That Thing I Used To Do #IMMOOC Week 3

As I was writing the title for this blog post, Taylor Swift’s new song, “Look What You Made Me Do” started running through my head. Her song is about shaming some celebrities for their misbehaviour and wrongdoing. Although my closest friends and colleagues have not dissed me publicly, the colleagues that I worked with at the beginning of my career did contribute to some teaching practices that I regret.

Well, no one made me do anything, except for myself.

This week’s blog challenge: What is one thing that you used to do in education that you no longer do or believe in? Why the change? I could probably write a novel about all the things that I no longer do because I know better. I don’t think there is a teacher out there who could say they haven’t changed anything in their teaching practice. If there is, in George’s words, “You will have become obsolete.”

When reflecting on this prompt, the first things that came to the forefront of my mind were craftivities and theme teaching.Pinterest became really big in my second year of teaching. With the Pinterest craze, came the craftivity craze. I hate to admit that I got sucked into all of the cute little crafts that went along with our writing. The school culture at the school I worked at at the time was very much about show and creating beautiful bulletin boards in the hallway. The craftivites went hand-in-hand with the themes I was centering my Language Arts program around and made for great displays. Each time a new season or celebration would come along, I would put out the matching picture books, put up a display on my door, and plan my lessons around a picture book and writing prompt to match the theme. This cycle would be on a continuous loop for the school year. It was like having the most annoying song ever stuck on repeat.

I never thought, “What if so-and-so doesn’t like Halloween, or winter, or camping?”. The list could go on and on. I was the sole director of the content, with no student voice or choice being given. I seem to recall that my students were engaged, but were they really? Would they have been more interested if they were given choice through inquiry based learning? Where was the deeper learning?

Reflecting back, how many hours did my students spend cutting out the pieces for each craftivity? How many hours did I spend at the photocopier? How much money did I spend on cardstock and coloured paper to make each one look even cuter? I think the sales people at Michaels knew me by name at that point in my career! Too bad I couldn’t go back and have my future self tell me that the learning is more important than how the product looks. Craftivities weren’t sparking my students’ learning, they just developed their fine motor skills.

I’d like to apologize to all my former students and wish I could go back in time to teach you again using the knowledge I now have.

I am now a fully recovered craftivity-aholic. In fact, I just told a colleague to not worry about craftivities, they aren’t worth the time you put in. All of us make mistakes in teaching, but what’s important is to recognize them and make changes to make the experiences in our classrooms the best for our students.


Shifting Mindsets Through Innovation

Our job as educators is to inspire students and give them the spark to do something great. If I taught my students the same way I was taught when I went to school, I’m pretty sure some would like to roll their eyes at me.

Those methods of teaching wouldn’t inspire the students in my classroom or make them excited about learning. Our current students will be solving problems that don’t even exist yet. What a big responsibility we have as educators to make sure we are doing the best job we can to inspire our students!

This year, I have the privilege of working in our school Makerspace. I’ve been observing lots of creativity and imagination as the students tackle their challenges. I’ve had many interesting conversations from one word answers to long winded stories when I’ve asked students, “What did you create?”. It has been eye opening to see which students have a fixed mindset and cannot see past the materials to create something, which students can only envision one thing, and others who are completely stuck. Then there are those students who come with a growth mindset and I watch them in awe with all of their glorious ideas and perseverance and wish others could have those skills.

I got to thinking about how the youngest students, those just starting Grade 1, are some of the students who are experiencing difficulty in thinking flexibly in the Makerspace. They have already learned to play the game of school and their creativity has been stifled. They’ve already developed a fixed mindset at such a young age.

Innovation is thinking outside the box, giving students time to struggle with the material, making mistakes, and allowing them to grow their brains. Changing learning experiences through innovation will allow students to shift their mindset to become more flexible. We need to allow our students to learn in ways that promote flexible thinking. Give students time to find their aha moments and develop all those glorious ideas.

If you expect students to develop a growth mindset, as an educator you need to model it as well. Ask yourself, “How can I make this better?”, “What can I do differently?”. Practice what you preach – be open minded, challenge others, celebrate risks, inspire others, and most importantly make mistakes.


Me a Leader – What??

Before the IMMOOC experience many of my colleagues have told me that I am leader. Even my principal has given leadership roles at my school – Technology Coach, Division I Literacy Lead, and Mentor Teacher. My internal response to them was this:

I always think all the things I do are just part of my job as a teacher and who I am as a person. I am always willing to share, welcome others into my classroom, and talk about all the exciting things that I am doing with my learners.

During the Week 5 Live session, Shelly Burgess and Beth Houf brought up the idea that anyone, in any position, could be a leader. After this statement was made, I started to think that, maybe, I am leader in my school and district.

This newfound perspective of myself made me do a little informal research and reflection. The word leader is defined as a person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country. Nope – I’m not this kind of leader. I associate this type of leader with someone in an administration role or Superintendent. So what kind of leader am I then?

The word leader comes from the word lead, which can be used as a noun or a verb. In total, there are twelve different meanings of the word lead. After reading the following definition, I have decided this could fit with how I view myself as a leader.

lead – to show (someone or something) the way to a destination by going in front of or beside them

In my leadership role, I don’t command a group, rather I show someone the way by modelling innovation. I take time to work alongside my colleagues and push them to try things that are new and better. George talks about how savvy leaders are constantly re-inventing. I know I am always reflecting on how to improve my practice and never teaching the same lesson twice, always re-working and innovating to make it better.

Through my informal research, I gathered that a leader is someone who inspires others to such a degree that others would go above and beyond, not because you have to, but because you want to. Leaders encourage, guide, coach, empower, and respect. They are role models who excel, risk takers, and innovators. I’m too humble to say that I have these qualities, but I will say that I strive to be a person who exemplifies them.

Great leaders work together and push one another to do new and better things for our learners. I love talking about the Innovator’s Mindset with my colleagues. We have our own impromptu #georgetalks throughout the day. My one colleague sent me a quote from the book that has become one of my favourites:

“We only get better when we find those who truly elevate us. Look for mentors who will push you to come up with better and brighter ideas and be that person for your followers. Leaders are meant to unleash talent by bringing their people’s strengths to life, not ignoring them.”

She ended the text with a simple: Thanks! 😊👍

After receiving the message, I finally saw myself as a leader.

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Classroom Teacher vs. School Teacher

George talked about the idea of the school teacher vs. classroom teacher during the Live session this week. After the session, I took time to reflect on how was I working towards being a school teacher. I find self-reflection difficult because I’m often too hard on myself, so in the beginning, I could hardly think of any great examples. I know if I asked my colleagues they would have given me a long list of items that would exemplify how I’m a school teacher. After a few days of reflection, here’s my list of how I’m being a school teacher:

  • sharing ideas with my colleagues, on my blog, and through Twitter
  • seeking out other colleagues to get ideas and tips on how to help the learners who are struggling in my classroom
  • sharing students with my grade group partners during our Guided Reading time so the students who need interventions can get it
  • initiating  a Grade 2 PLC across the district
  • sharing positives and celebrating successes with teachers about previous and current students
  • greeting the students at the school, not just the ones in my classroom

In the School vs. Learning comparison, George states that learning is social and should promote that everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner, so why do some teachers carry out their teaching career as a school teacher? Why do some teachers view helping each learner become their best as a competition?


Taking a Risk With Student Surveys #IMMOCC Week 2

At the end of Chapter 3 in The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros asks you to consider, “What risk might you take to change learning experiences?”. After hearing both George and Pernille Ripp speak at my Teacher’s Convention in February, I have been toying with the idea of asking my students what they don’t like about our classroom. I have often asked my students what they like about our classroom, but never have had the guts to ask them what they don’t like, because I find criticism hard to take, even from a group of Grade 2 students.

Well, after this week’s readings and YouTube live session, I finally figured I need to take the risk of surveying my students about what they don’t like in order for me to reflect on what is not working and what needs to be changed.

I was unsure of the kind of response I would get from a group of seven and eight year olds. I had my students write what they liked on one side of a card and a ‘yuck’, or what they don’t like, on the other. I asked them to not put their name on the card, but five or six of my students ran up to me to share their cards. The kids who ran up to me with their cards wrote things like this:

Things They Like
‘Yuck’ Things

I decided that these cards weren’t helpful in my reflection process, but it’s always nice to know my students like their teacher and that they wouldn’t change anything! A few did tell me that they didn’t like home time as they wanted to stay at school since they like learning so much.

I did receive some cards that were able to give me some more feedback on what’s working and not working.

Things They Like
‘Yuck’ Things

I can see that my students do enjoy choice in activities like Daily 5 and they enjoy blogging so a wider audience can be a part of their writing. From the responses of what a few of my students are not enjoying, I can see that I need to innovate on how we practice our spelling words and do word study. Even though this was done anonymously, I do know who wrote Writer’s Workshop, so I know that I need to work with him on developing a passion for writing. I am going to need to reflect over the next few weeks on how to help this student to learn to love writing, considering I already offer choice in what they can write about and each student works at their own pace. Any suggestions on how to innovate in writing and word study would be greatly appreciated!

This morning I was a bit nervous to read what my students would tell me, but now that I’ve asked them once, I think it would be easier to hear criticism when I do this again. I also think the more students were asked these kinds of questions, the more focused and helpful their responses would become.


Embracing Change #IMMOOC Week 1

The second round of #IMMOOC started this week and to say the least, I left the YouTube Live session feeling invigorated, motivated, and inspired. There were so many great thoughts and ideas that I couldn’t wait to share with my colleagues.

The idea of embracing change has been at the forefront of my mind for awhile now. In the past, I have felt like I have been judged for doing something different from other teachers and colleagues. The statement made during the live session that you aren’t the problem if someone feels uncomfortable about the good stuff you are doing, made me realize I could let go of all my past feelings of guilt for not always using whole class teaching with booklets and themes. I finally was able to accept it’s about showing others the way of change and doing what’s best for your students – thanks George!

Along with teaching my own Grade 2 class I also have a small amount of time to visit classrooms as a “technology coach” and collaborate with the classroom teacher to integrate technology, voice, and choice into their lessons. Some teachers have been more reluctant to embrace change than others. Over the past couple of weeks, one teacher in particular that I have been working with has started to shift her thinking and has become inspired to try “new stuff”. I’ve really enjoyed having conversations with her, guiding her, and supporting her in her journey.

In my own classroom my students are constantly bringing up questions, wonders, and ideas and we sometimes get “sidetracked” with great thinking. After reading a book titled ‘All About Robots’, my students had their newest idea – a Robot Contest.  When this idea was first brought forward, my initial thought was, I have no idea how to do this! I relayed this idea to my friend and she suggested to ask my students what they want the Robot Contest to look like. After she recommended this, I thought “Why didn’t I think that?”.  Our Robot Contest planning will start next week and, needless to say, I can’t wait to ask them what a Robot Contest entails and work through designing and implementing it with them.

On a final note, after school yesterday, I was excitedly sharing with a colleague about Monday night’s session and just before our discussion wrapped up, I told her that I was proud of her for changing her Twitter profile picture to her real picture and pointed out how she wouldn’t have done it in the past. She replied by saying that because of me, I had pushed her to try new things and made her excited to innovate with her class. This small comment made me realize that if you only reach one person, the uphill journey of embracing change was totally worth it.