Undetected and Undernourished

Featured

visualspatial

Some of you have asked why I have been absent from Twitter chats, reading & responding to favorite blogs and why I’m not as visible on other social media outlets. It has been a difficult school year for my children. After working a full day, I come home to assist my children with their learning. Sometimes I’m reteaching material and other times I’m assisting them with numerous worksheet packets, test prep sheets, and endless amount of homework. That being said, I thought I would give you a glimpse of what our school year has been like. Please no negative comments. Instead, words of encouragement and support for Sophie would be much appreciated. Thank you ūüôā

I hear sobbing from her bedroom again. I hesitate to knock on the door. I know what she is crying about. A lump forms in my throat. My eyes well up. My heart is heavy. I sigh. I take a moment before I knock and ask to enter her room.

14368655_10211563700554859_2999918388971433763_nMy daughter, Sophia (#Sophiegirl) is my heart. She is my mini me. She has smiled and laughed every day of her life. She is our comedienne, our creative artist, and our resident athlete. It’s beyond difficult to see her so upset.

After numerous days and hours studying, memorizing rules and formulas for a math test, Sophie scored a 50%.

Sophie is a hands-on, creative, and visual learner. She is a thinker, “a doer”; she sees things differently. Every year we discuss her learning style with her teachers. We discuss how Sophie needs to make connections with what she is learning; her assignments need to be meaningful. Sophie doesn’t learn like other students in her 6th grade classroom; she does not learn in a linear way. She learns through creating, manipulating and questioning. She is passionate and curious about many things, and needs to express it. She likes a challenge. She likes to figure things out on her own. She is not accustomed to memorizing lengthy test prep sheets. In our home, my children know that learning is not memorizing facts. In our home, learning is anything but memorizing.

Once again, she had 3 days to study and to complete problems from a xeroxed math packet. Her anxiety and nerves were on HIGH alert. She put forth the effort and did not receive the success she was hoping for. Once again, we will reach out to her teacher, asking for assistance.

As I entered her room, I saw her on her iPad. Her eyes red, her cheeks tear stained. Her nose runny. She moved over and invited me onto her bed.

“You okay?” I asked.

She stared intensely at the screen, her eyes becoming moist. She bit her bottom lip (just like her mama) and nodded.

“Did you see my test?”, Sophie asked. “I told you, I’m just not good at math.”

“What are you working on?” I asked.

“I’m re-designing my house. I thought I would add more organized closet space as well as a more detailed laundry room with shelves and a counter. I’m just having a hard time with the measurement, but I think I figured it out.” she said.

As she showed me her creation on a home design app. She discussed how she needed to increase the dimensions of the rooms, which also increased the area of her house. The additional square footage would also mean an upgrade in the heating and cooling system. In the laundry room, she had chosen a plywood based counter but realized it would not be strong enough for the weight of a slab of marble. So, she made the decision to cut into her budget once again, to purchase a solid wood counter. She continued on about her designs, her budget, her measurements, the functionality and proportions of the space.

 


I sat there a bit dumbfounded. She has such an understanding of design, working within a budget, measuring and proportions. So many math concepts. She learned this all on her own. Why are we still drilling and killing our learners in math? Why hasn’t the xeroxed math packet died? Will her teacher ever realize her potential?

Sophie is a visual spatial learner. These learners think in pictures rather than in words and learn differently than auditory and sequential learners. They learn all-at-once, visually and creatively. When the “a-ha” moment happens, the learning is permanent. Visual spatial learners do not learn from repetition, or the dreaded “drill and skill” methods that we see in classrooms. They need to see the big picture first before they learn about the details. They are also non-linear, and do not learn in a step-by-step manner. The fact is, most teachers today, teach in their own learning style. As adults, this tends to mostly be an auditory, and sequential modality.

Success in today’s schools still depends upon a learner memorizing facts, handing in assignments, following directions and having fast recall. These auditory sequential skills are actually limiting the potential of all students to be successful, and gain employment in today‚Äôs world.

Great teachers appreciate that no two students are alike and great teachers recognize differences among students due to readiness, interests, and learning styles. Many teachers try very hard to accommodate the various learning styles of their students, but this can be an overwhelming task, as some of the learning styles inventories and models are quite complicated. We live in an age where multi-modal approaches to teaching and learning are absolutely necessary for our learners’ success. Students need opportunities to engage in mastering concepts and skills by creating, exploring and working with hands on materials and integrated technology.

I know someday, Sophie will be a phenomenal architect and she will meet a teacher who will appreciate her way of thinking. Some day, her gifts will be acknowledged and celebrated. And someday, learning math and studying for a math test will not mean completing problems from a math packet.

Hang in there #Sophiegirl, we’re working on it.

 

 

 

 

Small Packages Lead to Great Innovation

innovation

“There’s so many pieces of candy to choose from!” Sarah said excitedly. “I’m not sure what to pick! I’m getting all confused!”

Every new school year I try to incorporate a new idea, unit, tech tool…something…into my lessons. I’ve realized that for me and my teaching…new is a must, I am not a rinse and repeat teacher; I like taking risks.

This year I signed up for George Couros’ Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC course. I had constructed a unit over the summer, Creativation, and thought the course would be a perfect opportunity to try out my unit.

My inquiry based unit infused DeBono’s ¬†Six Thinking Hats¬†method to assist learners in a debonohatsgreater understanding of their critical thinking and problem solving skills. When I studied DeBono’s Six Thinking Hats in college, I automatically connected with it. I am a thinker. I use these hats when putting forth an idea or discussing a concept. Naturally, my lessons and created units emulate this as well. By using this model, it will require my learners to look at a problem with different types of thinking. ¬†Each type of thinking is represented with a hat color, and at the end of the discussion, learners should have a better understanding of the problem from different approaches in order to reach a highly creative and innovative solution.

My unit revolved around issues, dilemmas and problems that would arise from my children’s everyday life. For example, my daughter Sarah continues to get monkey bar callouses; how can we construct monkey bars to alleviate this? Change the design or add a garment to wear? The assessments were formulated, the lessons were constructed, the materials were gathered and made, and I felt confident in my plan. I was pumped…then the #IMMOOC course started.

When George Couros does something…he does it BIG. Go BIG or Go Home must be his motto. There were over a thousand people signed up for the #IMMOOC course. He also had assistance from Katie Martin, a passionate educator and Director of Professional Learning at the University of San Diego. I signed up to every #IMMOOC ¬†Facebook page and even an #IMMOOC group on Voxer. I received constant updates about the course and various challenges from George and Katie. The highlight was tuning into their #IMMOOC YouTube channel for guest interviews, words of encouragement and ideas.

There were a plethora of ideas. Ideas were coming at me so fast, and so furiously, my head was spinning. I was reading blogs, watching the videos and listening to other’s ideas on Voxer. The more ideas I came into contact with, the more I doubted my own unit and plan. The more I read, the more confused I became. This confusion led to more doubt. The more I doubted, the more I hesitated to proceed. The more I hesitated, the more I began to think and re-think my work.

athis My question then became, can large group collaboration hinder innovation?

When innovating, is it best to innovate independently at the start, then after some time, bring forth ideas to a small group of others?

Is there something to be said about innovation and small group work?

When I think of innovation, I naturally think of Steve Jobs. ¬†Many see him as an inventor, however I do not. He began with an idea to make something better, and from that idea, asked others to assist with his product.¬†He didn’t invent the technology for his products, but he found ways to use the inventions of others to bring forth innovation that could benefit everyone. He worked independently at the start, then consulted with his tribe. Does innovation have an independent side?

I greatly enjoy the podcast, Coaching For Leaders with¬†Dave Stachowiak. In his post, “This One Process Change Will Drive Innovation“, he mentions how beneficial it can be for participants to brainstorm independently, and then (after a few days) release their ideas to a small group. He continues to say that there is less immediate judgement; that everyone’s ideas are heard and discussed. Because of this, there are more diverse contributions. There isn’t a “run with this one idea and leave the rest behind” moment. All ideas are considered.There are many avenues, but one main road to focus on.

As I continue to reflect on the #IMMOOC, I realize I became lost. There were so many wonderful ideas and interesting viewpoints, I could not keep up with them all. As a learner, I was overwhelmed; hence my lack of participation in the course. My take away is simple; innovation needs collaboration, but in small doses. This small group needs independent time to think, brainstorm, and construct ideas. Once all ideas are presented, that small group can elaborate, and even collaborate with other sub-groups, before¬†considering all input and¬†choosing a clear path. It’s difficult to state an idea, have hundreds of others add to it, then know what direction to go. I will continue on with my unit. I will ensure my learners have independent time to brainstorm and reflect, as well as contribute to their small collaborative group.

This #IMMOOC course gave me a better understanding of the importance of collaboration and innovation. It helped me to understand that great innovation comes in small packages.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Building Bridges

green-abs6th-pagev-turkish-plastics-industry-congress-29-638

Directions were given. Materials were handed out. I walked quietly as to not disturb them.

Our learners were working in groups. They had numbered materials and images of various bridges. Their task sounded simple; create a bridge connecting 2 tables in the room.

Some groups began brainstorming ideas, other groups began construction immediately. There was one group…the second grade/third grade group…who had questions. I proceeded to assist.

Can we build from the floor up?

No.

Can we use pre-existing structures?

No.

Does it have to be a certain length?

No.

What if we run out of materials, can we have more?

No.

Can we choose more than one bridge design and blend them together?

Sure.

Is there a weight requirement?

Yes.

“We’re done!” I hear from across the room. I walk over to see their bridge. This group of fourth grade boys used 2 sheets of paper taped together to reach the other table, no support of any kind underneath. They mentioned it was “pavement”. I noticed the group of boys fooling around as I examined it. How would you lay the pavement down if there is nothing, not even land, to support it? I asked. They looked at each other, unsure of how to answer. “Keep thinking my friends”, ¬†I said.

I proceeded to the fifth grade group which consisted of all boys. These boys partnered up within the group. Unlike the fourth grade group, the two pairs seemed confident. Each pair were discussing ideas and occasionally would share info with the others . They constructed a rope and wood (popsicle stick) bridge. The bridge seemed well constructed but the group had difficulty deciding how to attach it securely to the ends of each table. They decided on tape, ¬†one piece of scotch tape at each end. They asked for the weights to see how they did. The rope and wood bridge held one weight. However, when a second was added it fell between the center of the two tables.”Don’t be discouraged, you all showed great thinking, keep working on it”, I said.

I watched my second and third grade girls work on their woven truss bridge. They used popsicle sticks for the base, that spanned the length of two tables. They wove Wikki sticks…like a woven basket… and attached them to the sides. “I think we need to add arches underneath for more support” one student said. “If this was a real bridge how would they know how much it would hold?” ¬†another student asked. “They probably would just drive cars over it to make sure”, another answered. “Nah, I think they use some sort of math to figure it out” someone else said matter of factly. “How could we make sure this bridge stays in place? Tape isn’t strong enough for this!”, a member chimed in.

This second-third grade group does not ask for assistance. They do not rush. They are on the floor, on the table, upside down and viewing their bridge from every angle. They were thinking out loud, experimenting and trying various ideas. They were accepting of ideas and willing to take risks. They discussed and talked throughout.

As I observe these groups, I can’t help but think of the different approaches each group took. I can’t help but think how, as teachers, we can fall into similar groupings. Some teachers will rush just to be the first to try out the latest idea or buzz word. These teachers hardly ever collaborate, only because they see collaboration as competition, they may also feel intimidated by others. Inevitably, they will also have to back track and reteach alone. Other teachers will construct and execute good solid lessons with a partner. Their lessons are student centered and teacher driven, but they may have missed the target on an area or two. Two is better than one mentality can bring success as well as¬†oversights. Other teachers will work together as a team to examine all avenues and ensure success. They communicate and share ideas; they take risks and work through problems. Most importantly they continue to question it all, seeking answers together.

I’ve been apart of these groups during my career in education. I’ve been on amazing teams. Teams that worked together, each of us playing a pivotal role in our grade level’s success. I’ve partnered with another teacher. This partnership of helping and guiding each other through new curricula, a new frontier. This partnership can be non threatening, simple and so powerful. ¬†I’ve also worked alone, not by choice. I worked alone because others did not feel the need to progress or to seek change. Choosing to abide by the status quo. This isolation is the most difficult to bear. I often wonder why teachers would want it this way.

If there is something I believe in when it comes to collaboration, I believe in this…

“The greatest resource that teachers have, are other teachers”

 

But sadly, teamwork and collaboration are not commonly found in schools. What keeps teachers from supporting their team and being a team player? Building a team based culture requires administration to set aside time and emphasize the importance of teacher teamwork instead of simply suggesting that it occur on its own. These meaningful conversations can open doors for sharing, for encouragement and insights while establishing the empathy that drives all great schools. Teamwork should not be optional.

With all the change that teachers are implementing in their classrooms, isn’t now the time to increase collaboration opportunities, be they formal or informal?  Does your school make space for teachers to engage in deep conversations about teaching and learning? Where and when do your best conversations with colleagues take place? I think the time has come to build bridges between teachers to strengthen their teams. How else can our students use us as their support structure?

Grow Their Brain

progress-is-impossible

How do you grow a brain? It’s Saturday morning and I’m deep in thought. I’m revising a growth mindset unit for the following week. After 18 years, I still begrudgingly work on Saturdays.¬†Why is it that teachers don’t like to write lesson plans, but like to be prepared?

This week was the kick off to our¬†Growth Mindset unit.¬†¬†This inquiry based mini unit focuses on praise, empathy, grit, risk taking, reflection and feedback. It also includes collaborative projects and team building activities. ¬†My learners become familiar with Kid President Pep Talk videos and his words of wisdom and encouragement. It will also be the foundation for our creativity and innovation (creativation) sessions for George Couros‘, The Innovator’s Mindset Online Course #IMMOOC.

Why begin our innovation course with Growth Mindset?

Well, I think about a fixed mindset and growth mindset this way: If teachers or learners subscribe to a common belief that things are good…right here, right now…and not progress forward in any way, the result will be, okay at best (fixed mindset). This way of thinking will most likely not produce anything innovative. If teachers and learners think freely, embrace change (rather than the status quo) they are more likely to create environments that produce risk taking and creative solutions. In other words, a growth mindset will lead to innovative solutions.

When it comes to innovation, I feel a fixed mindset will squash creativity. If my gifted and talented learners believe their innate skills and their current level of intelligence is what helps them succeed, they will fail to recognize the power of continuous learning. They will fail to recognize what they may become.

Can we change a learner’s mindset? How can we best cultivate, nurture and operate a growth mindset within our classroom of learners to drive innovation?

I enjoy constructing units of study. My previous school district did not have a “textbook series” for Language Arts, Social Studies, or Math, when I first started teaching 1st grade, 15 years ago. Our lessons reflected best practices, our learners interests, and each individual teacher’s unique style. They were authentic and real. It’s easy to ditch a textbook, when you never relied on one.

This Growth Mindset unit is called “Growing Our Brain” and it begins with a mini lesson which focuses on the impact of praise.¬†We discuss what praise is, why we give it, what phrases we’ve heard, and how it feels when we work hard on something and then DON’T receive praise. You know, you put your blood, sweat and tears into a project and your work is over looked. OUCH.

As we were discussing this, the conversation turned towards failure and how our learners deal with it. So, I shared two quotes about failure, one from Michael Jordan and one from Thomas Alva Edison. I asked my learners to analyze and interpret these quotes. Some wrote down their ideas, others struck up a conversation. When their responses began to sound similar (they’re about not giving up); I asked them to go deeper, and use their critical thinking skills. I waited patiently. Then, a learner’s profound statement came. He said…

“If we keep trying, and keep trying, and don’t stop trying then we don’t fail. We don’t fail because we’re still trying…we’re still working it out! Failure is when we stop, when we give up. We gotta keep going. Don’t let failure win.”

~ 3rd Grade learner, G&T, Commonwealth Charter Academy

Whoa. My learners “get it”. They understand an important part of Growth Mindset is grit and perseverance. It’s about the process, and sticking with the problem until they figure it out. They begin to understand that their “giftedness” is not so much an innate ability they have, but they can grow their intelligence, continuing their learning. Challenges and working through them will grow their brain. Most importantly, they realize they can succeed in areas that they don’t feel strongly in. They just need to stick with it and grow their brain.

How do you help your students grow their brain? What foundation will you lay for your learners to innovate? How will you do this? Will you adopt a growth mindset? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation Is A Hot Mess

 

conditions

Every September this working mom feels like a hot mess. Unfortunately, the start of the school year is always busy for our family. I have three very adorable, very active kids. I teach all day and I drive home to do the after school activity shuffle. Each day, my home gets messier and messier.

One day, I was home in our office thinking about innovation in my virtual classroom. ¬†I have read George Couros‘ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, a few times. It’s phenomenal and I can not encourage teachers enough to get the book, read it, and share your thoughts. I have also signed up for his online course that mirrors the ideas in the book. My next few blog posts will reflect how I will be incorporating my innovation sessions (Creativation) into my virtual lessons. Yes, I ¬†have a plan…I think!

For those of you who may not know,¬†I am a cyber teacher. I teach learners online and throughout the year invite them to our family learning center. ¬†I feel I innovate everyday as a cyber educator. I work with some amazing teachers, true innovators and educational pioneers; they are finding ways to enhance learning in a non-traditional school…everyday. No, there are no “how to teach the online learner” books out there, nothing to help us (Dave Burgess, you listening?). We focus on pedagogy and best practices just like every teacher out there, but we do it online. I feel we are at the fore-front of providing rich, thought provoking, innovative lessons to all learners regardless of where they live (inner city, rural, suburbia) in the state of Pennsylvania.

As I look around our messy home office, strewn with back to school calendars, sport forms and paper work, the questions begin to swirl around in my head…

What conditions are ideal for creative innovation?

How important is the working environment to innovation?

Are there ready made barriers in classrooms or cyber rooms that could discourage students and impede innovation?

All of my learners are home schooled and each of their home environments’ are different. Some live in more urban areas, in small apartments, others may live in homes or on¬†rural¬†farms. Will one environment provide a better platform for creative innovation than another?

When I think about my gifted and talented class and our innovation sessions, I don’t worry so much about the actual virtual room environment. We see each other via webcams, they talk and interact with one another.Our relationships are strong. We have breakout rooms that provide a small group setting for collaboration and individual work. I know many learners feel comfortable, eager to participate in our lessons and hungry to learn. However, I know some will have difficulty with risk taking. I know many will struggle with multiple solutions. “Is this right?” they will ask. Most gifted and talented learners struggle with growth mindset. Some learners will have a hard time with the amount of freedom to innovate. I am anticipating some sort of issue with generating ideas and being open to others ideas. I have not thought about their physical working environment and it’s possible impact in regards to innovativeness.

159638-albert-einstein-messy-desk-quote

This quote speaks to me and makes me wonder. Could the environment we’re in, lead to more innovative ideas? ¬†I‚Äôve never been a fan of having an extremely messy desk or house, but I‚Äôm starting to think I might need to leave it messy more often. It may be time to test this theory. What conditions will you have in place for your learners to innovate? ¬†Will you be changing your physical working environment for learners during your innovation sessions? How? Why?

Going Bananas Over Apps

dont-rush-things-that-need-time-to-grow-2

This summer was an extremely hot one. Often times the heat index surpassed the 100¬ļ mark. It was almost as hot as the Pok√©mon Go app that came out in early July. I remember being at Sunset Beach, NC with¬†my family,¬†as my children and their friends were playing it. They were trying to find and capture Pikachus, wandering throughout our complex, glued to their iPhone screens. They stumbled over curbs, bumped into people, and were even honked at by passing cars.

A day later, the Twitter buzz on how to bring Pok√©mon Go into the classroom developed. Before I knew it, there were numerous Twitter Educational Chats and blogs on enhancing units of study with the game. I even tweeted an article¬†about it. As I look back on it, I cringe a bit. I usually don’t jump on the bandwagon so quickly. I¬†am the fish that swims up stream. I like to question, and want to feel confident in what I am putting out there to my followers. As a cyber educator, I am not skeptical in using apps as learning tools. I use quite a few to enhance learning in my cyber classroom. I’m skeptical in an educator’s need to rush into using them. I have so many questions surrounding the benefits of using the latest app phenomena into a learning environment.

Why do we as educators feel the need to rush into incorporating “the latest app” into our learning?

Are teachers over eager, latching onto the newest apps, for that tiniest sliver of learning, or for an easy connection to their learners?

Is it about the learner or the app?

Are we robbing children of owning something for themselves?

When I look at the numerous apps my own children use (Instagram, Snapchat, PokemonGo, Musical.ly), I can’t help but think that we may be robbing them of the joy of exploration, discovery and ownership. I have seen it with my own children. My daughter Sophia greatly enjoys the arts. As¬†Ms. Creativity,¬†she thinks creatively, and sees things differently. She has even created her own line of plant based lip gloss for teens, infused with vitamins (lip gloss with raspberry juice, and hardened coconut oil). Sophia always finds the next hip app and creates something amazing with it. Musical.ly is an app she greatly enjoys at the moment. She loves to make music videos.When I asked her what app it was and if I could join in, she said, “Mooooom, really? Can’t this just be my thing?” Her comments¬†sounded so similar to my own youth, when my teachers would try to impress a class by reciting lyrics from a popular song. Some learners thought it was cool. But it made us want to find a “new” song because we didn’t like them in “our territory”. We didn’t want our “coolness” to be associated or connected to our teacher or any adult for that matter.

If we as educators rush to incorporate the next best thing, are we robbing our learners of their youthful identity just because we as educators are struggling to reach them?

I feel our learners need an identity. We as teachers don’t need to poach every single thing kids like and try to use it for learning. I think the older the learner gets, the less receptive they are of us, as educators,¬†hijacking their interests. In all honesty, I’m not sure Pokemon Go is the future of learning. The idea of using it in the classroom is still focused around finding things, not around powerful learning ideas, and being empathetic to student needs. Learners need personal connections, more than another learning fad.

The use of Pokémon Go as a learning tool has died down tremendously. I am sure that there will be another new and exciting app around the corner, waiting to be hailed as the next latest and greatest learning tool. As I write this though, I still have many questions surrounding the use of apps in learning. Are we personally experimenting with these new apps, trying to find the connection and relevance of bringing it to our learners?  How do you know which one will be the right one for your classroom environment? Enlighten me. What are your thoughts?

 

Don’t Sweat The List

When MIND is WEAK, situation is problem. When MIND is balanced, situation is challenge. When MIND is strong, situation is opportunity.-2

When I worked at a traditional public school, my friend & colleague would wait…and wait… and wait…impatiently for it. During the month of August, she would check her mailbox everyday, sometimes twice a day hoping to spot it. She would stop at our school secretary’s desk, and ask “Is it ready?!”. She would wait in anticipation for that list. You know which one; THE class list. I never understood the hoopla surrounding the class list. What’s the big deal about that list anyway?

“Who do you have?!” she would ask as she tore the list out of my hands. I watched her eyes dart back and forth feverishly quick as she scanned the list.

“Awe, she’s a cutie pie. This one too! You will love her! ”

“That family is so nice, very supportive!”

“Oh …you got him…he’s trouble, watch out”

“You have 7 special needs kids and no aide…tough year for you!”

I heard what she said about my list, but I didnt pay any attention to her remarks. The names on the list are just that…names on a list. Some teachers spend hours analyzing why they ended up with who they ended up with. I don’t. I believe in fate. I’ve always believed that each learner is different in each and every classroom they enter, for each and every teacher they have, and in each and every group of students they are with. Why analyze?

It’s quite different preparing for a new school year as a cyber school teacher. There aren’t any classrooms to set up; no bulletin boards to do. We don’t wait in line to use the copier. Our set up is much less labor intensive, much less expensive too. However, we do have that list. That class list still brings much anxiety to teachers, even in the cyber school setting.

A few weeks ago, I overheard some teachers discussing their class lists. Each teacher was hopeful for a great bunch of learners, yet their tone of uncertainty was clear. Why were they anxious? What is it about a new group of learners, new families that get teachers worried? I pondered this for quite some time, coming to the conclusion that maybe their uncertainty had to do with a lack of self-confidence. You know, that little shadow of doubt deep within us. It usually peeks through around mid-August.

I did sweat my class list… once. I was teaching 1st grade. On the first day of school I was introduce to a student who never attended preschool, Pre-K, or Kindergarten. I was informed to teach both K and 1st grade curriculum, help her adjust to our setting & day. I worried about her and how accepting other students would be towards her. I remember some colleagues telling me not to do anything different or extra for her. ‚ÄúTreat her like you treat everyone else‚ÄĚ, and ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not in our contract for you to work with her during these times‚ÄĚ. Contract? Knowing what I know about this child, how could I even think of not helping her? How could I put a contract before her needs as a learner? My fear wasn‚Äôt a union contract, my fear was not doing enough for her. Can I do all this? Can I help her feel comfortable socially, emotionally, to achieve and accomplish all that we needed to? It was quite a challenge. Luckily, I like challenges.

She worked so hard learning letters, letter sounds, writing her name, identifying sight words. We worked together every chance we could. Maybe other teachers would be upset at a challenge like this, but I didn’t have time to think about that. This was an opportunity for me to challenge myself too. I never questioned why she was placed with me, I just kept focusing on the task at hand and her success and achievement. Her growth and progress was amazing! She left first grade reading on a Fountas and Pinnel level J reader. I will never forget the smile on her face as long as I live.

When I think about the many learners on those lists, I realize that they were placed in my room for a reason. Was I going to be teaching them an important life lesson? Would they be teaching me one? Thanks to each specific list of learners, I learned quite a bit about myself as a teacher. All of the class lists of students I had, helped to shape me into the teacher I am today. My confidence, my patience, my grit, empathy and love came from that list of learners. Each and every learner on that list played a very important part in my role as a teacher. Students on that list shape the teacher. They are our opportunity for change, for growth, for us to become better teachers.

What ever you do, do it to the purpose; do it thoroughly, not superficially. Go to the bottom of things. Anything half done, or half known, is in my mind, neither done nor known at all. Nay, worse, for it often misleads.” ~ Lord Chesterfield

As I think back to that day, overhearing my colleagues, I wish I had spoken up. I wish I had told them what talented educators they are. I wish I had told them that there’s no need to sweat the list because whatever learner comes their way, they would reach them, teach them, inspire and motivate them. I know they’re going to be up at night thinking and planning, writing and revising, correcting and grading, molding and shaping; working to the bone to ensure that their classroom of learners have every opportunity to be successful. I wish I had told them that list doesn’t matter. It’s not that list that ensures you a great class; it’s YOU as a teacher. It’s your acceptance and love for your students, meeting them where they are. It’s overcoming the challenges that present themselves and embracing each student and opportunity. This is what makes a great class and year.

Failure is An Option

“That’s not how Mrs. Sanchez did it in class! I’m going to get all confused if you help me! That’s not the right way!”

My daughter Sophia struggles in math. She will be entering 6th grade and every year she becomes frustrated while completing math homework. She often wants to solve problems the way her teacher has modeled it in class. Her notes are meticulous, and well organized. She tries over and over again to solve the problems. She is convinced that only one true method exists and her notes are a pathway to that successful solution. Although I was a Math major (undergrad) and have a Masters of Ed degree in both Reading and in Curriculum & Instruction, my assistance is unwanted. She sits annoyed, biting her pencil.

Fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles my own children and students in my G&T cyber classroom face. Year after year, I see the hesitation to take risks, try something new and share their ideas. They are intently focused on being “right”, finding the “right”answers, and doing it the “right way”. Failure is such an important part of life and of learning. I can’t help but wonder, have we conditioned our learners to fear failure?

Are we grooming learners to only focus on correct answers?

Our current educational system is essentially a series of questions and responses. The all knowing teacher asks a question and our learners sift through information to find the “right” answer. From a learner’s first year of school we focus on that right answer. We give praise, shout outs, stickers, and high fives for a correct response. ¬†Instead of focusing on the process of learning, we place emphasis on the product; that end-all-be-all “right” answer.

Often when a learner responds with a wrong answer, we pour on some shame of being incorrect by giving additional work. We ask our learners to review, reread, rewrite, or memorize some more. We say “You were close, but need to study more”. ¬†With this method, we not only crush their self esteem, but we diminish their thirst for innovation. We flat line risk taking and we rob them of the opportunity to whole heartedly embrace their attempts at being vulnerable. ¬†We’re telling our learners that making mistakes and¬†taking risks (which might lead to failure) is shameful. This can restrict our learners creativity and imagination, leading to a fixation of always being “right”.

By focusing on correct answers, are we assisting our learners to reach their full potential?

Failure is such an important part of life. When I was a kid and tried out for sports, you either made the team or didn’t. If you were cut, you tried harder the following year. You practiced and honed those skills every chance you got. There is a sense of vulnerability when trying out for a team position. You put yourself out there. The risk of trying out, was real. It’s quite different now. In some districts, children automatically get a spot on the team; tryouts consist of just showing up. This “we all win”, “we all get a trophy” mentality is puzzling to me and I have questioned it a lot with my own children. Where is the challenge, the determination and the perseverance? Where is the practicing and learning of skills? Where is the resiliency and grit that attempting and failing provides?

¬†“Your biggest risk isn’t failing; it’s getting too comfortable.”

~ Drew Houston

As teachers, we constantly reinforce and correct learner behaviors. ¬†We try and mold students into something we feel is academically sound, socially acceptable and age appropriate. This constant guiding, shaping and grooming is evident in our lessons and in our assessments. When we set up our learners to “play it safe” and answer correctly, ¬†we short change them. We make it too comfortable for them. We are teaching them to fly under the radar, and to settle for the status quo. Where’s the learning and growth in that? Our learners need to think big, and push themselves out of their comfort zone. Great learning depends on great risk taking. Success is a part of a character building process, and learning from failure is a piece of the puzzle.

Failure-Quotes-3

Many educators say, vulnerability leads to great innovation. As we begin developing this generation, we need to ask our learners to question, to be curious, and be risk takers. We need to tell them it‚Äôs OK to fail, and not to solely focus on their achievement. Our learners must have a no fear attitude. Experimentation will lead to empowerment and an accepting attitude towards vulnerability in and out of our classrooms. This will promote ¬†confidence and courage in our learners, and enable innovative and creative thinking. When teachers allow experimentation, what they are saying is “we trust in you, we believe in your thinking and want you to feel confident with taking chances. Challenge the status quo and learn from the mistakes you make” This is a critical step in the learning process. As the great one, Wayne Gretzky, so eloquently put it: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”.

“Its not the mistake that matters. It’s how you deal with it, what you learn from it, and how you apply that lesson to your life.”

Creativation

Creativity is thinking up new things.

I read an article recently which identified creativity as the No. 1 ‚Äúleadership competency‚ÄĚ of the future. Innovation was also in the top five. It went on to discuss the lack of creativity and innovation in US schools. As I read, I couldn’t help but think about what creativity and innovation would look like in my classroom next year.

To me, creativity and innovation go hand in hand. I perceive creativity as the prime source for innovation. I see it as a process, a way of generating ideas and expressions, which can amplify knowledge and lead to new ways of thinking and problem solving. Bringing those ideas to fruition is innovation. It can be an original production, something altered, something better and more useful. There is no one right way or answer. How can I incorporate creativity and innovation into my classroom? What would this look like?

When I think of creativity and innovation as a session in my classroom, I think of it as something similar to my Genius Hour. It’s a time devoted to student curiosity and interest; a time for research, collaboration and exploration. Where every student can feel empowered to explore their passions. Creativation (yes, this is what I will call it) is the adjunction of creativity and innovation. Creativation is a time for divergent and convergent thinking; a time to¬†generate many unique ideas, and to combining those ideas into the best result.

All around us are national and international problems, real world problems of importance %22Creativity and Innovation are about finding unexpected solutions to obvious problems%22-2that desperately need creative solutions. Our world is running out of natural resources each day, many still do not have safe drinking water, and our oceans are heavily polluted. Creativation will give students an opportunity to generate solutions to such issues.  Students will be able to understand the importance of contributing original ideas and being receptive to the ideas of others. They will see creativity and innovation as a necessity. These two necessities of human ingenuity should be unchallenged.

The more I think about creativation, the more I wonder; is it learnable? ¬†Can anyone really learn how to be creative and innovative? I believe so. When I think about it, a vertically challenged basketball player comes to mind. Being tall assists a pro basketball player immensely, but even short players (Spud Webb and Nate Robinson…I know…I’m dating myself) have achieved success through hard work and practice. In the same way, there are certain individuals naturally prone to being creative and innovative thinkers.¬†Creativity and innovation requires a constant shifting of ideas. It requires a blending of new information with old, new ideas with forgotten ideas; a constant back and forth, pendulum swing, the blending divergent and convergent thinking. I feel¬†those who practice creative activities learn to prime their brains‚Äô to think in this way.

So what does this mean for America‚Äôs standards-obsessed schools?¬†Creativity and innovation are very much sought after in American schools, but its clearly been misunderstood and certainly not supported. Some argue that creativity and innovation should only happen in an art room, shop class or a kindergarten wing. Others believe we can‚Äôt teach creativity and innovation because learners already have too much to learn. Most school curricula does not, as of yet, encourage creativity and innovation, mainly because they are not clear how creativity should be defined and how it should be treated in learning and assessment. A school district’s curricula is often overloaded with content and this content reduces the possibility of creative and innovative learning approaches in practice.

Schools play a key role in fostering and developing students’ creative and innovative capacities for further learning. Creativity needs to be viewed as a cross-curricular skill, a ¬†skill which students should be encouraged to develop. Creativity and innovation isn‚Äôt about freedom from concrete facts. Rather, it’s fact-finding, it’s rooted in deep thoughtful research. ¬†These are vital stages in the creative, innovative and learning processes. Creativity and innovation have strong links with knowledge and learning. Creative learning requires innovative teaching. This type of teaching calls for educators to become reflective practitioners. Teachers need to be able to distinguish how a teaching method or activity can stifle or trigger creativity and innovation in their students.

One of the enemies of creativity and innovation, especially in relation to our own development is

So, how do we do this? Currently, teachers lack support in bringing forth creativity and innovation into their classrooms. Many focus on convergence and discipline instead of divergence because it’s easier to handle. Teachers play a major role in constructing creative environments. Our teachers need training, support, and encouragement from administration, colleagues, parents, students, and the community. Many educators agree that current curriculum standards can still be met, if taught in a different way.¬†The time has come to change our educational culture to one that values creativity and innovation and sees it as an asset in the classroom. What will you do differently to promote creativation in your classroom?