I have been thinking a lot, this past few weeks, about how to meaningfully complete my “homework” assignment. I am due to meet with my Superintendent, Tim Monds, this Tuesday morning to review my Professional Growth Plan from the year. I read it over a few weeks ago and felt reasonably successful in achieving the goals I had set for myself this year. Great…all finished, I thought. I would summarize my results and be good to go, check off another item on the year end “to do” list. As I looked more closely at my Professional Growth Plan, my goals, strategies and measures, with a critical eye, I decided that if I simply commented on this document alone, I would fall short in reflecting on what I actually LEARNED this year. After thinking about the most impactful experiences I had from the year that resulted in me changing my thinking, improving my skills and developing my understanding, I know that my most valuable learning was the result of some unexpected opportunities that came my way and I need to include this in my year end reflection (these were not the goals included in my Professional Growth Plan). Here are my top three memorable learning experiences from the year:
My love/hate relationship with technology is shifting to be more about love…who knew this could happen to me?! It all started when I asked Parkland School Division Principal George Couros what program he would recommend for me to use in preparing a presentation for an upcoming National Middle School Conference earlier this school year. He told me about Keynote for Macbook and showed me a little bit about the program. After hearing both he and Greystone’s School Support Coordinator, Jesse McLean, and my two sons sing the praises of the Apple Macbook, I decided to give it a try. I used our school’s Macbook first, took in a session at the Apple Store and got lots of support from George, Jesse and my sons who both have Macbooks. Eventually, I even convinced my husband to get me a Macbook of my own through an employee purchasing plan he has at work…and I LOVE it! There are a ton of things it can do and I am only scratching the surface, but so far, I have stuck with it and have been exploring the ways it can help me with my learning and sharing. I am really proud of the skills I am picking up and most importantly, I hope I am setting a good example for our staff and students in being a continuous learner in an area that is not necessarily my strength.
2. Sharing Our Story
I am really not comfortable with presenting to others. Deep down inside, I think I may be more of an introvert, hiding out in the body of an extrovert. I have worked hard over the years to overcome my anxiety about public speaking, walking into a room full of strangers or even being comfortable talking face to face with people I do not have a relationship with. I have had to push myself each and every year of my career to become more confident speaking in front of others. I have always been this way – very outgoing with close friends, colleagues, peers – but put me with a bunch of strangers and I struggle. I was asked last year, by my Deputy Superintendent Kelly Wilkins, to submit a proposal for the Association for Middle Level Educators Conference in Portland Oregon, so that I could share some of the work we do at Greystone. I love working with and learning from leaders who push me outside of my comfort zone (okay, I don’t always love it initially!) The proposal I submitted was accepted and I was set to present in October at this conference. I invited two other teachers to assist with the presentation and an additional two teachers from staff joined us for the conference. As we were putting together our presentation, making decisions about what was worthy of sharing with a bunch of strangers, I remember thinking that what we are doing at Greystone really isn’t that big of a deal. We certainly haven’t got everything all figured out here and we are still a work in progress with many areas for growth. As it turned out, we discovered through this conference, and from other experiences where we were invited to share our school’s story, that what we take for granted as “the way we roll” at Greystone, can provide other school communities with some ideas to help them. There’s always something to learn from others and with others. I have found the conversations and the feedback that are a part of the experience when sharing our story to be extremely helpful to me in the process of building knowledge together with others who are interested in improving their schools and classrooms.
I am always reminding our teachers to take risks, make their practice public, be okay to not have all the answers, to share with each other and learn together. Clearly, it was about time for me to practice what I preach and put myself out there to share our work with others, too (flaws and all!) I think this video Obvious to You Amazing to Others does an excellent job of capturing the importance of sharing your story.
3. Student Learning
I am a big believer in creating curiosity as a way to engage learners. I have been working on this for almost twenty years – beginning with my experience as a classroom teacher when I made the shift from teacher control to student control of the learning (within a structured project-based framework connected to the curriculum). I worked on co-creating topics of inquiry with my students in order to get them personally involved with their learning. However, I never took as big of a leap in handing over control of the learning to the kids as I did this year when I agreed to have students spend an entire week exploring topics of interest to them. Our school’s first Innovation Week took place back in December and what those students did during that week absolutely blew me away. I knew the students could be more highly motivated if they were given choice, but I had no idea just how productive, resilient and creative they could be when the adults got out of their way. The kids taught me so much during that week of time. They were resourceful, they took initiative, they made mistakes, they failed and then figured things out, they faced challenges, they persevered and they learned a lot along the way.This experience has led me to continue to do a lot of re-thinking about curriculum, authentic learning and the importance of making school more of a place for discovery and tapping into passions while developing competencies and skills and less of a place where regimented, regulated, lock-step processes and procedures are followed in a “one size fits all” structure. Real learning is organic, personalized and should be responsive to the unique characteristics of our learners. I knew this before, but through my experience with Innovation Week, and seeing how students responded when pursuing their interests, I learned that I need to do everything I can to ensure our students are continuously exposed to this kind of learning environment. Our students are incredibly capable if given some autonomy and purpose for their work. Thanks to the kids for giving me my best learning from the year. I am looking forward to continuing to provide these amazing learners with ongoing opportunities that get them engaged in what school is supposed to be all about – REAL LEARNING!