This writing is just one educator's view from this side of the desk.
One of the wonderful aspects of being an educator is that once a year we get to have a fresh start. Every Aug/Sept, we begin anew with a new group of students, and for students, they get new teachers. At times, we switch to new positions or new schools. This is one perk of my profession that I relish! I love being able to revamp courses and assignments, and most of all, I like have a “do over.”
And with this “do over” mentality, I go into the fall semester feeling refreshed and ready – ready to take on all the negatives that seem so insurmountable to overcome in February each year.
For the past few years, I have taken on one particular task to focus on and do well with over the course of the new school year. Last year I worked on work/personal life balance. I made a promise to myself that I would not work on weekends. I would take that time for my own private world. With the exception of 3-4 weekends, I was able to accomplish it! My attitude and work ethic changed dramatically. I realized I had to work harder during the week to get everything accomplished and could not allow myself to be lazy on a random Wednesday afternoon. Part of this promise to myself meant I had to reap the consequences of not getting work completed if it wasn’t finished by Friday afternoon. For several months, that was quite difficult to not have weekends to finish up projects or start new ones. At times, I was not fully prepared for the coming week. But after being unprepared a few weeks, I quickly got my time in order during the week. In the end, I was able to enjoy my life each weekend free of the stress of work. On Monday morning, I faced my students and tasks with a much better attitude. I wasn’t exhausted by small annoyances so easily. Ultimately – I was happier. And that made me a better teacher.
This year my goal is to improve my organization. I begin each year with everything organized, but then it slips. I get lazy; I get busy. I don’t STAY organized. So this coming year I hope to remain organized even if it takes a few extra minutes each day to get my desk in order for the next day. I’m taking this on because I think that if I get certain routines in order and established as habit, then on down the road, I will be able to actually save time and stress for myself.
No matter what I pick each year, the hope is always that I will come out a better teacher at the end of nine months.
It had long since
come to my attention
that people of accomplishment
rarely sat back and
let things happen
They went out and
happened to things.
-Leonardo Da Vinci
Just as constant as the sunset and sunrise or the push and pull of the tides, another school year has ended and the time for reflection and rejuvenation of summer is beginning. At this point last year, I was finishing one adventure and headed out for another….at Spring Hill College. I had no idea what was in store for me.
This past year at SHC has been a wonderful first chapter, and the reason is connected to my students. In the beginning they were quiet, and they sat cautiously in class trying to figure out my teaching style. I challenged them on many levels, and transformed many traditional assignments. Some of them were nervous; some were excited. But everyone – everyone – surpassed my expectations.
I congratulate my graduating students, and I look forward to seeing them in another life as they become teachers. I will so enjoy celebrating their successes along the way.
Then I realized this week as I talked with my students during their final exams week and prep for graduation, that I am teaching at a school where I can connect with my students and move them forward – move them toward becoming the type of teachers they’ve idolized.
I know that my SHC preservice teachers will achieve amazing accomplishments because most of the students who have passed through my classes this year don’t just believe the spirit of the Da Vinci quote listed above, but they live it. And isn’t THAT the kind of teacher you want your child to have? Isn’t that the kind of teacher you want working next to your classroom? Isn’t that the kind of teacher you want to hire for your campus?
Those are the kind of teachers I’m fortunate enough to get to mold. So when people ask me how my first year at SHC has been, I don’t think of me. I think of my students and how this year has been for them while in my class. I hope it has been a challenge and hard work. I hope it has opened their eyes to new ideas and new perspectives. I hope it has given them an understanding of the responsibility they possess as a teacher. I hope they experienced that happy exhaustion of accomplishment once turning in the final project, exam, or paperwork. I hope they learned. I hope they evolved.
I hope my students experienced all of these things and more because I worked hard to make it happen. I plan on enjoying my first graduation at SHC under the massive oaks. And then I’m ready to start making exciting things happen for Fall 2014.
My father always used a phrase while I was growing up: “Just because you’re in a garage doesn’t make you a car.” Think about that for a moment. I believe we can apply that phrase to our current model of professional development (PD). Just because we claim to have PD doesn’t mean it really is working. The US federal government spends $2.5 billion on professional development. Once the individual states contribute, the number increases to $5 or $6 billion. Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, comments: “I'd argue that's by far the worst money we spend. We get the least bang for the buck."
Now mix into this equation the need for teachers to have ed tech PD. Teachers are being bombarded with a tremendously mixed signal to make their classrooms more engaging and include 21st century skills, yet the learning provided to them is nothing short of archaic at best. Teachers are provided PD opportunity a few times of year and typically sit in large rooms and listen to a speaker who is considered an expert. I’ve been that teacher sitting in that room, and all I wanted to do was get back to grading papers or catch up on email. I wanted to be anywhere other than sitting in that room wasting my precious time. Another stumbling block to this current model is money. School districts do not have the resources to continually train large numbers of teachers and keep them current on ed tech trends. As a result, many teachers have resorted to spending their own money for training.
Let’s stop wasting teachers’ time and money. Let’s start empowering them to find the knowledge they need and create effective learning communities with other educators that does not require large budgets or days spent out of the classroom.
Currently the need for understanding, using, and implementing digital literacies in our modern classrooms is enormous. And professional development is the key to meeting this need. Correction: QUALITY professional development is the key. The current model of PD will not meet these needs. In fact, I would argue the current model of PD barely keeps teachers awake - much less teaches them anything of value. I would further argue that professional development could be strengthened by moving it into the realm of authentic professional learning connections.
Some would argue that they have attended PD that has been life-changing. They have walked out of the training and gone back into their classrooms the next day and implemented new strategies. Fair enough. But then what happened. Nothing. Connections weren’t established, and learning was rarely shared with other educators or enhanced or expanded upon.
Recently I attended EdCamp in Madison, Alabama, and they started the day explaining that we would make face-to-face connections that day that could then be fostered digitally. That idea is meaningful to me because PD is NOT about one day or one hour. Teachers should be life-long learners, and they are operating in a world that is giving them the perfect opportunity to stay connected. And by staying connected - they keep learning. Education is changing. Our students literally have a world of information and knowledge at their fingertips. And they are using it. So should our teachers. Let’s start having PD that is ongoing and can fit into their busy schedules and can be tailored to their needs. And let’s do it at a fraction of the cost we are currently spending.
So how does this happen? How do we transform a model that has been used for so long? Where do we begin? What does it look like?
I don’t know all the answers to those questions. But I do know how to start this change in my immediate world, and here is how I plan to do it.
Change begins with preservice teachers.
Next fall, my ed tech students will design, organize, and present an ed tech conference for other preservice teachers at Spring Hill College. They will present ideas in short 20-30 minutes presentations. Hashtags will be required to be used by presenters so as to provide easy organization for participants. Presentations will be interactive and engaging. Participants will be strongly encouraged to only remain in sessions that are helpful and applicable to them. Participants will be expected to bring their own devices and use them during the conference. Instead of simply wearing nametags, participants will be able to display their Twitter call sign in large letters. The one-day conference will also include a Tech Smackdown (where participants quickly - in 2 minutes or less - share an app that they find particularly useful) and a Tech Connection (learn about who to follow on Twitter and connect with other participants on Twitter).
The model of this conference is very similar to the one used by EdCamps,TeachMeet, etc... I do not claim that our conference will be wildly different. I only claim that our conference will now be available to preservice teachers and educators in this area of Alabama. This conference will focus on helping preservice teachers learn (& practice) how to construct their own learning connections. That’s how we being to make an impact - by starting with our own corner of the globe.
But to make this conference a reality in 2014 and the following years, I do need help. I need the following:
Throughout the process I will be collecting data - from my students - from participants - from involved teachers and principals. I hope to use this data to design a better conference the next year. Creating an effective PD model for preservice teachers to take part in and help create is the way we empower them as educators.
Nicholas Kristof writes in The New York Times this past week about how professors are hidden deep in the university walls and have distanced themselves from integrating their knowledge and skills in the public world: “But, over all, there are, I think, fewer public intellectuals on American university campuses today than a generation ago.” Sadly, I do think he makes some valid points in this article (http://nyti.ms/1cOO8EM), but I refuse to allow this blanket statement apply to me.
I’m not hiding. I don’t have time to hide. I’m too busy creating teachers who are going to be amazing educators. Are you interested in helping me?
This morning in class I decided to go out on a limb and share an idea I have for a future project with my students. I told them my vision and asked for feedback. And they gave it - eagerly. They listened and were thoughtful and then gave me some wonderful ideas for turning my idea into a reality. I kept the vibe going throughout the afternoon when I had some students stop by my office and later when visiting a student teacher at a local school.
Several ideas came out of these collaboration sessions, but I will only detail one in this blog post. Stay tuned…more to come!
I've been trying to figure out a way for my preservice teachers (and teachers) to seriously utilize the powers of Pinterest. After conversations with several students, this is what we put together……
Create a board on Pinterest dedicated to one teaching unit, and put all your resources, handouts, links, etc…. that will be used when teaching that unit on that board. As you come across resources, you can quickly pin them to your board. You can easily share your unit with other teachers by just directing them to your board (no need to email a ton of files or links). Instead of having students create these large and unwieldy black binders stuffed with handouts and lessons, let's use a FREE and easily accessed digital source to organize and store that information. One of the student teachers I supervise even admitted that he has all those binders stored in his attic. Do we realistically believe (as professors) that our preservice teachers will crawl into the attic and pour over those giant binders i
BUT THE BEST PART is an idea one of my students had (shout out to Sarah Voorhees). She suggested allowing collaboration on the boards among teachers, so the unit would be open to everyone on a team to add ideas. BRILLIANT! And the reason this is brilliant is because this type of collaboration helps teachers from feeling so isolated. And teachers who aren't willing to walk down the hall and share a new idea can simply pin the idea to the unit board and Voilà! collaboration is born!
I can't wait to have another afternoon of conversations with my students about new ideas!
I knew I had a good group of students this semester when I suggested we do READ photos with their favorite books and….everyone got excited…everyone got dressed up…everyone had a book. Being an advocate of literacy isn't always easy. I can't tell you how many times I have bitten my tongue when hearing a preservice teacher exclaim with pride that s/he doesn't read books or hasn't read a single book since being made to read in high school. I always want to ask if s/he would like to say that to the parents of their students. Would one be impressed to hear that from their child's teacher? To be honest, some parents would laugh and agree that they too are in the same boat, but many (actually I believe most) would be horrified. Horrified.
So this semester when my group of students (who will be teachers within the next three years or sooner) eagerly and easily found their favorite books, I felt very hopeful. In our crazy race to the top in order to leave no child behind, we often forget about our quality future educators. I have watched them spend countless hours and energy to design interactive lesson. And I have listened as they have expressed their dismay over visiting classrooms that emphasize the worksheet machine rather than truly igniting a passion for learning…and reading.
This time of year we typically give thanks for all that is good in our lives, and for me, I give thanks that the future of our classrooms is bright. Today I'm not consumed with worrying about testing mandates or low-performing students. Today I am thankful that a group of bright and eager readers are ready to take their place as teachers in your child's classroom.
Over the past twenty four hours, I have posted several proud tweets about my students' work. I only picked three videos to highlight with tweets, which is misleading because there were other videos that deserved the same attention. But I hated to bombard my Twitter followers with constant tweets. I felt it would be equal to how a mother of a new baby constantly is posting baby pictures. But I AM SO PROUD of my students! I asked them to step out of their comfort zones; in fact, I REQUIRED them to do so. They were hesitant and did not know how they would accomplish it, but the results are wonderful! When you watch the videos (all are uploaded to my YouTube channel), you will see imperfections. Some videos could have better sound, and others should probably refine the timing. But those details are not as important to me as the fact that they worked very hard to produce a product about which they had no experience or substantial knowledge. They had to learn, experiment, and collaborate with one another. In my opinion, THAT is what teachers are doing every day.
I highlighted three videos in particular:
Clare created a video about Mirror, and she crafts music and sounds together to create an understanding of two cultures.
Kathryn created a video about A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea! Her storytelling is fun and interesting!
Lillian created a video about The Day the Crayons Quit. She worked tirelessly to create a video with awesome special effects!
So take a moment to browse the videos. If you find one or two that are done particularly well, please share with your students or other teachers.
This past week I began teaching digital storytelling to one of my classes. We began the discussion talking about and looking at examples of traditional storytelling. They could easily see the value in using it in the elementary classroom. But they also had many concerns about their abilities as storytellers, which is natural. Then we moved on to digital storytelling. Instead of pulling up a PowerPoint detailing the basics of digital storytelling, I decided to use an actual example of digital storytelling to help them understand the process. I used the video The Seven Elements of Digital Storytelling (linked below). At first, they just watched. After their first viewing, they worked in groups to remember the elements. Then they had a second viewing where they could add to their notes; and finally we debriefed in discussion about the concepts. Of course, they will also have concerns about digital storytelling, but there was an energy in the classroom as I introduced this idea. I believe they were processing - thinking - allowing their minds to begin creating because this is the medium with which they are so familiar (coming from a world of Vine, InstagramI will share an update later in the semester when they have finished their own digital storytelling projects because I'm anxious to see what they will create. But I must add that when I asked my students why they should learn about digital storytelling, one student remarked, "Because it's 2013." The rest of the class either smiled or shook their heads in agreement. That one comment gave me hope - we will someday fill our schools with teachers who finally understand the basic idea of why digital literacies are important to our students - because we must keep looking forward.
This past week I began a new chapter in my life. I have uprooted our lives in Texas and moved us to southern Alabama to teach and conduct research in higher education. Even though this isn't my first time in higher ed, I wasn't sure what to expect. And my expectations were more than met. In fact, I was blown away. My students are articulate and dedicated and bright. After years as a public school administrator, I have finally begun to unearth that spark I once felt as a classroom teacher. I want to do well for my students - I want to challenge them - I want them to evolve. But most of all, I look forward to watching them grow into teachers. In one of my classes this week, I told my students that teaching someone to read could quite possibly be the most powerful thing one can do for another. I realized by Friday that I had misinformed them. Shaping one into a teacher - a quality teacher - is the most powerful thing one can do for another.