Domain 2: Classroom Environment, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

The Elephant in the Room~ connecting with mental illness

the quiet one… the loud one

the picker… the tapper

the distracted… the focused

the respectful… the belligerent

the rule follower… rule breaker

the meticulous risk taker!

There are so many ways I have heard this elephant described.  I could probably add 100 more terms and phrases to this list without hesitation.  It is usually followed up with…

he doesn’t look like anything is bothering him 

he just checks out

he wouldn’t have to ask so many questions if he just paid attention

he just won’t let it go

and my favorite… how does he continue to earn poor grades when he is so bright?  Twice Exceptional?  But if I’m being honest the statement is more like…  this is what gifted looks like? #truth

How do you describe mental illness?  How do you view the elephant in the room?  I know an elephant.  I have raised an elephant who is best friend’s with my incredible son.  My son met his elephant at the age of 8.  Prior to this friendship, my son was a compliant rule follower… a straight A student… a role model for others.  Yes, they are separate… their own.  My son.  Mental Illness.

Then the day came.  The meeting.  The joint kinship.  The one that introduced my son to distractions, rule breaking, meticulousness ways, perfection, and repeated behaviors to sooth and calm his new friend the elephant.

I saw the changes.

I saw the elephant!

My gut knew from an early age that the tendencies were there… the kinship… the illness.  They were one with their own identities.  Our family walked on eggshells of anxiety… we reassured to the point of exhaustion, we centered our lives around the elephant in the room without saying a word.  We started to speak it’s language.  We fed it.  We calmed it and tucked it in at night.  We were literally raising an elephant alongside our beautiful son…

the elephant in our room…

OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER

We faced it head on.  Therapy 5-7 days a week.  We exposed ourselves and our son to his anxiety.  Yet, the whack-a-mole effect of OCD did not go away.  It simply became a part of our existence.  Yes, our existence.

This is what we as educators need to understand… the elephant is NOT GOING AWAY!

Need I mention that I have a background in Special Education.  An emphasis in Emotional Support.  A Masters Degree in MOM… yet listening to fellow colleagues struggle with the elephant in the room leaves me… speechless.  

So where do we go from here?

Let’s start by acknowledging that mental illness is a part of OUR lives.  NOT just a child’s life… OUR LIVES!  We are in this together.  We must educate ourselves.  We must find a way to understand a child’s way… their being in order to educate them to the best of THEIR ability! To bring out their best… to let their light shine so bright that it puts their elephant in their shadow (in place of just the opposite.)  They deserve it!

Have you ever tried to walk in their shoes?

My son is now 15.  He battles mental illness better than many adults I have come into contact with in my lifetime.  He has strength. He has courage. He has empathy.  He has GRIT.

He said to me, “Mom, tell my story… it will help other kids.”

Yes, Trent, I will.

 

 

 

 

 

Domain 2: Classroom Environment

Guaranteed Impact: make it POSITIVE!

When a child walks into your life, what thoughts race through your head?  Are they thoughts of…

excitement? Excitement for the opportunity to have someone’s precious child in your life.  A chance to make a difference.  A gift of time to impact their life… to open doors and encourage them to walk through!

wonder? Wonder of who they are under that smile… frown… or look of fear.  Wonder of how you will connect and build a relationship that will set sail the journey of learning together.

worry? Worried that you may not be able to connect.  Worry that they may be the most challenging student you have had to date.  Worried that their own life may hold them back from trusting you.  Worry that you don’t have enough time in a day to make a difference.

judgement? Judgement of who they are…

When you walk into a child’s life, are their thoughts the same?  Are you setting the stage for a relationship with EVERY child…

Do you make school exciting?  Do you give them a reason to be there?

Do you create a connection to every child or do they wonder why they don’t fit in your world like others do?

Do you foster a caring environment?  One that eliminates worry from their life… possibly the only stretch of time in their day to let their shoulders down.

Do your students feel judged?  Or do you give every child a “Planet Fitness: Judgement Free Zone”?

This Christmas I received a very special gift from a very quiet and reserved child.  A child that walked into my room withdrawn, with limited social interaction, lack of engagement, and little interest in school.  None of this due to home life… as a matter of fact he comes from a beautiful loving family that builds him up and sets him off each day to conquer the world trusting that his teacher will bring out his best.  

This precious child handed me a special gift.  Then he did something that caught me off guard… he insisted on opening it for me, which warmed my heart to the core because he was so invested in the moment.  He unwrapped a snow globe that took my breath away.  It had a 3 dimensional silver snowflake with the words WISH*LOVE*HOPE that sparkled while music played and snow floated effortlessly within the globe.    He said, “Oh Mrs. Nan, I know the snow globe is nice, but look what it says to you.”  To which I looked at the inscription that read:

“Students may forget what you said, but never how you made them feel.” 

Tears of joy streamed down my face.  Not the first time my students have seen my emotions.  Why?  Because they impact my life!

Over the months we connected.  We found his passion of art and embedded it into his learning through sketch-noting (THANK YOU Carrie Baughcum @HeckAwesome in my EDUAwesome @Twitter PLF)  This child is now engaged.  He is building relationships stemming from the one that we created together.  He is happy to be in school and moving his bright mind forward with each given day.  He is a #LeadLearner with Sketchnoting, #MakeyMakey and #Osmo in class.  He has found relevance in learning and a purpose for being a part of a learning community.  He is empowered! 

I start my Christmas vacation with heart full… of love and joy for I know that I have lived by my own advice…

You WILL have impact on EVERY child… it is up to you whether it is POSITIVE or negative!  

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So with that I leave us with my favorite George Couros quote from one of my favorite books, Innovator’s Mindset:

Merry Christmas!  May your holiday be as bright and beautiful as YOU! 

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 3: Instruction

less us… MORE THEM!

Hot Topic!

Education Reimagined!

Small Shifts!

Questions/Comments are circling like a shark around its prey.  How have students  learned up to this point… before the “new wave” in education?  You know, the new wave of student centered learning.  Are teachers not important anymore?  What is the role of the teacher now?  What will happen next… students won’t even need a book? (well, let’s talk about that another time with Matt Miller)

Maybe the question to get you thinking right now should be…

Who wants to wake up every day knowing that the place you are going to is about to talk your ear off for 7+ hours expecting you to absorb, process, and regurgitate that knowledge to show competency?  Oh and by the way, look like your having fun AND stay out of trouble! 

Better yet, do you want a cap on your learning?   Do you want to be directly instructed without any choice? Instruction based solely on age and grade?  

Ummm, not me!  I honestly sit baffled by the practice of teaching at times.  Do you think that direct instruction is the key to success?  If I tried to learn how to tie my shoes through lecture, I would no doubt fail and fall (over my shoelaces)!  Give me a shoe!  Let me use MY shoe!  Show me the laces and create a sense of curiosity and understanding that becomes purposeful and relevant to the task.  Then I may be able to apply myself differently.  Direct instruction leaves a learner feeling:

  • bored
  • small
  • stagnant
  • data defined
  • frustrated
  • misunderstood
  • isolated- like their answer most likely is not the ONE that you are looking for
  • invisible

Or would you like your learning to factor in your ability?  your needs? your passions?

So let’s shift our mindsets to student centered.  Let’s leave our learners feeling:

  • empowered
  • relevant
  • purposeful
  • supported
  • wondrous
  • connected
  • open-minded
  • competent

Today’s session on “Education Reimagined” ( Randy Ziegenfuss and Lynn Fuini-Hetten #SASInstitute2017), left me feeling more empowered and energized.  Acknowledging that competency is not capped off  by a grade level.  Empowering learners to grow beyond their mastered skills.  Isn’t that what you want from a day of professional development… a day of learning!  This was relevant to my classroom.  This serves a purpose to my students so that when I return to the classroom I can continue to connect learning and interests, fighting the fight for growth in every child… facilitating the learning of all students!  Learning has 27 different definitions for my class this year… empowering 27 students to find their passion and light the world on fire becomes my purpose each day.

My go to “take-away” for quick implementation of this approach is:

… inquiry-based learning that generates this shift.  One that spawns curiosity.  One that requires critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, communication, and the reward of relevance!  One that requires the focus on students and not the teacher! 

An excellent way to shift the center of teaching is through Project-Based Learning.  It is an in-depth investigation of a real world topic.  It is tailored to each student’s passion, which in turn fuels their learning.  It is then driven home through the creation of a student chosen project that will then be shown to their chosen authentic audience.  The voice and choice embedded in this alone is the creator of small shifts.

less is more

less teacher centered

more student centered

small shifts for the greater good

 

 

Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

The Power of a Keynote: an investment in our future!

Why does one go to a conference?  What draws a person in?  The conference mailings arrive weekly in my mailbox at school.  For some I open, but for most I toss them straight into the garbage.  In order for it to grab my attention it needs to provide me with more than my daily growth within my PLN and twitter.  (Twitter alone nurtures my love for teaching and can be done from the comforts of my home.)  It cannot just be a buzz word.  It must be legit.  So for me it is the keynote.  The person chosen must be relevant to teaching and learning… not only for my students, but for me.

So how did #SASInstitute2017 get it right?  For starters, they sought out one of the most powerful influences in education today… George Couros, author of Innovator’s Mindset!

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George is key to my attendance.  It really is that simple.  I am an educator making positive change in the classroom.  I am pushing myself forward every day without a conference, so for one to grab my attention, be worth my financial investment, and hold value to my students and to me, it must have impact!

IMPACT: the kind that pulls on every emotion possible! The kind that changes me for the better!

Truths that were spoken by George… hard core truth:

Truth:   “Learning is your job so stop whining and settle down.”  (I about jumped up and gave him a standing ovation!)

Truth: “If you do not have a twitter account you are no longer relevant to teaching!”

Truth: “If you still have a computer lab, the question is do you have a pencil lab too?”

Truth: “Isolation is now a CHOICE that educators make!”

Truth: “Do kids do it because of school or in spite of it?”

Truth: “Data driven is the stupidest term in education!”

Truth: “Stop making excuses!”

Truth: “What serves kids the best?”

Truth: “Make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear!”

Truth: “CHANGE IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO SOMETHING AMAZING!”

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The energy in itself… the mere magnitude of educators buzzing with enthusiasm has drawn me in to conversation.  Conversation that I don’t normally engage in.  (Don’t laugh too hard… I have the gift of gab, but I’m talking about the choice to put myself in conversation.)  The truth is, I don’t like the downers… the fun suckers… closed mindsets.  Most groups I have encountered at school conferences have always included closed mindsets.  One that sucks the positive life right from my soul.  But this conference is different… the buzz is about George.  His truths.  His innovative practices.  His doors he opened… for us!  His relationships he nurtured… with us.  In turn, I have engaged beyond the keynote… into small groups… lunches… dinners… downtime.  I came with an amazing group of educators, connected with my twitter family, and am growing each day with incredible educators!  The power of a keynote has created an opportunity for me to do amazing things!

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Game Changer: George Couros and yours truly!

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Fabulous colleague and goal driven friend, Donna Steff

 

Domain 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 3: Instruction, Domain 4: Professional Responsibilities

Creating Change Agents

Most often people choose teaching as a profession because they want to create change… change for the better!  Some will even tell you that their own experience was so negative they felt compelled to become “the change” that children need in the classroom.

Do you feel our children deserve more… do they need more?  If so the question is… are we delivering instruction in a way that will create this opportunity?

I often wonder why so many graduates are cramming for interviews.  Literally, I have witnessed interviewees grab hold of books such as Innovator’s Mindset (George Couros),  Teach Like A Pirate (Dave Burgess) and STEAMMakers (Jacie Maslyk) right before interviews in order to gain the edge on hiring.

Why are they cramming?

Do you feel our future teachers continue to prepare the same way as teachers did 5… 10… even 50+ years ago?  Are we helping to create change or are we still teaching and learning in a way that is no longer relevant in today’s society?

If we are given the opportunity to create change in education why wait until teachers are graduated and in the trenches to fire them up with incredible learning opportunities?

Let’s look at what current educators are doing to move the world of education forward and in turn pass this practice down to our future educators.

Let’s connect with future teachers.

Let’s make change.

Dave and Shelley Burgess of Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. have gifted education with a platform that works as a springboard for innovative teaching.  Are these revolutionary resources accessible to every college student preparing to be a teacher?

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If not, we must ask ourselves a very important question… Why are we preparing our future with the same mindset we are trying to alter?

Are we creating experiences for our students? Are we still using the traditional checklist that no longer reflects the future of our students or better yet the future of the work force!?

What is guiding our future teaching practices?

In my opinion, you cannot advance a student’s depth of knowledge with a five day death march of a story that was taken from the required/chosen anthology.

Has anyone asked their students?  Do students really want to read the same story over and over for mastery?  Mastery of what?  Who needs skill when you can memorize the central idea of a story by reading and rereading day after day?

Don’t get me wrong, we are all in tune with Bloom’s Taxonomy and how to embed higher level thinking into the traditional way of learning, but that is simply not good enough anymore!  Our children deserve more… they need more and we must deliver our instruction differently to serve them the best possible way.  Our children need to be engaged in their learning where by they are empowered to move their education forward by choice and not through compliance.

It is not a free for all… there is accountability for all of us.  There is definitely a place and purpose for philosophy, domains, and pedagogy.  But who ever said that it had to come from the same mindset and discipline that was used all those years ago.  We must have accountability to change with the times!  As George Couros of Innovator’s Mindset so eloquently states,

“Change is an opportunity to do something AMAZING!”

Over the last two school years, I have had the privilege of being a virtual cooperating teacher for future educators of Grove City College in Grove City, Pennsylvania.  Education majors are required to take a technology course their freshman year.  One of the professors is Dr. Sam Fecich and she is a change agent!  She is connecting our future teachers to classrooms while instilling skills for both the future leaders in education as well as the current classroom teacher.  Her students are building their PLN (Professional Learning Network) on twitter and engaging in meaningful learning with a variety of resources including books posted above.   Dr. Sam, along with the education department of GCC, is making change in current practice… investing in our future!

If we really want to educate future teachers to be AMAZING CHANGE AGENTS we need to communicate at all levels.  Colleges, universities, public and private school systems, along with the community and work force… we must sit down at the same table and break bread together.  We need to share in the same meal, prepared by the same hands, and with immense compassion and understanding have the conversation that WE share in the responsibility to MAKE CHANGE FOR THE BETTER!

Why?

Because…

When you know better, you do better!

 

 

 

 

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 1: Planning and Preparation, Domain 3: Instruction

Don’t Agree With Me! it stunts my growth

My growth mindset is perpetually developing to the point that it becomes a relentless voice in my head.  I find myself rereading books and blogs, buying more books, listening intently to keynotes and conversations, and connecting with others outside my experience.  Still, I sit wondering about the unknown.  The unknown that creates an excitement of learning something new!

The excitement is what intrigues me about

others, 

teaching,

students,

LIFE!

A growth mindset requires thinking beyond isolation.  Collaborating is essential… if done correctly.  It is not a matter of grouping a handful of people together and assuming there is balance.  It takes action.  Action on the part of those facilitating and those collaborating.   Empowering the collaborators to bring their game… contribute, listen, question, and create.

col·lab·o·ra·tion
[kəˌlabəˈrāSH(ə)n]

NOUN
the action of working with someone to produce or create something:

So when others agree with me, I cringe.  Not so much if it is a give and take conversation, but more so when I throw an idea out and it is jumped on without hesitation.  Taken and run with as if there is no room to grow.

It is simply a thought… an idea… a lightbulb moment!  It is one raindrop in a very big puddle.  One small fish and in a very big sea.  One crayon in the Ultimate 152 Pack!  So why are we just going with it?  Let’s create a rainbow of colors.  Let’s create a collage of ideas!

collage portrait

This is where my frustration gets the best of me.  Where I shut down and don’t want to give.  Not because I am the educational hoarder that must sign my name to every idea so that others give me credit, or worse yet don’t get to use at all (Not that I have ever been around that type… sigh).  Oh no, I am the giver of ideas.  I want to make things happen together.  I want others to toss their idea into the ring, grab my hand, and take me along for the ride!  I want to create life changing experiences together!

As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate, would say,

“I want to bring it!”

I am an idea generator.  My mind accumulates ideas faster than I can write them down.  I am not the best refiner by nature.  Execution of plans becomes a hot mess of moments that fall apart if I don’t stay on top of my game.  I NEED OTHERS!  I need balance and I NEED GROWTH!

Bottom line is…

Our classrooms are no different.  We need to remember that we have all types of learners and they all need to grow.  There are the idea generators, the makers and creators, the refiners, and the executors.  Collaborating is at the forefront because it creates a better overall learner.  Collaboration isn’t about one type of learner tossing an idea into the ring and the group takes off without feedback, discussion, and questioning.  Students would have little success being wrapped up in an isolated idea that simply needs more!

I am a student. 

We are all students. 

We need one another to grow!