21st Century, Change, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

Imagine A Teacher

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Imagine you are a teacher.

The school year is about to begin – it’s the first day for teachers to arrive at school.

You walk into your classroom and there is a letter for you. From your students.

Dear Teacher,

The most important thing you can do for us this year is to teach creativity. Consider yourself no longer our teacher but be our ‘Captain Creative’ and we, your eager cohort of innovators, curators, makers, and thinkers.

To teach creativity is to equip us with the skills to think critically. To examine, debate, discuss, agree, argue, dissent, come to a consensus, and to think.

To teach creativity is to question. To make sure you ask questions you don’t know the answer to and let us ask questions too. Let’s solve them together in short, frantic bursts of excitement and long, drawn-out wondering that go far beyond the lesson plan.

To teach creativity is to teach us that ideas are treasures, to be gathered and cherished with pirate-like pleasure! We need to come to school each day more curious than the day before and should know that our actions have an impact that goes beyond our classroom walls.

To teach creativity, one can start with empathy. When we know that to empathize is to arrive at the starting point for change and possibility, that to try and to trial and to test and to try again are all part of process, and that there is never a ‘one way’ of doing (but always your guiding hand should we get stuck down a wrong way), you will be a teacher of creativity.

To teach creativity, is to allow us to bloom. To nurture each of us through the learning process at a different pace and in a different space, feeding our quest for knowledge so that new ideas can flourish. Teach us to connect rather than simply collect the dots.

To teach creativity one does not need to be creative (but you are). To teach creativity one does need to rethink ‘school’ (and you will). To teach creativity is to respect us as individuals, to seek the ‘so what?’, and to be authentic in all that you do.

What are you waiting for? The creativity revolution begins with you. And with us. And it starts now.

Sincerely,

Your students

What would this inspire you to do? What does it tell you about your school leadership team? And where does this school exist?

Approaches to Learning, Inspiration

How To Write A Great Blog Post

Step One: Don’t give your post a lame title 🙂

Our fourth grade students are blogging this year. It has taken a while to get them started but they are growing in their tech skills to be able to do this more independently. Now that they (mostly) have the mechanics of blogging sorted, I wanted to switch my focus to the content.

Up until now the posts they have done have been directed by their homeroom teachers or by me. As they head off on their own, I wanted there to be some sort of checklist in their room to help them. But more than a checklist. I didn’t want it to be purely mechanics. So I turned to two of my favorites: Simon Sinek and Peter H. Reynolds.

Simon STARTS WITH WHY so I did too. We talked about leading with WHY, following up with HOW, and concluding with WHAT. Typically a blog post from a student goes like this:

This is my video of my project.

Using the Sinek way:

I wanted to explain how I understand the connection between people and the impact on the environment. The best way for me to do this was using Adobe Spark Page so that I could add pictures, videos, and links and so I could make sure to tell all the things that I know and how I want to make a difference. I hope you learn from the Page that I have created.

How do you minimise your impact on the environment?

Typically the content speaks for itself but this simple WHY/HOW/WHAT routine helps give a snapshot into the purpose of the post and its content. The question at the end is to give the readers of the blog (mostly classmates) something to respond to in the comments.

My other favorite person is Peter H. Reynolds. He has collaborated on the 4C’s project. I love the 4C’s. In addition to checking other mechanics of their blog post (capitals, punctuation, categories) I wanted to challenge them to check their blog post against the 4C’s. Does their post (and thus the content they created) hit on one or more of the 4C’s? Massive bonus if it hits on all four!

Here is the blogging checklist I created (PDF download):

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Creativity, Inquiry, Thinking

Informed Thinking

In a course I am doing at the moment on Creativity, we were asked to do some Informed Thinking. 

This is the task we were given:

You will inform your thinking about the scholarship of creativity studies through historical and contemporary resources.  Afterwards, you will share on the blackboard some key concepts, definitions, models, theories and information that is particularly important in your eyes.  This should be in the form of bulleted list of at least ten items. Each item should have a 1-2 sentence description to explain it.

We were given a curated list of videos, studies, research projects, Keynotes, visuals, documents to read/watch and then had to create our own ‘top ten’.

About half of the class have done the assignment and it is really interesting to see what others pulled out as ‘important’ or stand-out ideas. It is also really interesting to think about yourself as a reader/viewer when ideas you never heard of appear in someone else’s list. And it is a great way to summarize and inform your thinking in preparation for the follow-up task (which is to apply the new learning).

This would be a great way to guide students through the research phase of a unit that is heavy in names/dates, theories/ideas. One of the group said she is planning on using this during her G5 Governance unit.

I chose to add pictures to the mix in addition to the one or two sentences. I love icons (shout out to the Noun Project) and it helped me to consolidate my chosen ideas into a visual image.

Can you use this in your classroom?

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Innovation

MakerSpace or MakerMindset?

Makerspace.

Trendy? Needed? Overused? Underused? Lots of discussion in our school – and many others – about this ‘new thing’. Sometimes I find it exhausting that we have to form a committee to come to the shared understanding that kids making stuff, tinkering, thinking, designing, prototyping ideas, and playing, is a good thing!

Nonetheless, what if you have already decided it is a good thing? Where to from there? My suggestion: differentiate between a MakerSpace and a MakerMindset.  These are similar but very different at the same time. Don’t get hung up on how many hot glue guns you are going to buy, start by getting buy-in on what it means to be a maker and part of the maker movement.

If you are not sure what this would look like, take a look at the NIST Makerspace website. They do a great job of spelling out the things you see in a Maker Mindset and a Maker Space.  I liked the idea so much I started drawing out my own idea of a maker mindset:

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I would then suggest that you Start With WHY. Why do you want a Makerspace? Why is this an important thing to you? You could try framing your thinking by filling in the gaps:

“Because we believe…………………………………….. we have a Makerspace.”

Move on to HOW. How will a Makerspace work in your school? Within the curriculum? Parallel to the curriculum? Embedded in the curriculum? Totally optional and separate to the curriculum?  How will teachers know it is valued? How will parents share in your vision? How do kids have input?

Finally, WHAT. Now is when you can get the glue gun catalog out and spend! But you can also gather (hoard?) and collect and put out specific requests for those egg cartons, buttons, fabric offcuts, plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and the like. One thing I think would be useful at this point is for teachers to spend twenty minutes in their rooms. Mentally divide the room into four quadrants and spend five minutes looking at each section, asking yourself:

  • what is useful for making and tinkering?
  • what storage do I have?
  • what could I take out of my room to make more space?
  • are there outlets in this part of the room?
  • is there ventilation in this part of the room?

I subscribe to SmartBrief on Education and in today’s edition, they had a piece on Tips For Meaningful Making. This advice section concluded with links to free resources that may be of interest to anyone in the process of beginning a Makerspace.

  • Wicked Decent Learning blog. Check out Dan Ryder’s “Design Thinking” section to get insights on making and reflection.
  • Agency by Design. Visit the Educator Resources section to see different ways to approach the thinking behind making. This is a phenomenal resource from Project Zero. If you love Visible Thinking Routines, you will love AbD. 

Do you have a Maker Mindset?

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Innovation

Summatively Speaking…

It always seems to be the way – start thinking about assessment (or any other topic) and ideas abound on that topic, literally without even trying.

Assessment is on my mind at the moment. The first thing that popped into my feed was this amazing post on assessment and Makerspaces.  What Does Assessment Look Like in Makerspaces is PACKED with information. Seriously, if you have a Makerspace or want one or are just thinking of how to add more making, thinking, and tinkering into your school or classroom, this is an excellent place to start.

In working with teams at my own school, I returned to the work of Wiggins and McTighe. This gave me three things to share with colleagues – and now with you. I was firstly reminded of GRASPS as it relates to a summative assessment task:

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I was introduced to this when I began teaching at Bonn International School in 2003. It is still my ‘gold standard’ when it comes to thinking about summative assessment tasks.

From here, I was reminded of a newer document. A checklist for performance assessment. The printed version is below. Below that, the short animated slideshow on checking the health of your summative assessment task, made with Adobe Spark Video.

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https://spark.adobe.com/video/1d9MaHwVnqXKM/embed

Finally, I subscribe to Time Space Education blog. Today there was a new post on Learning Continuums. It is really interesting to see how this process of summative assessment is being tackled by different educators in different parts of the world. The author, Chad Walsh is seeking feedback on the ideas within this post. If you are at all interested in summative assessments and rethinking the way we create and analyse these, drop him a line or leave a comment on his post.

21st Century, Action, Change, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

Rethink Everything

And start with rethinking worksheets.

I believe that in 7 minutes, you will never look at a worksheet in the same light ever again. What are we doing to our kids when we don’t take the time and effort to breathe creativity and agency into our classrooms?

If you are interested in taking this discussion further, take a look at The Ten Principles For Schools Of Modern Learning. This Whitepaper is the best thing I have read about education and change since I read Seth Godin’s Education Manifesto.

I have just started a course in Creative Teaching and Learning as (a final) part of my Masters Degree and my hope is that we will come up with practical ways to inject greater creativity into schools. One of my classmates shared this video and in it, the speaker tells of the need for knowledge in order to fuel creativity.

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The idea being that having knowledge helps you build creative ideas to problems  and challenges. Do you agree?  I certainly side with Tony Wagner’s thought that “it is not WHAT you know but what you DO with what you know” and believe that the ‘knowing’ and the ‘knowledge’ are important parts to being a creative person.

It comes as no surprise to me that Tony Wagner is an “Expert Education Advisor” for the award-winning film “Most Likely to Succeed”. A ‘grown up’ version of the animated ‘Alike’ this film is on my list of things to watch (when I write up my grant proposal to get the money for a screening).

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

 

 

Approaches to Learning, Learning, Publications, Technology

Into Alignment

Approaches to Learning (ATL) are a hot topic at my school at the moment.  We recently had Lance G. King at school to guide our understanding of how ATLs can and should be embedded in our teaching and how this long list of skills and executive functions can significantly impact our students.

With this in mind, and with a desire to see technology integration become a more fluid part of our program, I typed all the ATLs into a document. Tedious but also helpful, giving me time to think about each one and its connection to technology.  I then pulled up the new ISTE Standards for Students.

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7 standards, each with four descriptors. I copied and pasted next to what I felt was a correlating ATL. A third column saw me list possible scenarios you might see in which these skills and standards were put into effect.

Confusing? Hopefully more clear if you take a look here:

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My thoughts upon doing this?

  • I found the process was super helpful in taking a wide lense look at how everything can and should work together
  • I wondered, “Who else is doing this?” and “Can we do it together?!” I did google around a bit before starting and I know of one person who is starting down this road but would love to hear from anyone else also doing this or who would like to join me in working on this. Let me know and I can share the Google Doc with you.
  • I realized I am far from done! Here are my next steps:

 

  1. There are some ISTE standards that hit more than one ATL or standards that only partially apply to an ATL so I need to duplicate and add, and I need to highlight the specific portions of standards that apply
  2. The “How might we….?” column needs to be added to, linking with existing sources and documentation and external websites and apps
  3. Consideration needs to be given to a fourth column that encompasses the Visual Literacy curriculum objectives as many of these can be taught in the context of technology usage, media creation, viewing and presenting. Likewise, there are considerable overlaps with Visual Art (the Elements of Art and, particularly, the Principles of Design) and with the Library scope and sequence documentation.

These ideas are less than 24 hours old so there is a lot of scope for development but I am intrigued to see how this will develop in terms of guiding teachers toward a more integrated approach to technology in (and out) of the classroom.

Innovation

Secure Your Own Mask First

 

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Image Credit

I was speaking with a friend who was helping me out with a project I am working on. After we were finished talking, she asked me how I was doing: staying at home with my two sweet babies. She had seen the bomb site that is our upstairs living room (laundry EVERYWHERE) and the dog hair, the toys, the laundry, the dishes…did I mention the laundry?

She said that the best advice she had been given when she became a mom 22 years ago, was to “secure her own oxygen mask first before helping others”. She likened me to the captain and reminded me that if the captain goes down, everyone goes down.

I have been pondering this and she is right on many levels and the analogy is very apt for busy parents staying at home and raising a family. But it is also true for pretty much everyone. If you are well taken care of, well rested, well fed, well nourished by the books/people/things/spaces that make you feel good, you are in a much better position to share of yourself for others.

Many teachers are notoriously bad at this (no scientific research, just observation). We want to help our colleagues, our principals, our team, our students, our parents and so often we put all of these people above our own needs.

What do you want in the kids that you teach?

Here are some possible ideas:

  • Kids that will prioritize their health: drinking water, using the bathroom, eating a healthy lunch, getting outside and breathing fresh air.
  • Kids that are mindful of themselves, seek to be mindful in their intentions, take time to reflect on their learning and where they are going.
  • Kids that come to school well rested with a good breakfast in their belly.
  • Kids that listen to each other and ask questions, lots of them. And then listen some more.
  • Kids who are open to new ways of doing and new ways of showing what they know.

These things are not going to happen without some seriously mindful teachers, modeling this behavior for their students. Mindfulness is not a new concept but it is one that is taking off in education and for good reason. Having clarity about your intentions puts you one (giant) step closer to achieving your goals.

One of the most mindful practitioners I have had the pleasure of knowing is Neila Steele. She is the very definition of a mindful educator – and parent, wife, friend, all round great person. Her husband, Andy Vasily, hosted a session with her on his Run Your Life podcast with her on this topic. In the podcast, they cover the following:

What is mindfulness?

Specific mindfulness strategies

The power of visualization

Teacher and student well being

The importance of breath awareness

Mindfulness resources

Meditation

 

Take a listen to the podcast. And think about your own life. What one change could you make today that would better equip you in serving others tomorrow?  How can you take a more mindful approach to your own well being in order to be the best teacher/colleague/friend/parent/spouse possible?

 

 

Innovation

Get Into The Groove

OK…I know you are already humming along with Madonna after reading that post title so here is the song in all its glory – turn it up and belt it out! You know you want to!

It has been a while since I was in the blogging groove and it will be a while still before I am back in the teaching groove. Lots of reasons for the hiatus but this is the biggest one:

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We welcomed a sweet baby boy (Harrison Jaap terBorg) into our family on May 2. I am on maternity leave (and loving it) but I am still working on my masters (I use the word ‘working’ VERY loosely at present!) and keeping an eye on what is going at school when I am not up to my armpits in art projects, trips to the sandpit, coffee with other mama’s, and cuddles and snuggles galore.

One of my last posts was about what we believe in and how this impacts our classroom practice. A first grade colleague, Teri Lynn Biedenbach, was looking for new insights into creating Essential Agreements with her team this year and I shared this post with her. I had lunch with Betsy Riley, the third grade team leader, and shared the same concept with her. I was curious to see how both women would use these ideas within their own teams.

Grade One

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Teri Lynn expedited the process by starting with a number of words on post-it notes: Cooperation, Trust, Innovation, Inquiry, Play, Respect, Creativity. She goes on to explain the steps she and her team went through:

We brainstormed based beliefs connected to the words I listed. Everyone wrote their own ideas on sticky notes and stuck them around the connected word. We then looked for commonalities and created two simple yet meaningful belief statements.

Because we believe cooperation, trust and respect are important within a team environment, we will listen actively, and be open-minded to the ideas of others. Whenever possible we will plan collaboratively.

Because we believe innovation, inquiry and creativity are important when planning and teaching, we will create hands-on experiences, guide students to draw their own conclusions, use visible thinking strategies, and be open to trying something new.

We focused more on us as a team working together. Not sure if I approached it right, but my team seemed to enjoy the activity and feel that what we came up with is meaningful so I guess it’s a good start.

Grade Three

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Grade three began with a group brainstorm of ideas. Everything kept revolving around the idea that in all things, the team would model the same behaviors expected of their students. Betsy asked for my help in turning their ideas into “something pretty” to refer back to over the coming weeks. I created the following visual which not only documented “what” they believe in, but left room for each teacher to articulate how this would look, specifically, in their own classrooms. I chose to do it this way in order to acknowledge the collaborative component of their team thinking AND allow each teacher to reflect on this and their own practice.

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Both teachers have gone on to use a similar process with their students in creating shared beliefs about learning for their classrooms.

Here’s what I love:
  1. Both teachers were seeking ways to change how things had been done in the past, not for the sake of change, but in order to build a better learning environment within their teams and for their students.
  2. Both teachers thought about their team members and the time allocated to this process and modified it in ways that were meaningful to their teams.
  3. Reflection occurred throughout the whole process including scrapping ideas, seeking new ideas, building on input from other team members and continuing to think about how they would do this again differently next time.
  4. The process was different but each team came up with strongly worded beliefs about their teaching and co-teaching.

This is what we should be building room for in our classrooms. The ball got rolling in Bangkok with Nicky and Beth. Let’s consider them our ‘experts’. Information was shared about their teaching practice and modified by other teachers to suit their needs. Hopefully someone will read about their work and be challenged to re-address their own beliefs about teaching.  Nicky and Beth established their co-teaching beliefs after much reflection and work together. I am interested to see how the beliefs of these teams will change over time and be revisited throughout the year.

What are your beliefs about teaching?

How do you articulate your co-teaching goals at the beginning of the year?

Innovation

Know Your Team

Coach Stephen Garnett. He is the assistant basketball coach for Whitman College. And he has an impressive pre-game handshake ritual, individualised for each player on his roster.

Check him out. 

He knows his team and I think he understands that leadership means moving alongside each team member and supporting them in ways they need to be supported. I believe that when individuals feel valued and appreciated and noticed, they will work in a way that reflects that belief.

Think about the leaders at your school. Do they notice you? Do they value you? How do you know?

Think about the students in your class. Do they feel appreciated? Important? Valued? How do you ensure this is so?

Think about the people you work with – your co-teachers, team members. How do you make sure you allow for individuals to exist within the confines of a partnership or a team?

A few days ago, I posted about Conceptual Co-Teaching and I got a comment from a friend and former colleague asking “what about when the differences are so different?” I think that is when we really have to step up and look for commonalities in what we believe. When the conversation about beliefs with regard to teaching and learning are difficult, that is all the more reason to have them. Of course, it is easy to say this here – the reality when working with another person can be quite different.

Beth and Nicky – the teachers who created the Conceptual Co-Teaching framework – posted a video of one of their co-planning sessions on Twitter. It is a great example of the type of conversation that elevates learning for students and teachers. I would use this video to show what collaborative planning can (should?!) look like. Here is what I saw when I watched the video:

  • The focus is on the students, the context for learning, the connections that can be made, and the scaffolds that can be put in place to support learning.
  • Very few (if any?) “activities” are mentioned.
  • Standards and curriculum objectives are referenced and a lot of time is dedicated to the idea of modeling transferable skills.
  • Space is embedded in the planning for students to inquire.
  • Technology is used to support and extend learning through the addition of Skype and bringing an expert in to amplify the conversation.
  • Time was used SO efficiently – so much was planned in such a short time and all consolidated into two (large) post-it notes.

Obviously, this kind of relationship doesn’t develop overnight but is the serious work of teachers who want to make it work and are supported in doing that by leaders who care about the individuals in their team.

What could you do today to improve the relationship between your co-teachers?

How can you value each individual while elevating learning for your students?