you might try to pick your nose), but learning that very much uses and extends my professional development as a teacher. So it’s time for those #TeacherMom stories to come to light. Buckle up!

Friday: Learning Through Reflecting

I’m setting this aside to reflect on lightbulb moments on my previous teaching practices. These “aha” moments usually come as I connect with and learn from my PLN–their tweets, blogs, and photos. They also come through keeping up with educational journals and news. 


I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about making this kind of commitment. I know there will be days or even weeks where it just doesn’t happen. But since I want to continue to model important learner qualities to my students (current small ones and future bigger ones), I refuse to let fear of failure keep me from taking a chance that might help me grow and improve.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried a blogging topic schedule? What worked for you and what did not? What are your thoughts on the topics I’ve chosen? And I’d also love to hear your feedback on these themed posts as they start rolling out next week!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Examining Learning vs. Education: Introducing the 2017 HGU Scholarship

Ownership over learning. My favorite element of 21st century education. It stands for much of what has often been missing in the history of formal schooling: encouragement to pursue personal meaning, challenges to take risks, empowerment to share a voice.  As I carefully selected this phrase in one of last year’s prompts, I hoped to witness some of these moments of authentic student ownership through our scholarship’s five creative mediums.

Though the efforts of last year’s applicants were inspiring, authentic, and reflective, it quickly became clear to me that this notion of true ownership over learning is still a mirage for too many of our students. Too many have been trained to believe that ownership is simply working hard enough for the grade, or otherwise looking outward for the measure of success.

But with companies like Google completely abandoning typical hiring standards like GPAs since they have found no correlation to successful employees, and other companies looking for digital portfolios instead of resumes, the traditional model of schooling is quickly becoming less relevant. As Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte stated:

“Companies want someone who thrives on challenge [and is] willing to learn something new.  [They want] a seeker of information, willing to adapt. If you’re the type of person that wants to be told what to do, you might be a straight A student. In fact you might even be a better student than the other type of person.”

And of course, it’s really much less about what 21st century companies want, and much more about cultivating personal authenticity. It’s just that fortunately, it seems the world is starting to recognize the convergence of the two.

So instead, for this year’s scholarship, we’re asking students to examine the issue themselves. The 2017 prompt is as follows: Represent your views about the concepts of education vs. learning.

It is my hope that it will encourage greater reflection and dialogue on what matters most during the many years we invest in formal schooling.

For additional information on our 2017 creative multimedia scholarship, see the overview here (note the graphic at the top–for someone with a longstanding awkward relationship with creativity, I’m grateful for opportunities for growth like these as I try to lead out in pushing my comfort zone), and detailed FAQ’s for each medium here. It is available to high school seniors and college students with at least one year left of school, and has a deadline of April 16, 2017.

Finally, my reflections from last year’s participation have prompted me to also share a list of some do’s and don’t’s. These are meant to help promote the creativity, rather than to impede it (not to mention, to make sure that we will actually be able to review your submission)!

DO:

  • Do have a great time expressing yourself through your medium! The joy always shines through!
  • Do double/triple-check the sharing settings so we can view your file. There were quite a few that we could not evaluate last year because of this.
  • Do choose a creative title to help your piece stand out and to do it justice!

DON’T:

  • Don’t try to force a medium for your piece that isn’t a natural fit (ie, submitting a video that is really just you speaking would be better suited as a written piece).
  • Don’t submit a random assignment from a class. The lack of meaning and connection to the prompt is always apparent.
  • Don’t submit a formal ESSAY! This is a creative, multimedia scholarship. The creative writing medium is for creative pieces, including short fiction stories, poetry, screenplay/scripts, monologues, etc.

What Learning to Drive Stick-Shift Taught Me about Learning

I could make a wall of shame with all the times I’ve tried–and failed–to learn to drive a manual transmission car. My dad’s instruction in his Ford pickup through the high school parking lot. My sister-in-law’s guidance in a church parking lot. My husband’s many attempts in varied locations through the years. Each instance ended with a loving concession that success seemed out of reach for the time being.

Until now. My husband’s recent surgery on his left foot and need to commandeer my automatic car for his commute presented me with an interesting dilemma: resign myself and my children to a homebound summer, or master stick-shift once and for all so I can use his car?

I woke up one morning last week determined to make it happen. I watched Youtube videos. I read tutorials. And I fiercely grilled my husband to understand not just the required motions, but the why behind how the clutch interacts with the gas and brakes. And then we got in his car for yet another shot at instruction.

I have now made two successful independent drives. Even while basking shamelessly in my victory of shifting from 3rd to 4th for the first time, I started reflecting on how it all connects to the learning process in general…

Growth mindset matters. While recognizing my weakness in spatial learning has provided clarity over the years regarding why I struggle with certain skills, it has also been a fixed mindset pitfall. Between this self-awareness and prior failures, I had predisposed myself to future failure. We are all prone to this kind of thinking, both for ourselves, and sometimes for our students. I believe this time was different in part because I finally acknowledged this pattern of thought. 

Students need a real reason to make it happen. Especially when something has proven particularly difficult in the past, we need to help our students discover their authentic reason to try again (and not our reason or the district’s reason in disguise).

The why matters. Another crucial difference between this and previous attempts was my pursuit of greater background knowledge. I knew that if I didn’t learn why the clutch needed to be disengaged when it did, it would continue to stump me when it came to action.

Edtech can empower individualization. I also knew that I needed to give myself the time to just quietly explore and digest instruction. The ability to play, replay, and pause video tutorials on my terms was powerful for my learning process–it allowed me to voice questions and ponder on what was trickiest for me.

Intense controlled instruction can give an inflated sense of difficulty. Empty parking lot instruction had always been necessary for safety’s sake, but the moment I was actually out driving on the streets, I realized why such conditions made manual-driving seem so impossible: the hardest tasks and concepts are extra-concentrated in a small space. Rather than having a minute or so between each stop or turn afforded by street driving, parking lot driving required me to think extra quickly/frequently about the next step.

Sometimes, learners need the space and time to put it in practice alone. After that final parking lot instruction, I decided to venture out alone. I started slowly on quieter back roads, gradually moving to busier areas to give myself more experience as I felt comfortable. It was certainly rocky, but I appreciated the real-world exposure so I could finally put all the pieces together (and put certain lingo into context, such as “sluggish engine”).

Expect variable progress, even after initial success. During my first independent drive, I did not stall the car once. During my second, I stalled almost half a dozen times. I’m sure things will continue to be up and down for a while, but I’m ok with that. I’m just glad to finally be making progress in a skill I had always wanted to master.

featured image: Patrick Machado

10 End Of Year Reflective Questions Every Teacher Should Ask

Amid surviving end-of-year testing, finalizing report cards, and sometimes, even packing up to swap classrooms, self-reflection can be the last thing on anyone’s mind. All the same, this time of year is a rich opportunity to do so; not only are the memories of this year fresh, but it’s also a great time to create a summer plan to help you better reach next year’s students (while you relax and recharge, of course)!

Below are 10 questions to help spark that honest reflection, along with resources that might help you get started in taking steps toward change.

Would I benefit by finding ways to rekindle my sense of fulfillment as a teacher? Is burn-out becoming your reality? Check out resources like the “Teacher Wellness” section of Edutopia to find inspiration to refocus your why as a teacher.

In what area(s) do I wish I could better reach my students? Choose a summer project based on just one item on your list. Want them to be better digital citizens? Try paving the way by connecting with other teachers on Twitter or Facebook groups (I recommend TTOG for a start). Hoping they’ll take more ownership over their learning process? Explore how you might improve your feedback methods. Wish you could make math more meaningful? Study inquiry and student-centered options, such as guided math.

Do I need to recalibrate my perspective on outside forces that I can’t directly control, such as standardized tests? By all means, please keep up the good fight against large-scale practices that diminish learning. But reserve the bulk of your energy on what is within the more immediate sphere of your control. As Edna Sackson shared on Twitter:

Am I selective enough about the practices that continue from year to year in my classroom? Take a look around your quiet, empty classroom. Leave no stone unturned as you inventory every item’s impact on authentic learning. For a personal example, check out, “What Happened When We Ditched Our Boxed Spiral Review Program–Mountain Math/Language.”

How can I better shift the learning to be more about overarching concepts instead of a thousand individual Google-able facts? For another personal example, see, “What Happened When I Stopped Teaching History in Chronological Order.”

Do I know the required curriculum well enough that I can stop worrying so much about whether I’m “covering” everything? In other words, can you see your role shifting from delivery-person to facilitator/connector? The former centers on a rigid agenda from the state, school, or you. The latter centers on individual students’ learning needs.

Do I give my students the opportunity for frequent and authentic reflection? Having a wrap-up is a simple yet often overlooked reflection strategy, and it’s a great place to start.

Is learning confined within the walls of our classroom? Once we started student blogging, the ability to connect globally with peers through Quadblogging blew our minds. Perhaps the summer project calling your name is to explore a platform that is age-appropriate and that complies with your school’s privacy guidelines.

Am I doing all the “heavy lifting?” Exhibit A: As George Couros recently suggested, you can either spend an age trying to find that “perfect Youtube video,” or you can challenge students to find it instead.

Are extrinsic rewards crowding out students’ intrinsic drive to learn? It’s ok to be afraid of rampant chaos. But don’t let that fear keep you from taking risks and giving students the chance to show you they can really bring to the table as learners. See “6 Thoughts on What’s Wrong with Compliance.”

4 Reasons You Should Join the TTOG Facebook Group

Especially if you are an educator on Twitter, you’ve probably heard of Starr Sackstein, Mark Barnes, and/or the going gradeless movement. But did you know that Starr and Mark also have a Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook group? No? Neither did I, until a month ago. Even if you are not interested in tossing grades yourself, here are four reasons TTOG is a must-join group for teachers everywhere.

It challenges the status quo.

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This photo recently circulated around Facebook. Most teachers I knew shared and applauded its sentiments, exhausted by whining and irresponsibility. And I get it. Yet I appreciated the way TTOG members chose to set aside those frustrations in favor of digging deeper. Comments examined the underlying sentiments and root causes behind the sign, and questioned ways we can better cultivate responsibility and respect.

It will help you reflect upon and refine your why.

When you join a group that consists of thousands of teachers who are re-examining their entire assessment approach, you can’t help but glean inspiration. Even if you don’t agree with every opinion, you will likely begin to realize just how many practices we take for granted in the classroom, and start to better evaluate why you do what you do.  

The discussions are some of the most thought-provoking I’ve ever seen in my PLN.

A recent post posed the following question:

“A few colleagues have said recently that “you can’t have rigor without accountability”.

Thoughts? How would you respond?”

The subsequent conversation included follow-up questions, definitions, resources, anecdotes, and every other ingredient of a healthy, lively debate.

It will remind you about our students’ humanity and what matters most.

This was not shared in TTOG, but I would say this drives its ideology. Contrary to popular belief, tossing grades and tests is not about trying to cushion delicate students’ self-esteem. Rather, it is about putting the emphasis back on learning and challenging teachers to better elevate and uncover meaningful learning.

featured image: DeathtoTheStockPhoto

The Story of A Teacher Without a Classroom: 10 Lessons Learned

Mid-February in 2014, I shut off the lights in my fifth grade classroom and headed home for the weekend–for what would turn out to be the last time. That weekend, pregnancy complications abruptly landed me on bedrest.  With a due date near the end of the school year, I was not fated to return to my fifth graders that year.  And the following fall, I decided to continue my leave from teaching until our small children are in school.

So that’s it, right? One day, learning amidst a thriving classroom, and the next, dropped off the face of the map for an unknown length of time.

Only not quite. As chance would have it, during bedrest, I was offered the opportunity to run an educational blog sponsored by Honors Graduation here on HonorsGradU. I consider it my voice in the education world. And once I revived my dormant Twitter account (and the wonders of a PLN) I discovered my window. And so, with a voice and a window, I find myself still very much (and very gratefully) involved in such an important facet of my life.

For other teachers out there who currently find themselves without a classroom, and to thank all the teachers who have taught me so much over the last two years, I’d like to share 10 of the most essential insights I’ve gained while equipped with just a blog and Twitter.

#1: Nothing matters more than the fact that we are working with human beings. The most important lesson I’m reminded of again and again is this: people over paper. Sometimes, the textbook strategies need to be set aside. Sometimes, we need to stop and think if our assessments are showing us who our students really are. Sometimes, we need to just remember that the 10 year-old in front of us might need more help being 10 than preparing for college.

#2: No shiny platform or gadget is worth it if it simply maintains the status quo. I remember investigating Flipped Learning with great enthusiasm–until it became clear to me that it’s still often rooted in direct instruction. That’s not to say that it’s not useful (and some teachers do an amazing job of using flipped learning to foster inquiry). However, it was an important realization of how we sometimes think our tech makes us innovative, when in fact we might not have changed at all. 

#3: Personalized professional development is out there for the taking. I am living proof of it! Twitter chats, my PLN, and even just reflecting on prior classroom moments like diy PD have all provided rich opportunities for professional learning. And it has all been free and personalized to my needs.

#4: Emphasizing concepts over content isn’t some pie-in-the-sky notion. Thousands of teachers practice it every day–and they share how they do so in abundance. Just take a look at the Twitter feeds for Taryn BondClegg, Graeme Anshaw, Chris Beddows, or the entirety of hashtag #aisq8.

#5: Providing students with authentic opportunities to make, create, and design isn’t just some passing ed fad. With our dynamically shifting future, most of us know that the content we’ve memorized is no longer enough. Providing students with opportunities to show what they can do with their knowledge–and better yet, to push the bounds into the unknown–will both better prepare them for the future and provide them with more enriching learning experiences now. MakerSpaces, coding, blogging, design–the list goes on, and you don’t have to have an enormous budget or a fulltime 1:1 classroom to get started.

#6: Digital citizenship is an urgent topic for students of all ages. Even if a school is hesitant about young students sharing their ideas with cyberspace, we must do all we can to help our students understand their role and responsibilities in the digital society. We must get digital citizenship out of the “wait-until-they’re-older” category. Today.

#7: Technology itself isn’t what makes edtech so amazing–it’s the way it encourages teachers to take risks, fail, try, and problem-solve WITH their students. It is SO easy to just “talk the talk” of being a lifelong learner. After all, we are in the business of trying to help people love learning. But do we truly embrace the messiness of learning? Do we move forward with unpolished ideas, even when we still have questions or feel like we could use more training? Modeling our own real learning process yields greater impact than delivering a lifeless lesson from a manual.

#8: “Letting go” as a teacher (trusting our students and giving them ownership over their learning) is essential, but it is a journey. Understanding that we need to let go is a major hurdle, but it’s just the first step. We need to be patient with ourselves as we gradually move toward that goal, reaching out to others who may be farther along on that journey. Whether or not you have that kind of support in your building, my shortlist of online recommendations include Kath Murdoch, Pernille Ripp, and Edna Sackson.

#9: Cute and orderly doesn’t automatically equal learning. Not that having a chaotic mess is necessarily conducive to learning either. But when an activity is adorable and highly pinnable, we sometimes fail to evaluate the real learning value.

#10: Kids can and need to understand words like metacognition.

Or at least the concept behind it. The unfortunate truth is we start labeling ourselves from a very young age, boxing ourselves into the fixed mindset. Realizing just how flexible our brains are might be more far reaching than anything else we learn.

What about you? What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from PLN, in our outside the classroom?

featured image: deathtothestockphoto.com