Posted in Demonstration, Learning Environment

Safe Spaces Where Students Can Take Risks

As a language teacher, I always understood that it took a certain amount of vulnerability to begin to speak in the classroom: you had to create sounds that you may never had made before and you sounded funny, what would others think? It was an intentional regular practice to establish an environment where it was acceptable that we were all learning, all trying, and consistently working on improving and it was OK to speak. It often helped that I was usually the first to do or say something awkward (most of the time intentional). It was a practice that didn’t end during the first week of school, but one that became an integral component of my planning. Speaking is a natural part of language instruction, so I was creating a pallet where that could happen.

Speaking a different language was a risk, but it’s in taking risks that new skills and problem-solving abilities are developed (“Risk-taking”). It requires letting go of your comfort zone and guiding students into letting go of theirs. It necessitates an environment where it’s OK to fail and it’s understood that failure is a part of learning. Student need to understand “that making mistakes is a necessary part of learning” and “that embracing failure and overcoming fear are both a part of living well and learning even better” (Crockett). It’s the environment that we create which allows this to happen. That positive environment provides a pivotal role in learning, creates a sense of belonging, a community, increased participation and building confidence (Coaty). The result is that “students can learn and flourish in this environment because they feel empowered to take risks by expressing their unique insights and disagreeing with others’ point of view” (Gayle et al).

Here are some suggestions adapted and modified from Starr Sackstein’s article:

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Use your as examples.
  • Admit when you don’t know something and discover it with your students. Adopt the “Let’s find out together”
  • Applaud the risks that students take, successful or unsuccessful. Honor the learning process.
  • Explore some tools, digital or other, that allow for a wider student voice.
  • Try a backchannel tool for increased student voice.
  • Practice your wait time.
  • Develop your own classroom parking lot for questions or concerns.
  • Review and reinforce classroom practices that promote a positive classroom community and encourage risk.

Reflection questions:

  1. How do you help ensure a positive climate in your classroom?
    1. How do you establish it?
    2. How do you maintain it?
    3. What do you do when something or someone violates that?
  2. How do you encourage risks?
  3. What do risk look like in your classroom?
  4. How do students feel supported in your class?

“Kids need to understand that innovation can only happen when we move away from what has already been learned and done and with some creativity and courage, we make really make meaningful change together.” Sackstein

 

Resources

  • Coaty, Matt. “Classrooms That Encourage Risk-Taking Strategies.” Educational Aspirations, 30 June 2014, mattcoaty.com/2014/06/29/risk-taking/.
  • Crockett, Lee Watanabe. “No-Fear Learning: Creating Classrooms for Taking Safe Learning Risks.” Global Digital Citizen Foundation, 11 May 2017, globaldigitalcitizen.org/no-fear-learning.
  • Gayle, Barbara Mae Dr.; Cortez, Derek; and Preiss, Raymond W. (2013) “Safe Spaces, Difficult Dialogues, and Critical Thinking,” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Vol. 7: No. 2, Article 5. Available at: https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2013.070205
  • Ingram, Leticia Guzman. “A Classroom Full of Risk Takers.” Edutopia, 14 Sept. 2017, http://www.edutopia.org/article/classroom-full-risk-takers.
  • “Risk-Taking: What Does It Mean to You?” News from around the IB Community, International Baccalaureate Organization, 8 July 2015, blogs.ibo.org/blog/2015/07/08/risk-taking-what-does-it-mean-to-you/.
  • Sackstein, Starr. “Establish a Safe Place for Risk Taking.” Education Week – Work in Progress, 9 Sept. 2015, blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/2015/09/establish_a_safe_place_for_ris.html.
  • Shepherd, Jessica. “Fertile Minds Need Feeding: Interview- Ken Robinson.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Feb. 2009, http://www.theguardian.com/education/2009/feb/10/teaching-sats.
  • Smith, Kristi Johnson. “1.6 Creating a Safe Space for Students to Take Academic Risks.” Creating a Safe Space for Students to Take Academic Risks – Starting the Year Right – The First Year, Learn NC, http://www.learnnc.org/lp/editions/firstyear/258.
  • Stringer, Kate. “Finding Success in Failure: STEM Educators Say Student Risk-Taking Is Key to Real-World Learning.” The 74 Finding Success in Failure STEM Educators Say Student RiskTaking Is Key to RealWorld Learning Comments, The 74 Million, 12 Dec. 2016, http://www.the74million.org/article/finding-success-in-failure-stem-educators-say-student-risk-taking-is-key-to-real-world-learning/.

 

Posted in Innovation, Shift, Technology

Reflection, A Critical Tool for an Innovative Educator

Reflection is something vital to our development as educators, yet so easily dropped from our practice. The urgencies of the day can easily overshadow that moment to pause, breathe, and reflect. Those the reflective moments, however, are the moments from which we can truly grow.

Reflection isn’t a new practice in education, but it is a key practice of an innovative educator (Courcos 48). John Dewey described reflection as “behavior which involves active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or practice in light of the grounds that support it and the future consequences to which it leads” (qtd in Canning 18). A reflective educator asks him/herself questions like: What worked? What didn’t work? What would I change? What questions do I have moving forward? (Courcos 57). The process provides the educator with a view into what went well, what didn’t, why the lesson went well or didn’t, and the foundation which to make adjustments as necessary.

Talking about the importance of reflection is one thing, but what tool to use is another discussion. Choose a tool, which you’re comfortable using. I’ve used so many different tools over the years: paper (Leutchturm and Lemome are my favorites), apps (Day One is my favorite), blogs, and bullet journals. The tools isn’t what’s important, it’s the process. The process needs to be a regular process. Make the time, make it a habit.

Reflective practice is a key characteristic of an innovative educator, but student lesson reflection is also a powerful tool. I would add that a reflective educator asks his or her students the following questions: What worked? What didn’t work? What did you learn? What did you thing the goal was? What do you need me to know? What questions do you have? I had my students reflect as an exit ticket each day. It was quick, but powerful. I started with a paper form and moved later to a Google form when our school went 1:1. These were private, individual reflections where every student had a voice and provided me with daily insight as to the success of our daily goals and where we needed additional help.

If reflective practice has been around for so long, what makes it innovative? It’s innovative because it asks the necessary questions in order for innovation to happen. It helps us to answer these key questions: Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom? What is best for this student? What is this student’s passion? What are some ways we can create a true learning community? How does this work for our students? (Courcos 40).

Moving forward as an innovative educator can begin with a practice of daily reflection.

 

Resources

Posted in Collaboration, Digital Pedagogy, Innovation, Investigation, Shift

An Opportunity to Do Something Amazing

Change is hard. Change, when we don’t drive it ourselves, can make us feel like we haven’t been doing something right or our work isn’t good enough. That’s not what it’s meant to be.
“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing” (Couros 3). It’s the process of bettering ourselves, of improving, growing and always learning. To change as educators is to embrace the premise that our world is continually evolving and our students will need to be prepared to walk into a world that is different than yesterday and especially different than the world we walked into at their age. To change is to innovate our instruction to meet today’s students where they are and not where we once were.

Change, for the sake of change, is not innovation. It’s just something different. Merely using technology is not innovation, either. “Technology can be crucial in the development of innovative organizations, but innovation is less about tools like computers, tablets, social media, and the Internet, and more about how we use those things” (Couros 20). It’s the why that gives us vision and inspires us (Sinek); it’s that how that puts our vision into action.

We have an amazing opportunity to change the learning experiences of our students on a daily basis. For that change to be innovative, we need to keep the learner at the center and ask what is best for this learner and what is best for his or her future. “Any time teachers think differently about who they teach and how they teach, they can create better learning opportunities” (Couros 21).

“The role of the teacher is to inspire learning and develop skills and mindsets of learners. A teacher, designer and facilitator, should continually evolve with resources, experiences, and the support of a community.” (Martin) Keep the dialog open. Ask questions. Collaborate. Take a risk. Reflect. Re-evaluate. Share. You have a community. Take advantage of those resources. Take the opportunity to do something amazing.

​Resources:

Posted in Constructivism, Transformation

That One Thing – Your Place in Technology Integration

That One Thing, that one thing you do. That was the theme of our digital professional learning program this year. What was that one thing for you? Where do you find yourself in the process of technology integration? Embedding technology into instruction is supposed to support that instruction and further students’ ability to demonstrate what they know and are able to do – not to take the place of instruction.

Starting at an entry level where we use digital tools to consume material, to substitute what we might have done on paper into a digital format, we begin to grow. We grow to explore and experiment and find ourselves moving beyond curating resources to creating our own and even having students create to demonstrate their learning.

How do we find that transformative place in our instruction? We find that through collaboration with educators within our department, within our building, and outside our walls, too. We find that as we explore the possibilities online. We use resources like the Technology Integration Matrix filled with models and examples. Resources like that exist for a reason: to guide you, to provide you models, to provide you structures necessary to strengthen their own practices.

Are we expected to be at that transformative place all the time? No! This is a constructive process where we build on best practices, use direct instruction and guided practice. It’s a process where we scaffold learning with students as active participants, collaborating with one another in authentic, goal-directed situations.

As you reflect on your school year and plan for the next year, reflect on where you are regarding technology integration. Technology is available to support your instruction, not take the place if it. What was That One Thing for you this year? What will your Thing be next year? There are so many possibilities – Be Inspired!

Posted in 21st Century Skills, iPads, Shift

Hindering Collaboration

“We cannot waste another quarter century inviting or encouraging others to collaborate.” – DuFour

I love this quotation. I mean this in a positive way, but I really do love this. We’ve spent so much time speaking to the idea of collaboration, but have we really taken the dive into what this means and what can really be accomplished if we work together towards our goals?  There are, of course, arguable obstacles that we’ve often heard: scheduling, student contact hours, personality conflicts, etc. But what if we really put our goals first? What if we had administrative support, encouragement, and perhaps even directives behind those goals?

As the summer progresses I’m drawn closer into the launch of our District’s 1:1 iPad Pilot Program. My building has an enthusiastic group of teachers participating in the pilot, each with varying degrees of iPad experience. Additionally, we have an administrative representative who is deeply invested in the program; we have a 1:1 coordinator; we have our library specialist involved in the planning; and, we have our building tech coordinator to manage the apps and the equipment. The equipment will be arriving soon, but not delivered into the classroom until the 2nd quarter.  The structure is there. I’m thrilled to be part of this opportunity. Thrilled, but apprehensive at the same time.

I could say that I’m apprehensive because of the expected accountability.  That may come in time, but not now. I’m apprehensive because of the collaborative element.

I love collaborating with other teachers. While not the most active twitter collaborator, I’ve learned so much from my tweeps and am so thankful for these online resources. I love attending professional conferences. I nerd out at the thought of these. It stands to reason that I would be excited about collaborating on this project, but not necessarily so. I am one of a group of teachers who will need help and direction regarding this launch. The fear comes in because I’m aware that not everyone in this group “plays nicely” with everyone else.

The human factor. One of the largest barriers to collaboration.

We have people in our groups, people at various levels, that don’t get along. They don’t agree. They don’t work well together and don’t want to work with each other. Not only is that a problem in itself, it’s a problem for the rest of the group and the program in general. There are gaps and inconsistencies in the chain of communication and the flow of information. We are the pilot group. What happens with us sets the stage for the rollout over the years to come. If we can’t get it together, work together, problem-solve together, then what will happen to those that follow?

There are goals with this program. There is a group of people that need to meet these goals. We need to work through the successes and failures with congratulations and comfort. We need to be free of judgment within our group so that we can share, learn, and grow together. We are the example. We need to collaborate.

While I may have come close, hopefully I’m not crossing any lines in sharing this. My comments here are meant to encourage collaboration, to encourage going on even when others aren’t yet as willing. There are needs here, ones that have to be met if we are to succeed. Collaboration is requisite. Let’s not waste any more time.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Technology

What’s this all about?

21st Century Learning is quite the catch-phrase these days.  We see it in mission statements, we read it in articles, we hear it around the water cooler.  When we have it thrust into our faces, it is usually accompanied by some form of technology that we “need” to learn which our students probably mastered last year. Don’t get me wrong, I love techie toys and tools. (My husband calls me an iNerd, lovingly.) But it doesn’t help us professionally to throw some “new” pieces of technology at us, make us learn them, and expect us to use them when they are really just expensive toys.  That’s assuming that our District can even afford gadget-styled toys for the classroom!

What we need today are tools to help us bring our students through this century and into the next.  The gadgets we have today will be obsolete soon enough, but learning won’t. Gadget can certainly be terrific tools in the classroom – as long as they are tools to further the learning experience and not the point in themselves of it.

This blog is here to share, learn, collaborate, and reflect on just that:  what does the 21st century learning experience look like and where do I fit in with it.  Let’s get sharing!