When choosing which Open Education sessions that I would blog about, this session by Chris Wejr rocketed to the top of my list. I take part in quite a bit of Open Education, mostly involving twitter, and have blogged about #kinderchat here and here already, so I wanted to branch out and reflect on a different kind of session. I find that stretching beyond the parameters of my own classroom and grade context can inspire me to challenge my thinking and hopefully make my teaching practice better. I am not an administrator, so I am not in a position to provide innovation time for a staff, rather I need to reflect on how I can provide innovation time for my students and how I can take advantage of the innovation opportunities I have as a professional. I have quoted each of the slides in Chris’ presentation and have included my thoughts pertaining to each of them. If you wish to listen to Chris’ presentation for yourself, the link is in the tweet at the top of this post.
“We cannot motivate others…we can only work to create the conditions for people to motivate themselves.”
-Edward Deci and Richard Ryan
It is my hope that I am creating conditions within my classroom for my students to motivate themselves. It is crucial for Kindergarten and Grade 1 students to take ownership of their learning. In connecting with my students each day, I try to provide them with a classroom that fosters their drive to learn and the encouragement for them to push themselves in their own learning.
“You need management to build a house but only leadership can make it into a home.”
Transferring this to the context of my classroom, I hope that I am finding the balance between classroom management and classroom leadership. Classroom management evokes a vision of the day-to-day structure of a classroom…putting up your hand to speak, listening carefully while others talk, being a good citizen of our classroom. Classroom leadership, on the other hand, makes me think of the classroom as a community…listening to the stories about my students’ families, being a caring teacher, modelling kindness and compassion. Hopefully there is a balance of both, like the yin and yang that Chris speaks about in his session. No one wants to work in a top-down dictatorship of rules and regulations, but without that structure balancing with strong leadership, the community of a school or classroom would not provide the conditions for innovation.
Do we lack innovation in education?
Innovation is not necessarily developing something new, rather, taking a good idea and changing it to make it better and more suitable for our schools and students. I particularly enjoyed the Innovation Day project that I adapted from Jesse McLean’s Innovation Week at a middle school in Alberta. I had heard Jesse present at ConnectEd Canada last May and thought I could make the project appropriate for my Kindergarten students. It wasn’t a new idea, just a more suitable version for my students. I appreciate Jesse inspiring me and encouraging me to try.
Make Time for What Matters
Balancing life is difficult for teachers who have family, school and extra-curricular obligations. Chris asks, how can we “make time for what matters” within the context of the regular school day? I appreciate my principal, who has created a “Monday Morning Meeting” time for grade groups to meet and collaborate. Each week he takes the entire student body into the gym for an assembly, then releases half of the staff to use that 45 minutes for collaboration time. I know I really appreciate having that opportunity built into our school day, rather than having to find a time outside the school day to meet with my colleagues.
Chris challenges that professional autonomy does not indicate that we are free FROM doing something, we are free TO do something that is within the parameters of the direction that the school is going educationally. I really connect with this, as I think everything we do in our classrooms should ultimately be helping to build the community within our school and provide the best possible learning environment for our students. In that same vein, I know that my current (soon to be retired) principal values the same for the teachers he leads. I appreciate the freedom that my administrator has allowed me to try new things (hello twitter and blogging!) and make my classroom a place for global learners. The connections we have made through twitter and blogging have expanded the horizons of my students in a way that I didn’t even dream possible three years ago.
Teacher Leadership: “The old model of formal, one-person leadership leaves the substantial talents of teachers largely untapped… Leadership is the professional work of everyone in the school.
– Linda Lambert
I have struggled in the past with being thought of as a leader. Yes, I know I am a leader within my own classroom, but sometimes the message I have perceived in the past within my district, is that I must “tow the company line” and my opinion wasn’t valued. I knew I had autonomy in my classroom, but when it came to Professional Development the expectation I felt was that I had to be like everyone else, teach like everyone else, and attend all of the same Professional Development workshops as the rest of my staff. Obviously my perception was incorrect, but nevertheless, that is how I felt. Thank goodness I found #kinderchat and thank goodness that I have been given a proverbial kick in the pants by my administrators as they have acknowledged that I am, in fact, a leader. What took me so long to realise that myself?
Focusing on the Strengths Within
Appreciating and learning from the experts within my own school is something that I don’t see happening enough. Each member of a staff (or classroom) has a passion or aptitude that can and should be shared. So many times, as Chris mentions, schools rely on being inspired by attending conferences with big name speakers, but tapping into the expertise of the people in your own building is just as important. That’s why I loved hosting #edcampkinder Abbotsford in my school. Having 42 kindergarten teachers from all over the Lower Mainland gather together to share their ideas, questions, and experiences was some of the richest (yet least expensive!) days of Professional Development I have ever attended. I find it a shame that there isn’t more opportunity created for teachers to just TALK to each other. It is not stretching the truth when I say that I have deeper, more meaningful relationships with other teachers on twitter than I do with teachers in my own school and district. I think that’s a shame and I am working on that.
Let go, Take risks.
Try new things. So often I am afraid to try something new for fear of failing. I have to remember what so many people on twitter quote that FAIL should be thought of as “First Attempt In Learning”. I think I have taken big risks with twitter, Kindergarten Around the World, Skypeplay, my classroom blog, my professional blog and now beginning my studies towards earning my Masters in Education degree. With great risk there is great reward…and the chance of failure. I’m thankful that so far all of these risks have been extremely rewarding with only a few bumps and bruises along the way.
CHOICES: a chance for teachers & students to explore strengths, interests and passions
One way that Chris is fostering a community of students who follow their passions is through the Choices program at his school, Kent Elementary. Students are able to choose areas of study that interest them, and engage them in ways that traditional classroom lessons just can’t. Explorations into topics such as CSI, engines, Scratch (coding for kids), art, music, and dance allow the students to meet curricular expectations though alternate activities that engage them and their area of interest. Chris mentioned that there is a great deal of assessment taking place during Choices time, but no grades are assigned. I would love to try this at my school!
Another project that has had great success at Chris’ school is Identity Day. Originally the idea shared by George Couros and in its simplest form consists of each student and teacher creating a project about themselves, representing anything that they want to share. The two Identity Days at Kent Elementary have made connections within the school community and have built relationships within the school community. I appreciate how Identity Day builds on personal strengths and allows students to create something totally about them. If you wish to have an Identity Day at your school, Chris has resources and you can tweet him to ask questions.
Time for Innovation
I had to laugh…I had already mentioned Jesse McLean’s Innovation Week (as I was taking notes during this presentation) before Chris got to this part of his talk. Innovation time, 20% time (via Google), #geniushour are all different names for basically the same thing…allowing students or teachers to choose what they would like to investigate and study, free from the regular curricular expectations of their course of study. Allowing this type of time in a school week engages the learners because THEY think what they are learning is important.
Creating Time for Teachers to Meet and Tinker With Ideas
Chris, his school’s teacher-librarian and music teacher cover classes so that teachers can meet and collaborate. The teachers request time to investigate something they are curious about and Chris and his non-enrolling teachers provide support by freeing up six blocks of time per week in the school schedule. Using the non-enrolling teachers as time management resources within the school is a fantastic idea…unfortunately the only “extra” person in my school is the principal, so this model wouldn’t work in my school at this time. Having my principal support the importance of collaboration and provide time through our “Monday Morning Meetings” is greatly appreciated.
Wise Strong New
-Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert
Just because an idea is new does not mean it is a good idea. Relying on experience to know what works for our students, what are the best practices for addressing our students’ needs and staff needs. We need to allow all of our staff members and students to share ideas, so that collectively we can determine the best practices for our classrooms and schools. Innovation is wonderful, but make sure not to throw away the methods that have been proven to work over the course of time and experience..
Share. Be a Connector.
Building connections with other people within our buildings, and out in the world via technology allows for sparking interests and sharing innovation with others. As I have written before, my professional life before twitter and before Full Day Kindergarten was very lonely aka the “Black Hole of Kindergarten”. Being able to connect with the staff in my building since Full Day K, and connecting with my PLN on twitter has allowed me to think differently about my teaching, has inspired me to embrace innovation and explore new things as a teacher. I appreciate so much the encouragement and engagement I have had with my colleagues all over the globe. They have pushed me to be a better teacher, and I am grateful for that.
Thank you for sharing your session, Chris. I appreciate how you always push my thinking and challenge me to analyze WHAT I do, HOW I do it and most importantly WHY I do what I do.