Today I had the privilege of sitting in on five different lessons. My purpose was to observe teachers who are in the process of integrating technology into their curriculum. What I love to pay attention to, during these times, is the level of student engagement. My favorite lesson was the last of the day in a Fire class at the Career and Technical Education Center. These students are in their fifth week of a project-based learning (PBL) unit on the risks firefighters face in their professions. The students are all upperclassmen, and all chose this class as an elective. They are working with a partner, and some of the problems they have been researching and trying to solve, involve depression/suicide rates, PTSD, and increased risk of developing colon cancer among firefighters. Today they began the class in an online discussion forum, then they reviewed the student-created rubric for the project, the presentation dates, and then work time. This was a 90-minute class, and the best part was that these boys (yes – all boys!) were engaged and actively working the entire period. The reason? They chose to be in this class, they chose their partners, they chose the problem they wanted to research, and they even chose what they wanted to be on their evaluation rubric. These are students who look forward to coming to class each day. Their voices are being heard, and they are driving their own learning. It’s a beautiful thing.
I am not an introvert. I don’t just go up to random strangers and start conversations, but I am definitely no introvert. I love hanging out with my family and friends, but I’m mostly energized by spending time with other educators who “get it”. I love meeting someone new who is excited about where education is heading and is actively doing something to impact it in a positive way. I meet awesome people every day through Twitter and LinkedIn. I can’t say enough about these two platforms for building an effective professional learning network. Anytime I travel for work, I get to meet new amazing teachers, administrators, and other ed leaders. Often times, these people don’t see themselves as doing anything noteworthy. They definitely don’t sing their own praises. The best leaders are humble leaders. Adding to that, the best leaders are team players.
This teamwork was clearly evident when I was recently fortunate enough to get to present at Googlefest in Eureka, MT. It was the best conference I’ve ever presented at for a couple of reasons. The #1 reason is the people (and it always should be). Rob Reynolds, the organizer of the event and Technology and Learning Coach for Eureka public schools, quickly gave credit to the entire team that made the conference happen. He had support staff, teachers, administrators, and even students (culinary arts provided all of the food for the day!) pulling together to make their third Googlefest a huge success. The presenters are all top-notch educators from three different states who come together for this event. I had packed sessions with eager-to-learn participants which made facilitating, even more, fun. I had two colleagues from Affton Schools, Valerie Brinkman and Chris Peters, Google Hangout with my sessions on Genius Hour to talk about how they have implemented it at their middle school. They made time in their own work days to share incredible insight into personalized learning with teachers hundreds of miles away. Why? Because the get it. They love what they are doing and want to share it with others. All I did was ask them (the power of a great PLN at work).
The #2 great reason that this was the best conference I’ve ever been a part of is the people (no it’s not a typo). More specifically, it’s the social time I got to spend with the other presenters outside of the conference. While I love the relationships I get to form and foster via social media, nothing compares to real-life face time. These teachers, administrators, tech coordinators, and consultants were highly professional, and tons of fun. What a great combination?! These are colleagues that I can discuss work ideas, session topics, education policies, and more with any of them on a regular basis.
All of this to say, good professional development is a team effort. I can’t “develop” myself alone. Even if I am doing learning on my own time from home, I’m accessing the work of others (typically via Twitter and LinkedIn). Great conferences aren’t produced by the work of one person. Good trainings don’t happen without a willing audience. All of us in education today should be willing (and wanting!) to continue to grow in our field. We can’t positively impact students unless we are always learning ourselves. And the best way to do that is to surround yourself with quality people working toward the same goal.
I’ve often heard people remark to good teachers when they hear something kind, fun, or engaging they’ve done for students, “And those kids will remember that the rest of their lives.” I completely agree with that. I remember many moments with many teachers from my school days. But, as a teacher, I remember some students better than they probably remember me.
I’ve been in education for 17 years…I remember Kenny from my first year of teaching. He was a multiply-disabled first grader with a huge smile and tight hug. I remember other teachers warning me that his hugs can sometimes be “inappropriate.” I hugged him anyway. I remember getting almost no support from the sped department, I modified his work myself. I remember how bad he spelled most days, but loved him in spite of it.
I remember Erin from my second year of teaching. She was the epitome of “precious six-year-old girl”. I remember how her parents (not educators, as a side note) took time to write me very encouraging and complimentary notes throughout the year. That impacted me more than they know. As a parent, I’ve tried to do the same for my children’s teachers.
Fast forward a few years and I remember Thomas. He came from a very dysfunctional home. I remember asking him if he wanted me to bring in treats for his birthday, knowing no one from home would do it. I remember baking him a birthday cake for his 9th birthday after finding out he’d never had one. I remember wishing I could bring him home with me.
I remember having his sister, Greta, the next year in class. Her personality was the opposite of his withdrawn one. Academics came easier for her than they did for Thomas. And I loved them equally, and as much as I could knowing they didn’t get much love anywhere else.
I remember having Juan twice – once as a kindergartner and once as a second grader. He was a handful. He required extra patience. He would miss school because he couldn’t wake up his mom. But he had the biggest smile and a need for affirmation. He’s way bigger than I am now, as an 8th grader. He still wants to give me hugs when I see him. They are modified to what I call “half-hugs”, but I still give them.
I remember Trevor. This adorable, tiny second-grader had such thick walls built around him for being so young. He had been through so much, at such a young age. I determined to break through those walls so that he knew there was someone who believed in him. Six years later, his life is no easier, and probably more difficult. I love that kid still. I’m tearing up as I write this thinking about him and how much he needs people/teachers to see past his rebellious disrespect and just invest in him….Speak truth into his heart that he does matter…that his life is important.
There are so many more students who still hold special places in my heart. Each taught me something different. Each grew me as a teacher. I will remember them long after they have grown and forgotten about an elementary teacher they once had. And that’s okay. As a teacher, you can’t choose who is in your class, or who remains in your memory. But you can choose who you will invest in (and I hope it’s every single student in the class!). Sometimes you can even choose who you let into your heart. I’m grateful for each one.