I started the AprilBlogADay challenge late, but am so glad I got to be a part of this. I began my blog about three and a half years ago, and have struggled with topics and words often since then. The struggle got a little easier when I stopped focusing on writing it for someone else, and used it as a platform to reflect and process for my myself instead. Then, this month, this challenge, helped even more. Here are three ways how:
- I focused on the message. – I allowed myself only a short window each day to write about the prompt. My posts ended up shorter than usual, and the writing might not be as refined, but I was able to stick to the goal of posting daily that way, and spent more time on the message and less on worrying about how it read. (Wow, talk about a run-on sentence.)
- I made new connections. – Through this challenge, I met some new educators, made some new friends, and found some great new blogs to read. I love enlarging my PLN with quality professionals, and this was an easy way to do that. It’s been fun to read different perspectives on the same topic. I’m looking forward to staying connected with this community through #edblogaday. We would all welcome new participants, so let me know if you want to join the group, and I will point you in the right direction. Bloggers are good people. 🙂
- I helped tell the story. – We’ve all heard it said that we need to tell our own story. I completely agree with that. No one knows me better than me. But no one knows education better than educators. This blog challenge got educators telling the story of teachers, administrators, students, and schools to people outside of our daily world. It’s important that we tell what really happens and not leave it up to the media and politicians to portray. The more we blog about education, the more likely “outsiders” will catch a post and be a bit more enlightened.
I joined AprilBlogADay for motivation to write. I stuck with it because it was easy to follow along. I will continue the practice because of how it has impacted me as a blogger, and more importantly, as an educator.
I truly am a lifelong learner. I’m someone who loves to learn new things (as long as they interest me). I go to as many professional conferences that I can. I am on Twitter and LinkedIn every day reading great updates and finding links to valuable blogs and resources. All of these are positive ways for me to learn. But what has been my best experience as a learner?
When I first heard the topic for today’s blog post, I was excited (yep, I know I’m a nerd). I could name several great conferences that I’ve been to. I could talk about the trainings I got to lead, and how you learn so much from presenting, too. I could mention some books that I highlighted and tabbed, or fabulous blogs that I follow.
But the truth is, the best experiences that I’ve had as a learner have been in simple, impromptu conversations with other people. A chance meeting with someone and a great conversation about education can leave me walking away, thinking, “She totally gets it.” It’s rewarding to meet people who think like I do. Who I can learn from and with just by talking about topics we care about. Do I have a marked up book to show for this learning? No. Do I have notes saved somewhere like those I took at the last conference I attended? No. Do I have a letter grade attached to the learning that took place? Thank goodness, no. But, true learning takes place in these encounters. I’m engaged, I’m enthusiastic, and I’m excited to share my own thoughts and passions. This is why I value my PLN. And this is why I’m always happy to make it bigger. Because I love to learn.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this particular topic today and kept coming up blank. What I have thought of, however, is an extremely common technology practice that I don’t agree with. All over the place, it’s the high schools that get the latest technology. Their old devices get pushed down to middle schools, whose devices get pushed to the elementary schools. I understand budget restraints. I really do. However, I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest that our elementary students are the ones who consistently get pushed aside, or left behind. The picture above is extreme, but I couldn’t resist.
I realize that many schools have good technology resources in elementary classrooms, as well. But most likely, they have a class set of devices to share among four (or more!) classrooms. I know of many school districts where the elementaries are sharing the old white plastic Mac laptops. They might have two carts/building. They are slow, heavy, and outdated.
With school technology budgets being what they are, I don’t have a solution. Just identifying the need, and always looking for ideas and compromises.
How to build a more powerful classroom by letting go, could really be, “How can I create a more powerful community by letting go?” This is a question, and something to strive for in any community: school, industry, faith, family… It involves relinquishing control. This is easier for some than it is for others. But I do not believe that it’s unchangeable. I have definitely gotten better at giving up control as I get older (not old, mind you!!). In a classroom, this is about creating a culture where students know that their voices are heard and respected. Their interests and learning styles are taken into account. The terms regarding how they are assessed includes them in the planning process. These classrooms may be a bit noisier, may look a bit crazy to an outsider, and will not look like a traditional classroom. The students will be smiling, or working confidently, engaged in their learning. The teacher will actually have less stress, and will be happier to come to work each day instead of counting down the days till summer. They enjoy teaching more, because they aren’t focused on the little things like, Sit down when you are learning, Don’t talk to your neighbors – you have to work by yourself, Raise your hand if you want to share something, Don’t ask questions about the book – just listen, Write a report on this______, etc. *yawn*, etc. Instead, they get to focus on the excitement of learning on the faces of the students. They get to help them learn how to be problem identifiers and problem solvers. Learning becomes real, and long-lasting. This is what it means to let go in a classroom. These are the kids that leave that class filled with the power of using their own minds and directing their own learning. And it doesn’t stop in the classroom. This transfers directly into the boardroom, onto the assembly line, around the kitchen table. Authentic relationships -> community -> power.
I love to read. This is not news to anyone who knows me, or has read some previous blog posts. I would choose to read a good novel over just about any other activity. I’m not normally a “bandwagon” reader. If a book comes out and is wildly popular, I tend to not want to read it. I’ve never read a single Harry Potter book. I’m considering it now… I didn’t read any of the Hunger Games trilogy until the last book was already released. Same with 50 Shades (yes, I actually did just admit to reading those). I jumped on reading Fault In Our Stars late, as well, and can honestly add it to my elite list of favorite books ever read (and the movie was darn good, too).
All of this to explain why I am just now reading Allegiant by Veronica Roth. I had wanted to read Divergent for quite some time, but it was always more convenient to read something else. Then Insurgent, the movie, was recently released, and I wanted to see it. But, I refuse to watch the movies if I haven’t read the books. I read Divergent quickly and went to the library the same day to get Insurgent. They couldn’t find it! What?! It’s a booklovers worst nightmare. Luckily, I have an awesome friend who is a high school media specialist and she got a copy into my hands over spring break. A day and a half later, that was finished and I was dying to read Allegiant. I am in the last few chapters of the book, and I have not been let down. At. All. I love it when one book in a series is better than the last (extremely rare). I marked a passage this morning that really reached out to me (I’m a romantic…):
Just as I have insisted on his work, he has always insisted on my strength, insisted that my capacity is greater than I believe. And I know, without being told, that’s what love does, when it’s right-it makes you more than you were, more than you though you could be.
But it was what I just read that made me get that feeling that only people who fall in love with the characters in books could understand. It’s when Tobias confronts his mother with the memory serum and asks her to choose between him and power.
“Let them have the city and everything in it,” she says into my hair. I can’t move, can’t speak. She chose me. She chose me.
If you haven’t read the books, then you won’t know the impact of that scene, but it’s powerful. Powerful enough that I actually laid the book down to write about it.
I have spent time as a classroom teacher (most of my career), as a reading specialist that pulled out small groups of students referred to as “bubble kids”, an ELL instructor, and a district administrator. I enjoyed some positions more than others, but the commonality among them all is that I have appreciated each and every one. I feel bad for people who dread Monday mornings, or live for quitting time on Fridays (don’t get me wrong – I love a weekend as much as the next gal). I can honestly tell people that I am excited to be in education today. It is a time of education reform, constant change, budget cuts, and arguments over education standards. But it also a time of innovation, creativity, learning with and from people all over the world, and information at our fingertips like never before.
Things I love about my profession (in no particular order):
Kids who make me feel like a rock star
Getting to make kids feel like rock stars
Getting hugs from smiling students
Sharing my excitement with others
Learning new things every single day
Collaborating with like-minded professionals across the hall, and across the globe
Getting to empower teachers, parents, and students
New challenges every day
A career that is always evolving
Laughing (anyone who has ever taught elementary school knows that you laugh often during a school day at what these little ones think, say, and/or do. Example: last week I had a first-grader elude that I resemble a Chinese man. What can you do but laugh at that?!)
Sharp new pencils and office supplies (okay, not really, but they are pretty great, right?)
How transparent should educators be? Very.
Transparency is more than just a buzzword or the name of an ancient instructional tool (Vis a Vis markers anyone?). Teachers have long been encouraged to be more transparent in their teaching/learning goals for the day by telling the students what the learning objective is, and even posting the related standards on the board. They are supposed to send home regular newsletters, update class websites, and hold parent/teacher conferences. Principals can show up to do walk-throughs or longer observations at any time. Throw in regular teacher-teacher collaboration at PLCs, and transparency for teachers is almost a moot subject.
Sometimes I think administrators don’t have to adhere to the same levels of transparency that teachers do. Administrators can be transparent by creating authentic relationships with all stakeholders. If they are good leaders they will include teachers and support staff in their ideas, planning, and vision for the school/district. They will share triumphs, as well as challenges. They will work to defeat the “us vs. them” mentality existent among too many teachers and administrators. School and district leaders need to be accessible to the public, as well, and openly communicate (which involves listening and speaking) goals, progress, and missions.
We need to be transparent to build trust, to create a learning partnership, and to foster innovation and best practices. Throw away those old transparencies (and the markers), but make education more transparent by all and for all.