Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Personal Learning

The Writing ISN’T on the Wall

The writing isn’t on the wall from the day that you were born. Your life, circumstances, privileges, hurdles, triumphant and tribulations are factors, but not the product. In my eyes, we are all born into a “role”, but the person you become is truly up to you! That role may be influenced by our family and it is likely impacted by the experiences surrounding it, but that does not become our defining role in life and we must be fully aware of that in order to take our best step forward at being ourselves. I not only believe this and live by it in my adult life, but I instill it in my students to teach them that life can be what you make of it… you must take your part and own it. T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is what I taught myself at young age, and continue to empower my family, friends, students, and PLN with it so that they can write their own story in life because it isn’t written on the wall.

My Person

Have you ever heard someone call you their person? Or maybe you have said it yourself. It’s that person that just gets you. Maybe they are a great listener or maybe they share a life experience that makes you feel just a bit less isolated. No matter what the situation may be, “my person” doesn’t just get thrown around with ease. As my phone rang, I listened in. A dear friend was talking about their day and how they felt they simply could not shake off a time period in their life that seemed to “reoccur as often as it wanted to”, making the situation out of their control completely. I listened. My person. They continued to feel as if their past was defining them and that it was inevitable that they would have to be attached to this situation the rest of their life. I listened. My person. Empathy, Understanding, Empowerment , ran through my mind.

Shape NOT Definition

There was a time in my life when I would look back and wanted to place blame, erase experiences, cut ties, or even run at sprint speed. Why? Because I truly felt those poor experiences defined me… what a helpless, restricted, almost imprisoned way of thinking that I had created for myself. I didn’t even realize that I walked around feeling so vulnerable… as if it was written all over me, defining me, my actions, my future.

Then there was a point where others did not see what I saw. They saw my smile, not my pain. They saw my strong will, not my defeating moments. They saw my grit, not my adversities. They saw me. Yes, that was it… my experiences had shaped me and I needed to embrace and own the person I was choosing to be because of and in-spite of my journey in life.

Only YOU Can Be YOU

I suppose in many ways we compare ourselves out of simple human nature. At times that may be in our role as a parent, child, friend, sibling, or professional. Comparison can bring awareness. It can light a fire under us. It can open a door to something that we had not considered. It can also be damaging. It can hold us back from our own purpose. It can weigh on us like judgement. It can defeat us if we allow it. In the end, only you can be you! You choose. Just remember, experiences will shape you, but never define you. Grab a marker and go write on your wall!

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction

The Day I Was So Grateful I Asked

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I started collaborating with others.”

-current student

I was so grateful I asked!  

A moment is all it took.

An opportunity.

A lifetime of learning took place for me as his teacher.

It all started the day before when I was asked to teach a lesson for The Beaver County Innovation & Learning Consortium.  The BCILC is a group of teachers made of three school districts in my county.   The districts are collaborating to bring STEAM learning and Maker Education to children.  We are currently working on an area of lesson study and I was about to teach a math lesson for my team.

Let me bring you in the loop… My team consists of a gifted educator, a learning support teacher, a superintendent, and myself, a 3rd grade teacher.  We chose to have a full inclusion math lesson which included learners from the 9th percentile up to the 97th in the subject area of math.

This in itself created doubt in my head.

I have watched the dynamics of this vast ability range come as a detriment more than a benefit during my years as a full inclusion learning support teacher.  I was worried that the lower ability level students would frustrate easily and the higher ones would check out.

I doubted my own impact on their learning up to this point.

THIS IS NOT TYPICAL OF ME!

I was trying to close the door on the experience and “protect” my children… all 27 of them!  But the mere suggestion of having them all together pressed in my gut and I knew what was best… include all students!

I needed to stay focused on the goal.  To observe students using the 4Cs (Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking) with their groups.  There was no doubt this would be observed!

Typically my students have voice and choice when collaborating.  They are incredible at choosing people they can thrive with and in turn push themselves to conquer the goal set.  But on this day, the groups were picked for them.  I was so nervous.  I didn’t want them deflated before the lesson even began, but I went with it mainly because it made me nervous and I thrive outside my comfort zone.

I started the lesson with a hook first thing in the morning.  A pirate bucket covered up with a sign reading DO NOT OPEN UNTIL MATH! Oh I had them, right where I wanted them.  Then I started the lesson with a typical Mrs. Nan moment of craziness because my kiddos know crazy and fun go hand in hand with learning.  There I was…putting my sweat band on with a jump rope ready to roll!

The chosen math problem was a poem about jumping rope that tied in fractions.  Simple?  Well, considering we are smack dab in the middle of a VOICE PBL and my students just wrote “Odes”, but have never learned fractions this was definitely a SMASH MIX UP of learning!  Literally one student asked if this was math or reading class.  I WAS LOVING THAT MOMENT TO THE CORE!

Groups were formed and off they went.  This is when my keen observation skills went into hyper-mode!  I just took it in.  Some literally did not know where to begin, but were not giving up.  My students are “raised” on T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. in my class and this was a time for that to shine!

But here I was noticing what I felt was different.  I noticed:

  • Sketch noting… in math? What? Why?
  • Numbers that weren’t even in the problem.
  • Confusion for a higher level learner.
  • Full engagement for most, but most is not enough for me!
  • I was stuck… stuck on the learner that I though would get it, but “appears” to have checked out.  He never checks out.  What is going on?
  • Jump ropes out.  String being cut.  Rulers being taped to the ground.  Pure madness.
  • One higher level learner “checked out”

The lesson came to an end.  We debriefed and gained great insight to what they knew, what they felt they needed to know to complete the problem, and yes the 4Cs were fired up and easily noted.

The next day came.  I questioned it all… Did this have impact?  Did this opportunity pay forward?  I couldn’t help but think about that one student who appeared “disengaged”.

SO I ASKED!

Me: So tell me about yesterday’s lesson… what did you think?

Student #1: It was cool.  I liked it

M: What did you like?

S: I really liked how “Student #2” was sketchnoting

M: I saw that!  I didn’t expect that in math… what are your thoughts?

S: I didn’t expect it either, but I was so happy he did it.  It really helped me make sense out of the problem.  I’m used to just looking at the numbers and figuring it out, but I couldn’t figure it out until I saw him sketch-noting.  It distracted me at first because I’m not used to that way of thinking, but then it really helped me.

M: WOW!  That is amazing!  Was there anything that you didn’t like?  Anything you would change?

S: No, not really.  It was a great mix of people and ideas.  I would definitely want to work with “Student #2” again because he thinks so different than me.  The problem pushed me.  I couldn’t figure it out. I am really happy that I have people to work with this year. 

“I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know until I started collaborating with others.”

M: THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and sharing your feedback.  I thought you were checked out.  Bored.  I had no idea that was what unfolded for your group.

S: S-M-I-L-E

Note:

  • Student #1 is 97th percentile in Math
  • Student #2 is 9th percentile in Math

This teacher just learned another great lesson!

I was so grateful I asked!  

A moment is all it took.

An opportunity.

A lifetime of learning took place for me as their teacher.

#collaboration 

 

 

 

 

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction

#IMMOOC Week 3: Permission=Trust; Without it We Have Nothing

TRUST: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something

This is the one word that can make or break a relationship… all relationships!  Do you trust me?  Do you trust that I have your best interest at heart?  Do you feel it in my core?  I know that when I look in your eyes I am conveying trust.  When I tell you that I honestly believe that taking a chance on change can lead to amazing things.  Do you see it?  Do you hear it in my voice?  The confidence I have to make this decision.  The grit that runs deep in my soul that will take this to a new level.  Do you trust me? #truth

Years ago, I remember laughing with my colleague as we took in the advice of asking for forgiveness rather than permission.  The laugh was half-hearted because we felt the true depth of not being trusted.  If you had asked anyone if we were trustworthy, the answer/word spoken would have been yes, yet when we tried moving forward we were continuously met with the word/action of no.  I wish I could say that I was always able to take the higher road, but I am human and found myself breaking.  I looked to bid to other positions or to possibly leave the district as a whole.  I wanted to find innovation the easy way in place of creating it with roadblocks at every turn.  Where was my grit then?  It was there, but “the innovation-squelching effect of no” was “spreading like wildfire” in ME! -Innovator’s Mindset #truth

THE POWER OF “NO” VERSUSES A CULTURE OF “YES -Innovator’s Mindset

This didn’t just end with me.  The power behind no stayed with me and I found myself saying it more and more within my classroom and within my building.  How did I take “no” and spread it like a virus so quickly?  I had always been a YES GIRL!  Yes, I can make that happen!  Yes, I would love another student teacher!  Yes, I can have that done in no time!  Yes turned to no.  I told myself it was a compliance issue, a form of respect that I simply had to follow the rules, but was it?  Was I being spiteful?  Was I using my restrictions and limitations as an excuse for not being innovative?  Did I take this word “no” so personally that I then stepped down from committees and took on the negative attitude of… get someone else to do it?  What was happening to me?  I don’t suppose the onlookers saw this as clear as I do now.  I love what I do too much to allow that to truly be seen.  But I felt it.  I felt it in my core.  I am positive you could see it in my eyes.  The glow wasn’t there… the drive had been stolen from me with one repeated word… NO! #truth

CHANGE CAN HAPPEN ONE PERSON AT A TIME -Innovator’s Mindset

I looked over and saw my new Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jacie Maslyk standing in the doorway.  I walked over.  She asked me what I would like to see happening in my classroom.  I chuckled.  The same half-hearted laugh I had become accustom to at “work”.

Side note:  My passion for teaching had been sucked out of me and for the first time I found myself going to work each day.

Was she serious?  Does she really want to know?  Do I TRUST her?  If I open my heart and tell her how I really feel will this be another smoke blowing session or does she truly care?  Is she setting me up?  Is she going to take my words and use them against me?  Or does she actually see me as an “investment in place of an expenditure?”

I took a chance.  I saw the trust in her eyes.  She cared… I could feel it!  I opened up and told her I wanted to break down the walls to learning!  I wanted to go beyond the compliance that had been demanded of me.  I wanted to relight the energy in my students… I WANTED TO LIGHT THE WORLD ON FIRE! Okay, so maybe those weren’t my exact words, but I promise you she felt the message.

And that is when it happened… I decided to once again ask for permission.  Do you know what she said…  “Why not, we wont know unless we try!”  I started reading book after book.  I got on Twitter and started building my #PLN that turned into my #PLF.  I jumped into educational chats and found myself looking up the definition to #IMMOOC for the first time.  I felt my soul on fire… I was ready to Teach Like A Pirate again.  Thank you Dave Burgess!

“Our job sometimes, is simply to be the spark, help build confidence, and then get out of the way.” -Innovator’s Mindset

On that day, Dr. Jacie Maslyk was my spark!  She believed in me.  She trusted me.  She has built a trust WITH me and in turn we have relit the spark in our children, continue to build confidence, and are getting out of the way!

Is this #truth or am I just blowing smoke?  Well, a few weeks ago I was surprised by Chevron/Steelers with Week 1 Leader in the Classroom Award.  This award was beyond anything that I could have imagined.  It wasn’t for years of service or for having a big heart and loving my students (which has always been a given), it was for remaking learning… for being INNOVATIVE in the classroom.  I was blessed to receive $1,000, a Steelers’ authentic jersey, tickets to an upcoming Steelers vs Patriots game, and front page of the Sunday paper.  Beyond all of the beautiful gifts that were presented to me, the one that meant the most was when I heard “Leader of Innovation in the Classroom“.  That my friends, is the biggest YES ever!

“IF WE WANT MEANINGFUL CHANGE, WE HAVE TO MAKE A CONNECTION TO THE HEART BEFORE WE CAN MAKE A CONNECTION TO THE MIND”

-Innovator’s Mindset

Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 3: Instruction

T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T.

T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T is the foundation to success in learning!  Grit is the stubborn refusal to quit!  It is something that was not only instilled in me as a child, but a CHOICE that I made for myself.  I find that it is what my students need most to have success in today’s learning environment… one of opportunity with Voice and Choice! A world that is in need of makers and innovators with true grit!  George Couros, author of Innovator’s Mindset states “Having the freedom to fail is important to innovation.  But even more important to the process are the traits of resiliency and grit.”

T: Take Risks!  I once heard someone say, “If you are living safe, are you really living?”  I suppose I have lived a lifetime in a small period with my amount of risk taking.  Safe to me is close minded.  Safe for me makes my heart stretch and my neck tense.  Safe learning keeps me in a box when there are valuable resources within reach.  Risk taking is natural for a child until fear is learned.  So what does risk taking look like in the classroom?  For me it is giving up control.  It is facilitating in place of direct instruction. It is believing that my students can do it without me!  It is failing in front of 27 admiring minds and allowing that vulnerability to be a teachable moment for both sides.  Take Risks… it is life changing for your students and YOU!

R: Resilience~ Be Tough!  Resilience is key to pride!  We aren’t proud of easy work the same as that of the tough stuff.  We get tough through resilience! We must be tough-minded to push ahead in our learning and grow “through” our mistakes.  Look at a child with a participation trophy vs one that earns a trophy by winning the game.  Which one truly has pride…the kind that is felt to the core?  Resilience is nurtured through setbacks and hurdles.  It is brushing yourself off and getting back in the game of life.  We must allow ourselves the time to rethink, try again, and grow.  In turn the resilience filters into the picture.

U: Ultimate Listening Skills! This has major impact on you and the one speaking.  Make eye contact! Shut down your own thoughts and truly listen… not to have something to say back, but to take in what is important to the one speaking.  Process what is being said and show that you care by staying engaged in the conversation.  Communication between partners and groups thrives on careful listening skills.  

E: Empathy & Understanding!  Without empathy we live in an isolated world of our own thoughts and needs.  You do not need to understand to show empathy.  You need to put your own judgement aside and allow for others to be vulnerable.  This should never be confused with the “feel good society” mentality.  This should never be thought of as “everyone’s a winner”.  This is acceptance that we are each different with our own story.  We each have a chapter in this thing called life!  We each have a way of learning that changes and evolves just as our mind does.  We each have a story that builds bridges or breaks our learning.  Modeling empathy in the classroom shows respect and that is one thing that nurtures goodness.   

G: Goals!  This is part of achievement… the cornerstone of success!  Goals should be achievable and with growth in mind.  Goals are not set to stay at the same level of learning, but rather to propel you forward!  This is where I put students in charge of their own learning.  They must recognize from a young age what learning they have already acquired and where they could possibly go from that point.  Being done with a math lesson in 15 minutes, does not mean you take out a novel to entertain yourself because you do not know what to do with your time.  Reading is essential and if the book is relevant to math, I am certainly open to it.  But if I do not empower my students to grow within the content area in all ways possible, have I truly done my job?  I must open doors with options so that each child can make choices as to where their learning can go.  Independent thinkers that are empowered to create opportunities is what I believe future employers dream of in an employee!  #growth

R: Responsible! Being responsible is of great value to everyone.  A child that has their bag packed and unpacked at home for them will not know what they have, or scarier yet what they need.  A child that blames their parent for not having what they need in school may be the same child that blames the teacher for not having what they need at home. Placing blame is not beneficial for a child, so taking the time to teach responsibility in all settings tells the child they are in charge of their learning and that they can control outcomes at a young age.  

I: Imagine Excellence vs Perfection! Striving for perfection is setting yourself up for failure that can be detrimental both in and out of the learning environment.  Striving for excellence is a forward thinking mindset that allows you the opportunity to meet setbacks head on and grow!  I’m not claiming that failure does not have positive outcomes.  A former colleague and current director of Educational Strategy Robomatter, Jason McKenna, shared with my students that “failing fast is key!”  Reflecting on the process and communicating throughout helps to catch failing moments in place of failing outcomes!  Students who are unable to fail and grow from mistakes, because they expect personal perfection, are in need of a mind shift to excellence.

T: Tough Mindset!  Lastly, a tough mindset is where I feel the foundation of learning starts for educators and children alike.  A mindset that is tough enough to fail, to have confidence in one’s self, to persevere when moments are heavy, to stretch yourself beyond the comfort zone that could keep you stagnant, and the one that can make or break all growth within the educational system!  

Note: Maybe “Leaping Like a Pirate” should be the subtitle to this blog because that best describes my everyday mindset.  I am one to leap… feet first!  Sometimes into failing moments and other times success.  Not because I enjoy failing or feel like I am a failure, but more so the small chance of success intrigues me!  “T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T.” is my foundation to leaping! Teaching like a Pirate is what takes my grit to a new level!