Sunday, February 23, 2014

Talking Education

Last week, one of my best friends saw me outside the school and shouted, "Dude! You made about 40 tweets last night. What's on your mind?"

The answer: EDUCATION. Education is constantly on my mind--and I love it.

I can't get enough of talking about it.

In the past week,

  • I had a great Google Hangout On Air with Dan Spencer (Twitter: @runfardvs) about a conference I'll be attending in April; I'll be leading one session, actually, so we thought a short interview might help attendees decide on which facilitator they'd like to see. We had agreed to about ten minutes of conversation. After it went on for about fifteen, Dan started apologizing for running long. Truth be told, I could have talked for an hour on the topic and I would have been more than happy.
  • I had an excellent email exchange with a colleague as we debated the values of helping a boy an hour and a half away when we had students struggling with similar issues right in our own district. Is it fair or right to spend the energy providing help to this student when so many in our own community could use the help and resources? Plus, was going to any extreme for this student just a publicity grab, something to promote our own community when most likely not befriending this student long-term? Great questions. No right answers. Just good conversation. To find out more, I linked in the news story. Feel free to leave your thoughts as a comment on the blog.
  • #MichEd allowed educators from every piece of The Mitten to get together and talk about what makes our schools great. Every Wednesday, the people of #MichEd make me think, reflect, and change. It's a phenomenal hour to connect statewide and grow as an educator. Educator, parent, student, administrator--join it on Wednesday at 8P.
  • A parent in the district posted an article to Facebook regarding education and the importance of failing. I couldn't help but comment on how valuable I think failure is and how badly I think we, as a whole national educational system, promote it. It could be the start to a bigger conversation--and, as you might guess, I'd be up for that. Below is the article that got the thoughts rolling.
  • I had pedagogical conversations with my students, too. As a matter of fact, I want them to be thinking about the educational moves they're making in class. What do they think about having an audience for their major works in class? What do they think about using projects for a major portion of their assessment? What do they think about having so much choice in the classroom? The conversations, even with these, teenagers are phenomenal--and they lead me to be a better teacher.

 I love to talk. And I love to talk passionately. So, when one passion (education) meets another passion (talking/thinking), I'm in a very good place.

And that's where I am right now in my profession--A VERY GOOD PLACE.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Room Re-Decorated

If you read my blog at all, this much you know: I've been expanding to more and more student ownership of learning.

I provide pages my American Lit students need to read, but they get choices within those pages. My students get ownership in how they show me growth in their learning instead of straight tests and quizzes--though that's always an option should they choose it. I provide them choice in their note-taking. We use Kelly Gallagher's list of Things Good Readers Do and practice them for a bit, but in their actual annotations, they get choice.

But there is just one pedagogical phenomenon that has taken up my mind since my experience with Kit Hard and Brad Wilson at the NovaNow Conference I attended last Saturday. One place where my students have NEVER had choice is in the physical arrangement of their classroom. I've always made that decision for them--until last Monday.

I took a page out of Kit and Brad's book by stacking all of the furniture in the center of the room.

Then, I offered these instructions:
  • Knowing how we operate in this classroom, I'm going to give you five and a half minutes to redesign the space for your needs and wants. Oh--and you have to do this silently. (The silently part was purely for a communication experiment.)
In those five and a half minutes, I learned a lot about my students--and myself.
  • The students crave different perspective. They immediately started creating height for their seating by stacking tables and chairs and by sitting on the counters and floors.
  • I still have reliance on my front board and projector. Some of my students' tall structures blocked the way of the front board and I found that it bothered me. There is still a teacher "stage" no matter how much I try to get rid of it.
  • The students provided space in front for that teacher stage. The thing I don't know is--why? Do they know that I need it? Do they crave it? Did they only do it because I was showing a redesign video clip to go with it so the projector in front was already on and in use? 
  • I learned that I care very much about the safety of my students and my own criticism. When the students started building up, I got scared. I had safety concerns AND perception concerns. Allowing for more student choice is weird enough. Allowing double stacked tables could make me an alien.
  • The students wanted more floor space. By about minute four, the students were looking for places to start putting the tables. They stacked them up. This created much more floor space in order to put backs against the walls or maybe even lie down on a stomach and type up a blog post. 
  • I learned that I liked the extra space, too. No more bumping into backs of students. There is a lot more space to walk and roam and access other parts of the room. It's not so hard to get to our books, to the computers, to other areas anymore. 
So, how did we decide? I took a picture of each hour's re-design and posted them to Edmodo. All they had to do to vote was hit reply. And you know how many did? NONE. What does that mean? Was it a big middle finger to my crazy idea that they could have say in how the classroom was designed? Was it just a busy night? Did they forget because there weren't any points attached to it? Or--do they just not care how the room is designed? Or am I over-thinking the meaning?

Regardless, no votes on the following designs:

Fascinating isn't it? But you know what having no votes allowed me? A teacher hand in the mix. It allowed me to take the positives of my students' design and add my own securities (and insecurities) into it.

So, we got rid of five tables. There is now more open space. Students can be with big groups of 15 or small groups of three or off on their own. Students can sit on the counter or the floor for change in perspective. I still have access to my screen and projector (for now). And, overall, when the students came into newly designed room, they liked the changes.

I like what we've done with the place.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Humble Pie Tastes Good

I find myself short on time--always short on time. But write I must. I just might be--efficient with my words.

This Friday and Saturday I took part in a conference unlike most I've attended. It was called NovaNow and it was held at the Kent Innovation High School. The school itself hosts a not-so-"school as usual". It's a project-based learning school and its physical design is something to marvel. There are glass walls to allow common areas to see what's happening in the classroom. There are common areas built for cross-curricular collaboration. Fascinating, for sure.

But the conference was not-so-"conference as usual". Each presentation was to be a dialogue among those who attended, NOT a sit and get. In six different sessions, I was able to work with educators across Michigan about ideas.

And that's when I tasted humble pie.

There are so many Michigan educators out there who push limits and reign them in, who challenge students by letting them go and help them by reigning them back in.

In every session, even the one I co-presented, I couldn't help but feel that I am just one of many educators pushing to get better, collaborating to improve.

Attending conferences is new for me. It wasn't until my 10th year that I attended my first session. I don't know why. I just was scared to leave my room. Perhaps I thought too highly of myself. I certainly thought too little of the conferences.

Through these conferences, through these educators, I tasted humble pie--and it tastes pretty good.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Friends Show Me The Way

In every corner
Including the darkest ones
Friends show me the way

I write this short haiku for my friends today. Up in Northern Michigan, tucked into a beautiful cottage while on short holiday, I reflect on the power of those around me. 

In my worlds--home, educational, AND social--I have an abundance of friends who pick me up at every turn. These friends listen to me, laugh with me. They challenge my thinking and inspire my actions.

Some examples from this past week only:
-Very little excites me more than to know I have been a part of some exceptional young peoples' lives. This past week, I was with a former-student-turned-friend who is heading to Italy for three months. She makes things happen in her life. She wows me--and shows me the way.

-I had the privilege of working with some exceptional teachers in my own district this week. I just heard stories of what they're doing in the classroom. Incredible! They show me the way.

-Just this morning, I finished a productive conversation with a Michigan educator, Brad Wilson, who is leading a charge in student engagement. Even through social media, my friends show me the way.

-Here in this cabin, after the kids were asleep last night, my friends and I had a conversation that makes me feel alive. They show me the way in loving others.

-As I start to plan a big summer vacation, I've utilized my Facebook friends who so quickly have offered home-cooked meals, advice on nearby attractions, and even places to stay. From afar, and sometimes even out of direct contact for nearly a decade, my friends have shown me the way to be generous and gracious.

Whether new or old, near or far, face-to-face or digital presence, THANK YOU!

Life is good because of the people in it.