Get Out of Your Own Way

Looking back on 25 years of classroom teaching, I can say that the greatest changes that I made to my classroom practice began in 2006, when I had a principal that pulled me aside and told me that I should really push the limits and rethink my classroom. What she actually told me was, “Some teachers I feel need me to guide them to change. I think I can help you best by getting out of your way.”  I had a green light, blank check, clearance from the tower.

But in retrospect, at this point where I had the institutional barriers to change removed, I built my own.

I was teaching full inclusion Special Ed US history in a room where ⅓ of the students had IEP, ED, BD plans. I had confidently volunteered to teach the class, saying that I knew exactly what I would do. Which was a combination of wishful thinking and bravado. My cooperating SPED teacher (who was amazing) and I were eager to try new things and started of the year by rethinking homework, due dates and tests. We implemented test retakes and test corrections. I read books, talked to my principal regularly and had a clear vision of what I wanted to do.

But in every instance, I created obstacles and limits on these changes that prevented my classroom from moving forward.

I limited who could do test corrections and how often any one person could do them. (If these processes are learning, why would I limit their chances to continue to learn?)

I was flexible on turning in work, but I limited how often I was flexible and I still imposed harsh penalties for timeliness. (If I identify a hard working student, capable of learning but who needs more time to do so, why would I make time a key continuing factor in their grades?)

I changed classroom activities to be more student centered, but I still maintained dominion over what those activities were. In the back of my head, my current mantra “Choose the destination, not the path” was forming but I was still creating narrow, singular paths to the learning objective. (So long as they arrive at the objective, how concerned am I really about the path that gets them there?)

In hindsight I think there were many reasons for holding back. I was certainly concerned about other teachers. It was my first year at a brand new school.

I was very aware of how parents saw what I was doing, and concerned about helping them to understand and see value in what I was doing. I felt an uneasiness each time we used cell phones in class, secretly set up a wifi network, or threw away the textbook.

Now I see that these were excuses that I made, because there we little to no actual instances where any of these fears were made real.

If I could go back in time and give myself one piece of advice knowing what I know today, it would be “Get out of your own way.” I knew what I wanted, I was on the right path, yet I kept building roadblocks. Often, (but certainly not always) institutional roadblocks were perceived, but disappeared as my resolve to change grew stronger. What really held me back was me and my perception of how big of a leap I could take.

What are the changes that you believe you need to make? How are you limiting your own ability to achieve them? What personal roadblocks could you remove today?

Get out of your own way.

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Beyond Worksheets, A True Expression of Student Learning

This is the 4th part of my 4 part series on “The New Economy of Information” 

 

Perhaps the most important effect of the new economy of information is the need to make sense of information that is around us. “In order to do this, students need to literally create their learning and demonstrate not just what they know, but what they can do.”

 

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/04/beyond-worksheets-a-true-expression-of-student-learning/

 

Teachers’ Most Powerful Role? Adding Context

This article originally appeared on Mindshift/KQED.

“And it’s here, in these seemingly disjointed moments, that the expertise of the teacher is crucial to uniting the class’s learning. Teachers need to create the dynamic that transforms individual moments into a broader experience where the class benefits from the complete range of learning that has taken place.” 

http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/04/teachers-most-powerful-role-adding-context/

Creating and iPads… Combining the Physical & Digital to Create Multimedia Content

Today I participated in an EdTechTeacher webinar on how classes can benefit by using iPads to combine the digital and the physical. There is a temptation to go ALL digital when devices arrive in your classroom. In reality the power of the devices is that they can capture digital and real world content together. They can capture the process of learning as well as the product and give the teacher better insight into the learning process. This webinar discusses the possibilities as well as sharing many examples of projects and tools.

Teaching in the New (Abundant) Economy of Information

Excerpt: In the past, teachers gave life to learning for generations of students — no different than today. But they were operating in an environment of scarcity that would make today’s teachers cringe (and they do, every time the Internet is down for more than just a short while). As the information available and our ability to access it increases, this new economy of information is transforming the practice of teaching and the roles of both teacher and student.

Creating an effective 1:1 program is not so simple as distributing devices. schools will need to make the devices part of their school culture, socialize their students for appropriate use and commit themselves to working with teachers to redefine effective teaching practice. This post reflects on the how the role of the teacher is effected by the abundance of information in their classroom.

While I can’t republish the Mind/Shift article here in its entirety, here is a link to the full article.

 

MacBook, Chromebook, iPads: Why Schools Should Think Beyond Platforms

“If educational technology and 1:1 education are going to thrive, school leaders must be focused on constantly employing the best practices and tools in relation to the most pressing needs of their students. Managing and sustaining these programs means that the big choices don’t stop after a platform has been selected. Getting devices in the hands of students is just the beginning.”

I have listened to and been a part of many discussions or debates about the specific platform that schools should use for their 1:1 program. At some level most of these discussions end with people listing the benefits of their preferred choice. Spending too much time focused on choosing “the” device can narrow the focus on what the purpose of having the technology is in the first place.

While I can’t republish the Mind/Shift article here in its entirety, here is a link to the full article.

MacBook, Chromebook, iPads: Why Schools Should Think beyond Platform

Creativity and Learning with iPads (Devices)

I participated in this webinar yesterday on the topic of Creativity. it was great to chat with outstanding Aussie educator Paul Hamilton. My only regret is that I was not able to chat more with the amazing Kiwi educator Richard Wells. Both are innovators and blazing new trails for effective use of iPads in the classroom.

This topic of creativity has begun to consume more and more of my thinking. Though transitioning to a 1:1 classroom is what began the process, I see  that while the devices are wonderful mediums for expressing creativity, the classroom procedures and policies that go along with them do just as much to encourage students to create.

Though the title refers to iPads this video would be no less helpful to those with other devices. The conversation trended to creativity in general and how to encourage and foster it.

Why We Teach – a Tribute

Earlier this year my friend and colleague Lew Hubbard passed away suddenly. He was a kind and generous man and like so many of my other colleagues, deeply committed to his students and to the art that he taught.

At our school’s recent variety show, a student performed a speed painting and dedicated it to him. I won’t try to describe her feelings and reasons because Maddy (the student in the video) does that so effectively.

When I was done watching this video I had tears in my eyes. It was clear that Lew had left a mark on this world and given something very important to his students. He taught art, he inspired art and here he becomes art.

In the weeks preceding Winter Break it was a nice reminder of what is possible in our classrooms, but also of a great man who I will miss talking to in the halls and at the copy machine.

We can make a difference in the lives of our students, we can leave our mark on the world and more importantly we can help our students to leave a mark of their own.

Some of Lew’s Art can be seen here. http://www.lrhimages.com/

Defining Paperless 2.0

this article originally appeared on Edudemic. Read the original post here.

images“I’ve gone paperless!”

The transition to the 1:1 classroom regularly goes hand in hand with a call for teachers to go paperless.  The idea is a popular one for schools (and businesses) who can realize quick savings from reduced paper costs and offset the cost of the new devices. It can also be popular with teachers for a variety of conveniences when distributing and collecting materials.  But what about learning? Is moving to paperless a step forward or a high tech way of doing exactly what we have always done albeit electronically?

 

Defining Paperless 1.0

In the initial stages of a 1:1, teachers begin to convert already existing materials into electronic copies. Copies become PDF’s or Google Docs. In most cases, these materials do not differ from what they were on paper. These digital resources are easier to share, and when used with an LMS system or an understanding of Google Docs, can be easy to collect. This simple substitution can initially be a comfort to teachers and students. It connects them to patterns that they recognize and can build an understanding of devices in a context that is familiar: “Pass out materials, collect when completed.”  Once comfortable, many teachers move on to replicate other past products; the electronic poster, a dynamic graphic organizer, interactive timelines. While these electronic, often web-based tools can be more dynamic than their paper predecessors, and can be more exciting for students, do they represent a real shift in learning? Where should schools be headed next?

 

Clear Steps Forward

Even within this simple replication, there are clear advantages to Paperless 1.0. Students can submit work to teachers AND still possess that work. That dual possession can be powerful and allow for a faster exchange of feedback.  Communication is more immediate, and in many cases, students can be receiving real-time  feedback during the PROCESS of creation rather than just on the PRODUCT of creation. Feedback can evolve into a deeper continual process rather than a momentary one.  It can be more personal and directed towards specific individual needs.

 

Defining Paperless 2.0

Yet, in order for educational technology to transcend its past patterns, paperless work will need to expand beyond the confines of an 8 ½ x11 mindset not just the 8 ½  x 11 page.  Electronic posters will have to be move beyond being an e-poster stored in the cloud. A key part of moving beyond these limits is for teachers to move beyond the constructs that have defined assignments. While it is hard to look and see the path forward clearly, we can look back and examine past constructs that have been replaced as well as where the classrooms of today came from.  Educational technology has come a long way.  Imagine if we were to conduct our classes today, but were limited only to the technology of the past.

  • Imagine the classroom where slate tablets were the peak of technology? How did students go back and reflect on their previous learning? How did they write beyond the few lines they could fit on the few small inches of slate?
  • Imagine a modern science class without the benefit of microscopes and accurate tools for measurement? How would this affect the ability of students to see and interact with real scientific situations.  Could we imagine going back to that?
  • Imagine  a classroom or school that is not connected to the internet and how the economy of  information in that class affects students compared to those who are not connected.

Perhaps defining what Paperless 2.0 is, requires us to imagine what future teachers might say as they look back on our classrooms. “Wow, imagine if all the learning and work had to find its way to paper, our students would be missing out on so much.” The size of an idea need not be limited by the amount of paper available to contain it.

As technology allows us to remove the physical restraints on our classroom products, we – as educators – should be working to remove our conceptual limits and free ourselves and our students to explore what is possible.

 

Creating a Connected Classroom #CEM13

During October I participated in a series of Connected Educator Events. This one focused on the idea of the connected classroom and how students can benefit when learning is extended beyond the classroom walls.