My Teacher Values

*Deep breath.* I know I shared last spring that I am planning on returning to the classroom in 2020, but I have decided to start applying to return to the classroom this year. Many back-to-school events have already started, so at the moment I’m looking at last-minute positions that have opened up unexpectedly, with little to no classroom prep time before the kids are in school.

I have said many times that there will be many changes to my approach to teaching and learning when I return to the classroom–it’s hard to know where to even start! So I’m trying to mentally organize and distill the strategies, ideas, & priorities that have meant most to me over the years. Not only do I want be oriented for a potential quick jump back into a classroom, but I want to be articulate when interviewing with administrators about what matters most to me as a teacher. So here are a few stand-outs:

Lens of strengths over lens of deficit ~Lanny Ball

Writing and reading workshops for independent tinkering & exploration. Marina Rodriguez (& all the teachers over at Two Writing Teachers!)

Caring for students vs simply caring about them. ~Taryn BondClegg

Helping students start with their why. ~Taryn BondClegg (also Taryn’s Questions, Problems, Ideas board, which I like a lot better than my old suggestion box)

#ClassroomBookADay ~ Jillian Heise

Self Regulation ~Aviva Dunsinger, Christine Hertz

“I intend to…because…” by Marina Gijzen

Culture of agency ~ Edna Sackson

Culture of inquiry ~ Kath Murdoch

Soft Starts ~ Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

Need for cultivating both reading skills and love of reading ~ Pernille Ripp

Holistic, integrated approaches to subjects ~ Anamaria Ralph

Learning through play ~ Kelsey Corter

I don’t know exactly what the future holds at this moment (keep in mind that this post is queued up and changes may happen before this actually publishes!) But I do know that, although I have missed being in the classroom over the last 5 years, I am profoundly grateful for the time I’ve had to read, learn, and discuss learning with teachers all over the world. They have been so generous with their own learning and strategies. A PLN is truly an incredible gift! Thank you to all here, and to many more not on this particular list!

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My Professional Portfolio

My precise timeline for returning to the classroom has been unknown for some time. I am pleased to share that a clearer plan has lately emerged: I intend to resume teaching in the fall of 2020. Not only will this coincide nicely for school schedules for all my kids, but it will allow me to spend additional time building momentum for local Safe Routes to School efforts.

This plan has me realizing that this time next year, I will be submitting resumes and interviewing for jobs. After 5 years, I’m feeling a little nervous, but as I’ve learned time and again, the best remedy for that is reflecting and blogging.

What “aha” moments have I had during 5 years of researching, PLN-building, and writing what is now 456 posts? What would I most want a future administrator to understand about what I have learned? How has all of this built on my previous 4 years of teaching fifth grade, and what will this mean for my future classroom approach?

I’m digging through old posts today to try and find answers to these questions.

March 2016: The Story of a Teacher Without a Classroom: 10 Lessons Learned

This was the first time I wrote plainly about my personal learning since I had left the classroom. Until then, I’d often felt like an impostor for writing about teaching, worried I would be “found out” for not being in the classroom. This was when I first began to understand the way my edu-blogging was helping me grow as a professional, and that that mattered more than any other outcome. Interestingly, it turns out that this mindset shift has also been pivotal for my approach to student learning. Personal meaning & growth > appearances.

May 2016: In My Future Classroom

Key takeaway in this post: the need for students to clearly own and understand what they have mastered, and for them to be given opportunities to convey that to their caregivers. (See also “Inquiry Into Owning My Own Learning“).

September 2017: My Top 5 Defining Teaching Moments

I realized that though my classroom career has been on pause, by no means has my professional learning has been stagnant! Particularly helpful in that journey was the epiphany that I could structure my writing schedule so I could really “write what I know.”

April 2018: I Am Driven

Powerful connection happens when we learn to truly put ourselves in the learning arena alongside our students. How can we possibly expect our students to truly be vulnerable and take risks to grow in their learning if they feel like their teachers are sitting on the sidelines? Brene Brown’s emphasis on Theodore Roosevelt’s quote has settled deep into my teacher soul here:

Image result for brene brown theodore roosevelt quote

June 2018: I Can Never Go Back

My inspiring former student referenced here has profoundly impacted my resolve to truly make building meaning a priority. “After witnessing the way learning can truly transform & empower & matter, I can never go back.” This particular student will be graduating high school this year, and I had the privilege to watch him perform at the State Poetry Out Loud Competition, and to win a scholarship competition with his piece, Cross Stitch. Once our students find their voice, we have no idea what will come next.

February 2019: 5 Things I Want My Students To Know About Me As a Teacher

The idea of building self-regulation skills has been eye-opening to me in the way I approach student ownership and classroom management. I am learning to understand how a child’s choices often reflect more than might meet the eye.

I look forward seeing additional learning unfolds during this last year!

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On #diyPD

Twitter has been an interesting ecosystem of #diyPD. Most, if not all, of the teachers present are looking for opportunities for professional growth and connection. But lately, I’ve noticed some push-back in discussions.

When someone talks about being inspired to do better, others say they are already maxed out.

When someone says they want to better model reading, others say they are too buried for personal reading.

When someone expresses excitement about some flexible seating they received through a grant, others say they’ll wait for higher-ups to fund it because who has time for grant-writing!

When someone asserts that they are not helpless and they can be the change, others say we must stop trying to depend on teachers to save society.

When someone talks about working to improve relationships and model learning, others say teaching should not be this hard: we teach content, students work on assignments, we grade.

And honestly, as much as we’d all like to focus on the positive that inspires, it’s important to acknowledge that there are legitimate concerns to be reckoned with across the spectrum here. Particularly when it comes to the concept of what it means to be a professional.

After all, it’s easy to say something like, “If we want to be treated like professionals, we have to act like professionals.” But if teachers are not given the support they really need, the expectations for going the extra mile should be zero.

It really becomes a “chicken and the egg” debate. Does showing initiative help others value teachers as professionals, or does valuing teachers as professionals cause them to take initiative? I’ve seen Twitter threads where teachers mourn for lost opportunities for them to take professional development into their own hands (like Edcamps), and I’ve seen threads where administrators mourn for the fact that none of the teachers will take advantage of the various professional development opportunities available.

For teachers who feel maxed out by unrealistic expectations, (especially the “cult of the superteacher” variety), maybe the diyPD needs to focus on self care. For instance, they might:

For teachers who are feeling inspired to shake up the status quo, maybe the diyPD needs to focus on building community. They might:

It’s likely that for all of us, our needs and capacity will shift over time. Sometimes, we will need to focus more on self-care, and sometimes we will need a challenge. Often, it’s a blend of the two. Sometimes, challenging the status quo will even be necessary for teachers to feel more confident with self-care (& vice versa!).

Whatever the case, we should be mindful about what’s doable for our ever-shifting personal circumstances. Say no to keep those boundaries maintained, and also be intentional about our yes’es to help us grow and to better reach our students.

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When Not Everyone Is Inspired by Your Inspiration

My first year of college, I enrolled in a freshman support group of sorts. One of the requirements was to take a student development course on building a sense of community. The main mentor text in this endeavor was Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks.

Seems innocuous enough, right? I really like Paul Fleischman, too. But I hated that course, and as a result, I also disliked the book.

Looking back, I can more clearly pinpoint why. It was the pressure to conform, to pretend inspiration in order to feel a sense of belonging.

Sometimes, an approach, text, or training might dazzle most but not all; when that happens, does it lead to blame or shame or even exclusion? Are labels applied like “not a team player” or “not fully invested,” when the truth sounds more like, “Still thinking about this application” or “Stressed about my massive inbox right now.”

This applies just as much for teachers during professional development as it does for students during back-to-school icebreaker games.

Adding a large dose of agency to our approach (actual agency, not the pretend kind — a concept that Doug Robertson nailed in a post a few months ago), is a great way to move away from this sense of in-group/out-group. It also conveys that you trust teachers and students to find their unique way forward, which ultimately leads to greater success.

“It’s great to be successful. It’s even better to make sure you followed your own distinctive, and not necessarily always obvious, path to the success that can truly fulfill you.”

How we can show our teachers and students that we are as open-minded as we hope they will be? How can we help co-define & construct success? How can we promote an atmosphere of agency in our learning?

A few resources below might provide some ideas to help all participants find inspiration!

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Fear vs. Passion

Taking part of the Innovator’s Mindset books study via #IMMOOC was one of the most refreshing professional development experiences I’ve had since leaving the classroom.

One of the reasons I chose to participate was because this feels like an important time for me professionally.

For one thing, I just finished the process of renewing my teaching license, which involved a lot of reflection.  For another, this spring marks 4 years since I’ve been away from the classroom, which is as long as I was actually in the classroom!  I used to think sharing this would hurt my credibility as an educator and as a blogger (“what does she know?”).

Now I know that it’s less about writing what I know and more about writing how I’m growing and changing. I thought Katie Martin summed it up beautifully in the last episode of the #IMMOOC:

“I shifted my thinking from I’m an authority to tell people something vs. This is my space to reflect & learn.”

I feel like this also captures the contrast between working and living from a place of fear vs. a place of passion. Sometimes we think it doesn’t matter if the results are the same (bottom-line thinking); the truth is that fear acts as a drain of our energy and opportunities, while passion feeds our energy and opportunities. While many of us readily accept the above statement, it’s tricky to detect the way it’s playing out in our own lives, particularly if we are, in fact, choosing fear.

My graphic below (last challenge of this #IMMOOC) is meant to capture some of the ways I found that contrast  of fear vs. passion throughout reading George Couros’ Innovator’s Mindset and watching the #IMMOOC episodes. My hope is that it might serve as a tool for self-reflection. I would love to hear additional examples of the difference it makes to choose passion over fear!

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The Lesson I’ve Never Forgotten From a Parent’s Gentle Rebuke

Opening the door wide open for parent communication can sometimes be a scary thing — fear of the unknown, previous negative experiences, and limitations on time can all add up to create some understandable hesitation.

But each time I have chosen to lay aside these fears, I have always gained — not only in the way of building bridges with parents, but in learning how to improve my practices.

Here’s one example that has stuck with me:

A month into the school year, I started sending emails to all my students’ parents to touch bases, provide encouragement, and to build rapport.

To one of my student’s parents, I sent praise of her willingness to “be an example,” to “stay on task and participate,” and to “step out of her comfort zone to offer ideas” (as she was one of my quieter students).

I hit send and didn’t think twice — until I read her dad’s response:

“This is very helpful. Thank you for taking time with her. She really is a bright young lady. As an extra note, she has some real strength in analyzing math, science and comprehension. It seems that your approach will really reenergize her confidence in these learning skills.”

I never will know for sure whether her dad even intended this as any kind of rebuke, but that was certainly how it translated for me, and rightly so. For I had been so content with how compliant and agreeable his daughter was, I had overlooked her much more powerful strengths.

This father’s gracious response has stayed with me ever since. It stands as a reminder that we owe it to our students to dig deeper to help them uncover their passion, their power, their potential.

While we’re grateful for our students that don’t feel the need to violently rock the boat day in and day out, sometimes, their very lack of any boat-rocking can be cause for concern. We should dedicate time toward finding out why they are content to hide in the shadows, just as we dedicate time toward working with our regular boat-rockers on how to funnel their efforts more appropriately.

So keep sending those emails to parents. Keep searching out feedback. After all, the ones who benefit most from our doing so are our students.

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Inquiry: What Trajectory Are YOU On?

This week, I had the privilege to volunteer at my old school as one of the trainers for professional development day. I was asked to focus one of the workshops on inquiry planning and concept-based instruction in science and social studies. But the more I prepared, the more I realized that when it comes to inquiry, it’s not so much WHAT we do, as much as HOW we APPROACH.

So instead of spending our hour discussing science/social studies-specific ideas, we started off with a personal inquiry inventory, adapted from a couple posts by Kath Murdoch.

click for Kath’s post from which this inventory mainly originated

Next, participants used their inventory responses to determine which area of inquiry they wanted to investigate more.

As participants researched, they were also on the hunt for a sentence-phrase-word that helped them determine the difference between the same science/social studies activity used in a traditional teacher-driven classroom vs. an inquiry, concept-driven classroom.

I loved hearing the conversations, and engaging with participants as their research prompted new wonderings.

As everyone shared their Sentence-Phrase-Words, it led to more fabulous, thought-provoking discussions, such as…

  • …the fact that it’s a sacred trust to protect and cultivate the natural curiosity of our young charges — to not allow “the game of school” to drain that from them.
  • …the fact that everyone is on a different trajectory when it comes to adopting an inquiry approach — it’s not so much about how much of your day is dedicated to an inquiry-based instruction, but rather how consistently.

But by far my favorite part of our workshop was finishing up with “I used to think…Now I know…” sticky notes.

In case you can’t quite read them all in the above photo, I’ll list out the content here, too:

  • I used to think that students need to be taught. Now I know that they need to be guided.
  • I used to think the teacher had to give all the instruction using books, videos, etc. to teach about other cultures and countries. Now I know we can connect with other places in the world and talk with REAL people about their culture and country through technology.
  • I used to think that giving students agency can be scary. Now I know that with the right tools, it isn’t.
  • I used to think that joining curriculum and student-driven inquiry was too difficult to join in the classroom. Now I know it’s possible here as it is anywhere & not as hard as we convince ourselves.
  • I used to think that inquiry was complicated. Now I know we are making it complicated.
  • I used to think that questions were used solely at the beginning of a unit to drive the inquiry. Now I know questions can be a result of the inquiry and lead to more exploration.
  • I used to think inquiry was more work on the teacher. Now I know I need to lend it over to the kids — let them be kids.
  • I used to think that you had to fit everything in your lessons. Now I know that student driven lessons are more effective and fun.
  • I used to think that I always had to have an answer. Now I know that I don’t. Students can discover their answers through their own research.

I should add that thanks to the discussion during this workshop, as well as my continued online learning with teachers around the world, I need to add my own:

  • I used to think that to be an inquiry teacher, we must have students directing the learning 100% of the time. Now I know that it’s more about working toward creating a culture of ownership and curiosity, which can be present even during explicit teacher instruction.

Here are the links to all the research I shared with participants. Thank you so much to the many educators who so freely share their thinking and learning. I learn so much every day because of you! Kath Murdoch, Edna Sackson, Taryn BondClegg, Richard Wells, Sonya Terborg, Aviva Dunsinger, Sam Sherratt, and more.

Questioning:

Classroom culture:

Inquiry cycle for forward-moving planning:

Student-driven planning:

Hunter/Gathering for science/social studies:

Agency:

Focusing on CONCEPTS amid curriculum requirements:

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