Friday, October 21, 2016

Are You Stuffing the Suitcase or Are You on the Adventure?

I was recently at a conference and as I was packing up to leave,  I was struggling to get everything stuffed into my suitcase. I am sure we have all been there before, where we think if I just sit on it, I know I can get it closed. However, many times it does not work and we end up having to take stuff out.

As I was going through this process, I began to think about how this relates to education and how we often try to stuff as much information into short spans of time in order to meet the testing deadline. I had to stop and laugh because my suitcase was a great example of how this approach to teaching is not successful. Unfortunately, I must admit that I have spent the majority of my teaching career stuffing the suitcase. This has resulted in frustration for my students and myself ultimately leading to learning that only lasts until the test is done.

This year I have decided to stop stuffing the suitcase and get on the adventure of learning. I have been fascinated with makerspaces and have decided that this year I am going to have a makerspace classroom. I spend 10-15 minutes on a mini lesson and then students choose stations around the room to explore and practice the skills taught in the mini lesson. I do not set a timer, when students complete a task or are ready to move on they do so on their own. I either rotate through stations or stay at one station to provide more instruction one on one or small group. This small change in my approach to teaching has had an amazing impact on my students. (I should pause and say that I teach 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade special education. They are now excited to come to school even though it is tough for them.)

As part of being on the adventure I ask students to share what they have learned in a short video reflection. These reflections have been great! My students love to do them and it is a great way for me to see who understands the concept and who needs a little help.

Are you ready to stop stuffing the suitcase and get on the adventure? If you are I suggest that you start by reading the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros and check out his book study on

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Learning Plans vs. Lesson Plans

How often when making lesson plans do you ask yourself why am I teaching this? How often is the response, that it is on the test? Let's face it, many teachers today find themselves teaching to the test and ultimately losing their passion for teaching. No one goes into teaching with the hopes and dreams to teach students how to pass a test, so why are so many teachers stuck in that mindset?

Unfortunately school and teacher evaluations have been linked to student performance on high stakes test. Therefore, teaching has turned into cramming as many standards in, as quick as possible in order to prepare students for a test. This approach to teaching has left our students dreading school along with teachers. In fact, many of the issues that we as teachers complain about are due to the fact that we are teaching to the test and on a fast paced schedule in order to cram it all in.

How many times have your heard someone say, 'My students cannot problem solve.', 'I have created fun things to do but I still have behavior problems.' or 'This if very important, it is on the test.'? Let's pause, step back and reflect. Would you enjoy doing what you are asking your students to do each day? Are you excited about what you are doing with your students? If the answer is no, then there needs to be change.

Let's step into the shoes of our students and start seeing the world from their perspective. Think back and remember all of the things you enjoyed doing as a kid. Then ask yourself, how can I incorporate that into a "learning plan"? Stop lesson planning to death, just to get kids to pass a test, instead get innovative and create learning plans that provide students will real life application and turn them into lifelong learners.

Below is a picture of just a few of my thoughts on what a learning plan is versus a lesson plan. This is not the be all, end all by any means, so feel free to take from it and add to it.

Teaching students through play and allowing them time to problem solve creates a desire in them to want to learn more. Many times we just want them to memorize the steps to solve each particular problem, but what they really need is time to sit and problem solve on their own. If they can figure the problem out on their own, they have ownership of their learning.

How we teach should not just engage students but empower them. Student engagement is at the surface level. Student empowerment is getting to the heart of every student. Every teacher wants to touch the heart of their students and give them an upward trajectory. Today, are you teaching in a way that touches the heart of every student?

When starting to shift your mindset from lesson plans to learning plans, ask yourself these questions:
1. How can I weave play into teaching this concept?
2. How can I relate this concept to how students can apply it in their lives?
3. Why am I teaching this concept and what is the best way to teach it?
4. If I were my students what would I want to do with this concept?
5. Will this lesson empower my students and create life long learners?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Collaboration to Co-Creating - Creates School Teachers

In the majority of schools today there is time set aside for teachers to collaborate. How effective this time is used, depends on the process or design that leaders have set up. So, how effective is your collaboration? What product(s) are coming out of your collaboration time? Should collaboration be re-branded as co-creating time? If so, how do you make this change?

Kaleb Rashad discussed the need to move from collaboration to co-creating, in episode 3 of IMMOOC. How do we co-create? How do you lay a foundation for co-creating?

Image result for 5 ways to lay the foundation for innovation
It starts by building a culture that is human centered design. People need to be empowered and inspired in order to be innovative, this can only happen after trust relationships are built. How are you creating an innovative culture? Have you built a culture where people feel that they can take risks? Do people ask for permission or guidance? (Katie Martin)

Once trust relationships are built and an innovative culture has developed, collaboration can move to co-creation. When teachers begin to co-create, they become school teachers vs. classroom teachers. They begin to work together to create learning experiences that benefit all students in the school not just the students in their classroom.

What are teachers getting out of their collaboration time? Do they feel empowered when they leave or was it a waste of their time? How can you begin to move your culture of collaboration to an innovative culture where teachers are co-creating?