A week ago, I opened my email to find a lovely message from Edutopia telling me they had published my article. The sequence of my response went something like this:
“Woo-hoo! I feel validated!”
[clicking on my article] “Wait. I wrote and submitted this back in November. Is it even as relevant anymore?”
[frantically rereading my article] “Shoot, I would totally reword this entire section today!”
[reaching the end of the article] “How did I think that people would actually benefit by this?”
[a few hours later after the retweets started coming] “Wow, people are reading this!”
[a few seconds later] “Shoot, people are reading this! What if they read my bio and see I’m not even in the classroom right now? Or won’t they scoff at the fact that I’ve only taught for 4 years?” There’s no way this will keep up…”
[the weekend after] “Um, a lot of people are reading this. And commenting on it. And sharing it. I can feel good about that, right?”
And this morning, exactly one week later, I came across, “Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.” Though centered on the common struggle experienced by designers, I realized that this “Imposter Syndrome” nails it for me as an educational blogger, too. The fear of being “found out,” the hesitation to share, the worry of being under-qualified.
But it’s comforting to know this is a shared human experience. And those dark and shady fears look quite different when they’re named and standing together in the light.
Because the truth is, our individual stories and voices matter. They are making a difference. Even if our only audience is ourselves. These words are journeys, helping us better make sense of the world, and to become better teachers, better designers, better people. And that’s the truth to hold on to.
Have you ever felt the “imposter syndrome?” Please share your experience in comments!
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.
***Bonus flipped sign: Play is a rarity. (***We call this flipped because just a couple of decades ago, practices tended to favor more play, especially for younger grades; today, even kindergartners are often laden with paperwork).
So what happens if you are devoted to exploring the edges of 21st century best practices, but your child’s school seems to match the above description?
Send positive and supportive communication to the teacher. Odds are, she is drowning in all the meetings and paperwork that are often mandated at such schools, and can use all the support she can get.
Frequently discuss with your child his/her motivations and passions. When she comes home with a sticker for cooperation, discuss whether stickers are the bottom-line for her choices. Would she cooperate without stickers? Why or why not?
Share those kinds of above conversations with your child’s teacher. During conferences and other opportunities, share your child’s thoughts on personal motivation (or better yet, encourage the child to do so). Get the conversations going that may help broaden perspectives and initiate reflection.
Implement 21st century practices at home. MakerSpaces, coding, SOLE’s, blogging–the list goes on. Whatever you do, the point is to allow your child to drive the learning.
As parents and teachers, we can take action to cultivate our children’s pursuit of genuine learning, despite conflicting policies or practices. Please share some strategies that you have found effective below in the comments!
The Daily 5 and 3 for literacy and math: perfect for addressing some questions I’d had on inviting more student choice and ownership. Unfortunately for me, my school adopted it the very year I began my extended parental leave. However, I was thrilled when I was invited to mentor a student teacher that fall, allowing me to still test out the Daily 5/Daily 3 waters for myself. And after a few weeks, the students and I agreed that it was a worthwhile change.
Meanwhile, not everyone at the school welcomed the transition with such enthusiasm. Some worried about not spending enough time on spelling. Others worried about students squandering time. Others were simply entrenched in their existing routines. If you are considering either program, here are some tips to keep in mind to foster a smooth transition.
Allow a LOT of training time
This is no joke. Most students have learned “school” pretty well, but that tends to be more of a teacher-directed perspective. The autonomy of evaluating how they need to spend their learning time is going to be quite novel for most of them. Take each Daily 5 or Daily 3 choice one at a time, emphasizing not only stamina, but metacognition to support their ability to reflect upon their own strengths and needs.
Use status of the class–especially starting out!
One of the recommendations in the current Daily 5 book for monitoring which Daily 5/3 choices students make is roll call or status of the class. It enabled me to track their choices and to offer brief feedback so they could learn to really plan their time well.
Many teachers I spoke with felt it would be too time-consuming to call out each student’s name for their response. However, after a period of training on this process as well (we even timed ourselves to make it a competition), we were able to finish in under 2 minutes. Especially for older students, over time, you may be able to eliminate this step and let students simply move their name or picture on a choice board (such as the example below).
However you decide to track their choices, avoid the temptation to regularly assign them to stations. This eliminates one of the fundamental purposes of Daily 5/3, which is to foster students’ ability to determine how they need to spend their learning time.
Make the schedule work for you
Don’t be intimidated by the way blocks of time are outlined in the book. Interruptions to the school day are almost always a package deal, but the good news is that Daily 5/3 are designed to be flexible.
If the time you have available for student choices time is a bit shorter than ideal, add one more Daily 5 block (without any whole group time) during the day for them to choose another station to revisit and catch up on. See the example schedules at the bottom.
Don’t skimp on wrap-ups
Despite the flexible nature of Daily 5/3, don’t skip the wrap-up! This moment of reflection is invaluable both for you and students to gauge the progress, problems, and successes.
Stagger the mini-lesson one day and assignment the next
If you don’t have enough student choice times for all students to get to a station that includes an assignment based on the mini lesson, simply give the assignment the day after the corresponding mini lesson.
Make an assignments board
Simplify where students should look for Daily 5/3 assignments (and possibly a reminder on essential agreements) by designating a bulletin board or a corner of your whiteboard. See below for a great example.
Don’t drown their choices with teacher-centered worksheets
It may be especially tempting in Math Daily 3 to make each of the stations different kinds of worksheets from the lesson manual. However, keep in mind that one goal for Math Daily 3 is to foster more hands-on learning experiences. Both “Math by Myself” and “Math with Someone” are intended for games and exploring math manipulatives (see next tip). “Math Writing” is appropriate for students to show their understanding on paper.
Create a running bank of games/activities for math
As students learn each new game or math manipulative activity, write down the title on a sentence strip. Then, for Math by Myself & with Someone, you can just pull out familiar games for new concepts (or for review, especially at the beginning of a unit). Examples:
This teacher has prepared gallon ziplock baggies of games ahead of time for partners to play together. Her examples are geared toward grades 2-4, but the concept is great because it reinforces having a bank of games the kids are familiar with. This would be a great parent volunteer activity!
If the noise level is reaching a distraction for students in independent stations, seek out solutions as a class. For instance, they might find limiting the number of partners that can work during a block to be helpful.
EXAMPLES OF SCHEDULES/CHOICES FOR 2 DIFFERENT CLASSES:
The day my school decided to move science fair to sixth grade instead of fifth, we all cheered–students, teachers, and parents alike. Years later, I’m reflecting on the root of our mutual animosity toward the project. And it seems to come down to three problems–and solutions!
Lack of Teacher Modeling
We ask students to dig deep. To ask questions that don’t have an answer yet. In short, to go beyond comparing popcorn brands. But how often do we model how we develop our own original questions? Share our honest, raw wonderings? Demonstrate our process of Googling to refine an idea?
A7: Research trends in science to create your own q’s that have not been answered. Can you google the answer? If so, dig deeper #mogtchat
Creativity and innovation are skills, and science fair projects are an advanced exercise of these skills. If we expect our students to suddenly showcase skills we’ve never helped them cultivate (or worse, that we’ve never cultivated ourselves), we are setting them up for failure–or just another diaper absorbency project.
SOLUTION → Teach questioning: If you want students to ask “measureable questions,” teach them how to do so long before introducing science fair. Strategies like frequent use of Visible Thinking protocols trains students how to develop and refine their questions. (see also Tubric).
Lack of Existing Student-Driven Project-Based Learning
The science fair should not be an isolated experience of students taking ownership over and driving their own learning process. If it is, it’s unlikely that many will rise to the freedom in ways that will fuel their passion and motivation.
SOLUTION → Project-Based Learning: Make it your next weekend project to create one new PBL opportunity. Guides like this one found on Edutopia can help you get started.
SOLUTION → Student Voice & Choice: Mindfully consider your students’ choice and voice in their day-to-day learning. When we gradually let go of control and allow our students to steer the learning, they will grow in confidence and self-understanding.
Lack of Engaged and Authentic Audience
Even if students do manage to find a passion-driven project, how often does their work ever go beyond a cardboard trifold display in the gymnasium (unless they happen to move on to regionals)? Too often, we only allow our students small sips from locally limited audiences–when we could lead them to the very fountain of global conversation with our fingertips. It’s time to throw open the floodgates and watch what happens when our students swap ideas with peers, scientists, and experts across the world.
SOLUTION → Student Blogging: Encourage your students to blog not only the final presentation, but their entire process along the way. Then, teach them how to ask for feedback to fine-tune their ideas.
SOLUTION → The Wonderment: This is an especially wonderful platform for younger students to collaborate safely online. They can upload photos, videos, and text, asking questions and getting inspiration from kids around the world (see other excellent blogging alternatives here).
Let’s break the mold of hating science fair this year. What are some of your strategies to do so?
An authentic and global audience of peers and professionals–what could be more exciting when it comes to students pursuing meaningful collaboration? Yet in the name of safety, many schools still choose to keep student blogs private, viewable only to students and their families. And while safety is an essential priority, these schools must understand the importance of digital citizenship, and its role in enhancing students’ online safety.
Meanwhile, for those teaching under such restrictions, the good news is that there are a growing number of alternatives available to still foster global connections. Here are four we’re sure your students will love!
Meet the digital version of pen pals. This is a great compromise with an administration that is wary of public blogging–ask for permission to connect with just 3 other classes so they can learn about their peers in other places. Your class will become part of a Quad of four classes. You each take week-long turns as the focus class, meaning the other 3 classes visit and comment on your students’ blogs. The year I did this with my fifth graders, our quad included fifth grade classes from the U.S., the U.K., and China, and our students couldn’t get enough of seeing comments on their work from their quad friends across the globe.
The Wonderment is a new creativity-sharing platform that makes me want to be a kid again. It allows students to share and connect with kids around the world using their WonderBots. Students can share their work, participate in creative challenges, and participate in discussions with other kids–all while filling up a WonderMeter that opens up the Wonderment to new locations in the world. “When we create things together, good things happen.”
Twitter allows teachers to easily share snippets of student learning throughout the day in just 140 characters. A group just brainstormed phenomenal questions for a project? Just snap a photo and share on your classroom Twitter account with hashtags that will help their ideas reach beyond just the walls of your classroom (ie, #comments4kids, grade level chat like #5thchat, etc.). Invite parents to follow your class account to give them a window into your classroom, too! To see it this in action, check out Mrs. Cassidy’s first grade class account. (For more inspiration, check out “Unlocking Twitter’s Classroom Potential“).
Can your class guess the location of another over Skype? Not only does MysterySkype give your students an opportunity to connect with kids around the world, but it allows them to cultivate communication, problem solving, collaboration, and organization. Before you launch a session, be sure to check out how other teachers have set it up, like fifth grade teacher, Paul Solarz.
Have you ever read something that challenged your teaching approach? I hope so! And it’s an important enough type of learning moment–one we hope students will embrace, and one we should welcome ourselves–that I wanted to share what my latest experience with this looked like.
Last week, I published a post with some of my favorite icebreaker games. I’d played and enjoyed each of those games myself before with students and other adults, and had almost always found them to be positive, bonding experiences (most recently on a COPE course with about 30 other adults last month).
But then today, Pernille Ripp, a teacher and blogger whose work I have followed and admired, published “3 Non-Ice Breaker Things to Do the First Week of School.” I loved her ideas, like having students pick picture books to express themselves or drawing lines to show common interests. But as I read, I realized her low-key, calm activities stood quite in contrast with my loud, crazy, and silly ones. And so the self-reflection began:
Should beginning of year games be more quiet and reflective?
Have my games been embarrassing for my students?
How can I better help my students settle into their new environment the first week of school?
To be honest, the questions were not comfortable. There were moments when I even wanted to just delete the email notification with the blog post and move on.
But as I persevered in pondering these and other questions, I noticed something. Though I’ve never met her in person, based on what I’ve come to know of her through her work, Pernille’s suggestions seemed to me to reflect her personality–the quiet, the reflection, the picture books. 🙂 On the other hand, I noticed that I could see myself reflected in my ideas; some of my favorite moments while teaching fifth grade were playing capture-the-flag at recess or trying silly role-play activities. And I came to an important conclusion:
The best way to break the ice with students is to be ourselves.
Trying to be someone we’re not is a surefire way to get everyone seized up in discomfort and mistrust. Students have an uncanny ability to sense inauthenticity. So if our back-to-school plans involve activities that we would personally loathe, but that we think we’re arbitrarily obligated to do, it’s time for some planbook revising.
My reflection also reminded me that it’s important to be mindful of all our students’ personalities and needs; we should be sure to include a variety of ways to get to know them and to gently invite them to our learning communities. I feel certain that when I return to teaching in a few years, my first week of school will certainly benefit by taking time “for the quiet, for the reflection, for the conversation.”