A Wii remote taped to a ceiling projector. A teacher standing on desks. Twenty-five 11 year-olds offering enthusiastic technical support. This unlikely combination would become one of my greatest “aha” moments as an educator.
It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of efficiency as teachers. Standards and tests and data and reports bear down on us with pressure to make every. minute. count.
There also seems to be an endless supply of initiatives to maximize our efficiency–many of which seem to simply offer more fodder for burnout, like some ideas found in the video below (at the proposition for increased class sizes for quality teachers, I could only visualize the exhausted expression of one of my mentor teachers the year they increased her first grade class size–because she could handle it, right?).
2/3/15 UPDATE: It appears that OpportunityCulture.org has removed their video after we published this post a couple of weeks ago. So, to fill you in if you missed it, the ideas we found most worrisome in the video included: 1) increasing class sizes for “excellent teachers” so more students could feel their influence (while decreasing class sizes for novice teachers); 2) implementing rotating classes for those “excellent teachers” so they could reach even more students each day; 3) an apparent oversight of the teacher-student relationship in general. Instead, their page now says the following:
“Watch this space for an updated motiongraphic, based on the experiences of the first pilot schools to implement their own Opportunity Cultures, showing the importance of models that let teams led by excellent teachers reach many more students, and let all teachers earn more and learn more—through more school-day time for collaboration and planning, and without forcing class-size increases.”
10/29/2015 UPDATE: A new video has been published. The model is explained differently, but the basis still rests on class-size increases for excellent teachers and efficiency, which still leaves us concerned about the lack of discussion on teacher-student relationships.
Kim Collazo’s response on Twitter brings to light what’s most worrisome about these kinds of ideas:
— kcollazo (@kcollazo) January 14, 2015
Empathy Over Efficiency
Efficiency values time-management; empathy values taking all the time that is necessary to build relationships. Both have their place in our classrooms, but we must be careful that the more aggressive pursuits for efficiency don’t swallow up the daily opportunities to foster our relationships. To learn more about why empathy is so important in every relationship, see the poignant RSA video below in which Dr. Brené Brown describes how to discern genuine empathy.
After all, what does it matter if our students ace every test and memorize every chart if they lack the ability to connect and reach out to one another in compassion and understanding?
Strategies to Convey Empathy
Whatever your subject matter, empathy should take a prominent place in all your instruction–both indirectly in general interactions with students, and directly as you point students’ attention to learning opportunities.
Love & Logic
- Even when students are in difficult situations that they created for themselves (ie, sloughing off in class), help them understand that you are still there for them. Start with empathetic responses like, “Wow, I’ve been there, and it’s such a hard place to be.” The suggestions for solving the problem can wait until after the student truly knows you understand and care.
- Starting with the youngest children who may cry out in frustration with using scissors, students can begin to gain a sense of authentic human connection when you respond with an empathetic, “I hate it when that happens to me!” Help them know they are not alone from the earliest age!
Take the time
- Joe Bower shared a powerful example of what taking the time to teach a child about empathy–while reflecting genuine empathy–looks like. “Working With Students When they Are at Their Worst” is definitely a worthwhile read!
- If your class begins to have more widespread issues, such as dishonesty or unkindness, take time during weekly class meetings to discuss it. Talk honestly about how those choices are impacting you as their teacher. Talk about everyone’s observations on how it’s impacting the class. Then brainstorm possible actions everyone can take to solve the issue.
Cause & Effect
- Have frequent conversations in which students picture themselves in another’s shoes.
- Discuss possible personal struggles that peers may be experiencing, and which we would never know about.
- Read books like Patricia Polacco’s Thank You, Mr. Falker that explore the impact of bullying.
- Engage in process drama activities such as Decision Alley that get students thinking about different perspectives
- Display the quote below by Philo, and frequently brainstorm ways we can be kind
School is back into full-swing for many schools by now. Amid back-to-school supplies, carefully-designed units, and seating charts, remember to maintain a vision of those things that are most important. Here are a few of our favorite reminders.
#1: Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto
(and while you’re at it, perhaps her “Engaged Feedback Checklist,” too. Both of these come from her latest book, Daring Greatly, which is definitely a worthwhile read for any educator!)
#2: Bill Ferriter’s essential technology reminder
#3: Ann Lander’s wisdom on child autonomy
#4: Dr. Haim Ginott’s realization on a teacher’s daily influence
#5: And this.
Or maybe just a poster that says, “Serenity now!” Have a great 2014-2015 year!
Featured Image: (only visible on mobile devices with current layout) Nick Amoscato
“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹
Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed. However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²). To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.
Sudden Educational Evolution
For many years, education remained fairly static. Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation. Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.
Now, all that is changing thanks to technology. It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers. It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration. It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun. It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices. Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!
The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability
This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom. What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning? In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control. The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.
During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:
— Tyson Lane (@Tyson_Lane) July 30, 2014
Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209. See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).
Walking the Talk
I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.” Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out. My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words. Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective. Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.
Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:
- Jon Bergmann: Within a couple years of Youtube’s debut, Jon wondered what would happen if he gave his lessons in video format as homework instead of teaching them in class. The result has been the Flipped Class Movement.
- Edna Sackson: Australian educator and blogger of WhatEdSaid, Edna shares her school’s journey toward effective inquiry. Her post on 10 ways school has changed particularly demonstrates her dedication to using technology to empower learning.
- Paul Solarz: Paul maintains the blog What’s Going on in Mr. Solarz’ Class? where he shares his abundant classroom experimentation and success with technology, including student blogging and Passion Time.
- Numerous other educators in my PLN who daily share their triumphs, trials, and resources on Twitter.
Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky. But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.
- Estrin, J. “The Visual Village.” National Geographic. October 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/digital-village/estrin-text
- Skillen, P. “The Drip Effects of Technology.” http://theconstructionzone.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/the-drip-effect-of-technology/
- Brown, Brown. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.
We know actions speak louder than words. But some simple, carefully-chosen words that lead to exemplary action can speak volumes, too. This is especially true for teachers.
Be sure to also stop by our interactive infographic, “21st Century Cheat Sheet” for a great visual!
What does it mean to become a 21st century educator? Effective technology integration certainly plays its role, but it’s also about accessibility and individual perspective shifts. Find inspiration in our 10 tips…
When we refer to becoming a 21st century teacher, we certainly recognize that technology plays an enormous role in how quality education has evolved. However, we feel it also reaches into simple attitudes that are shifting. It’s likely a reciprocal effect: the more technology use and global networking has grown, the more recognition has spread for best practices; the more the recognition for best practices has spread, the more technology has been examined to assist in this innovation. Still, as adept as many teachers are in adopting 21st century attitudes and strategies, we know many others feel overwhelmed by it all, from first year teachers to veterans nearing retirement. We feel that starting small, one attitude or strategy at a time, is the best method!
#1: Reject “Content is King!”
A quote from the above video that bears repeating:
“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t been invented . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” ~Karl Fisch
If we allow our teaching to exist mostly as delivering information that students memorize, our job descriptions could be quickly outsourced to Google! Worse still, our students’ limited skills would also be highly replaceable by search engines and video databases like LearnZillion. 21st Century teachers and learners alike must realize that education is no longer about what we’ve memorized, but about how we learn to evaluate and utilize information!
#2: Recognize that Change is Essential!
Ken Robinson has been a tremendously influential voice when it comes to the need to change our thinking in education. Some of the primary changes he suggests include the way we think about “human capacity,” collaboration, and the “habits of institutions.” On a similar track, author and educator Shelly Blake-Plock outlined 21 Things that Will be Obsolete by 2020 (reflection post), including current systems of standardized testing for college admissions and organizing classes by age and grade.
A prominent example of current change is the Common Core (see our CCSS article). Some parents are frustrated that it does NOT involve a back-to-basics, “finding the answer” approach. (See one example of a parent who allegedly exclaimed on his child’s homework page that the “real world” would favor faster, simpler vertical subtraction over evaluating misconceptions using a visual number line. We would point out that a calculator is even faster and simpler, if speed is really the highest priority in “the real world”). In their fear of education looking different than it did when they were kids, these individuals seem to miss that the emphasis is now on critical thinking, a crucial shift when you think back to our tip #1 in particular. There is a difference between education and learning, and fortunately, the 21st century is moving more toward the latter.
#3: Develop a PLN
A PLN (Personal Learning Network) allows you to maximize your professional development as you use social media and other platforms to learn and collaborate with teachers around the world. If Shelly Blake-Plock is correct about the way school Professional Development is moving toward teachers taking the lead, PLN’s will prove increasingly important for every educator to have in place. Our article on PLN’s is a great resource for beginners!
#4: Encourage students to develop PLN’s
The above word cloud took shape when creator Caroline Bucky asked members her own PLN what their individual PLN’s meant to them. If students were enabled to create such meaningful networks, imagine the ramifications that would have on their ability to contribute to a global society (another major aspect of the 21st century)!
#5: View Time Spent Exploring as an Investment
The above picture pretty much speaks for itself on this one. Just remember that every effort you make will not only invest in your own future as a relevant 21st century educator, but in your students’ quality of learning as well. (See one blogger’s insightful perspective on this investment in relation to building her PLN).
#6: Allow Students to Own Learning
For many decades, ideas from student-centered pedagogy theorists like Jean Piaget have taught the importance of this attitude. In fact, a wonderful Piaget quote on the topic of student ownership reads:
“The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered.” ~Jean Piaget
He said this in 1964. Think of the greater importance for students to “verify, and not accept, everything they are offered” now that the digital world provides them with a constant stream of information! This kind of ownership for learning does not happen when our expectations are limited to students “repeating what other generations have done”–in other words, limited to the content and understanding we bring to the table. Evidence that we can improve in this regard exists in examples such as the above screenshot we took today.
#7: Be Vulnerable with Students
A frequent 21st century dialogue in education involves asking, “How do we help our students become fully engaged in learning?” We feel that a large part of the answer to this question begins with our own levels of engagement and vulnerability as learners with our students. Brené Brown researches and writes on this very topic. She created a leadership manifesto that outlines patterns from her research on how we truly connect and engage. A powerful quote from it:
“When learning and working are dehumanized–when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform–we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talent, our ideas, and our passion. What we ask is that you engage with us, show up beside us, and learn from us.” ~Brené Brown
In short, to prevent disengagement, we absolutely must stop pretending that we know all the answers or that we do not make mistakes.
#8: Examine Your Why
In our post on Flipped Learning, we reference Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle of beginning with the Why. To succeed in the 21st century, becoming a life-long, self-motivated learner is not a nicety–it is a necessity. Cultivating our own Why as teachers and then keeping that at the forefront of our endeavors is an influential attitude simply because we are modeling it for our students. It helps them absorb the “point” of learning and to begin cultivating their own Why’s.
#9: Pursue Your Needs!
Have a low classroom budget? Is 1:1 technology nonexistent in your school? Are you in need of high quality mentor texts in your class library? Thanks to developments here in the 21st century, no longer are your frustrations limited to faculty lounge griping. Tools like DonorsChoose.org allow teacher empowerment as you shop for items you need and write a simple, mini-grant (or project), asking generous donors for help. Not only can you enlist your PLN to spread the word of your project through social media, but you can also look for help from programs in your area like Chevron’s Fuel Your School, which works to fund as many DonorsChoose teacher projects as possible during the month of October (be sure to wait to submit your project until October 1st to qualify)! Additionally, you can work with your administration to implement innovative school programs such as BYOD (see our article on 10 tips for Bring Your Own Device programs) if you’re looking for more technology accessibility in your classroom.
#10: Use Technology to Make Best Use of Time
This infographic by Anna Vital gives several examples of creative ways to save time, including using keyboard shortcuts! We would also suggest other simple strategies, such as keeping your email inbox cleaned up, turning off phone notifications for everything except the things you truly want to interrupt your life (some phones even allow you to turn off notifications or calls at certain times or locations), and utilizing apps to keep your priorities organized. Establishing such strategies that work for you can simplify your planning and classroom time, allowing you to focus on what matters most for you personally and professionally.
Denise Krebs (featured image)
Cherry, K. “Jean Piaget Quotes”.