Be the Change for Kids #IMMOOC

The other day, my mom called my daughters and they couldn’t stop staring at the black screen. “Where’s Nana?” they asked. “We can’t see her!” Facetime is their normal. Connection no matter the distance is their expectation. I couldn’t have imagined that as a two or five year old, but I am so thankful that when we lived thousands of miles away from our families, my kids were still able to see and know them with so much ease. This new and better way of communication provides an opportunity for deeper relationships that didn’t exist before.

By George’s definition, innovation is making something new and better, and it is my job as a teacher to learn and try new and better ways to make learning more accessible, applicable, and meaningful to my students and their realities. But I think the real takeaway from this week’s YouTube Live with Jo Boaler is that the process of innovation in the classroom is the part that’s most important, and it’s important for two reasons.

  1. Innovation leads to failure, which leads to deeper learning.  Jo explained that when we fail, our brains actually grow more than when we get an answer “right” or succeed, so we’re learning more from a failure than from a success, and that failure can push us to a more complete understanding and more probable success in the future (not to mention the ability to see a problem from multiple perspectives). It helps us change the narrative that failure is to be avoided, but instead is meant to be celebrated as a springboard for success.  Isn’t that what we want for our kids: to be motivated, learn from their choices, and ultimately be successful and fulfilled in their lives? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves?
  2. Modeling the process makes them more comfortable as reflective learners. Designing new and better ways of learning for my students and sharing that learning (i.e. my planning, experiments, failures, adjustments, successes, and reflections) with them not only provides more opportunities for them to learn content and 21st century skills, but more importantly, it provides them a model for engaging in the process of innovation/learning that they can improve upon and take with them to use for the rest of their lives. Innovation doesn’t just make new and better things; it makes better people.

My favorite part of Jo’s talk was when she said that “learning something new changes your identity.” Of course, I want my students to learn to read and write, but what I really want is to teach them how to be empathetic, thoughtful, engaged, open-minded, and accepting humans through the things we read and write together. I want them to see the struggles of others and jump up to help. I hope for them to solve the problems of the world even if some of those problems don’t affect them very much or at all. I want them to feel deeply that they are needed in this world because so many of them don’t see that yet. A multiple choice test isn’t going to accomplish or even slightly contribute to those goals, but giving them opportunities to impact others in their community and beyond with their thoughts and their words will. Innovation will help them to change their identities for the better. And I know this because that’s what it’s done for me and for every other educator I’ve met who has grown passionate about improving their practice for kids.

Is it always easy? Absolutely not. I will never forget a lesson I planned after starting the first round of #IMMOOC when my seventh graders nearly revolted because I let them choose their path to the product. Some of them instantly valued the newfound freedom that Jo explained this week that teachers and kids all want, and in time, all of them grew to appreciate and crave this type of learning. But kids are the easiest to win over because it’s their education and learning. They are the primary stakeholders. Adults are not as easy, and I continue to have colleagues, friends, parents, and even strangers challenge my change in practice. Not everyone will see the value, and that’s okay, but we have to keep in mind that it is the kids who matter. We got into education to make a positive difference in kids’ lives. It’s absolutely crucial to them that we follow through.

be the change

photo from wikimedia commons

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#IMMOOC: The gift that keeps on giving

In my relatively short teaching career, I’ve experienced a lot of changes. Before I was certified, I taught a reading lab at a university in Tennessee, then became certified in Texas, and early in my first year teaching there, I found out my husband had received orders to Illinois. When I started teaching here in the Land of Lincoln, I can’t tell you how many times I said both to myself and to others that I was thrilled not to have to undergo any major changes for a while. Little did I know the biggest changes were yet to come.

Fast forward a year. Our district Instructional Technology Director, Joanna (@joannacarroll96), came into my room raving about this new book The Innovator’s Mindset. She said just reading the intro gave her chills. I believed her, but also believed that if I took on one more work-related thing either my head was going to explode or I might have to reconsider my career choice. It sounded like a great book, but I filed it away into the folder in my mind labeled “Hope to get to; probably won’t.”

Joanna is persistent, though, and she’s good at her job. She made sure to mention it periodically, and when the author, George Couros (@cgouros), announced that he and Katie Martin (also amazing – follow her at @katiemartiedu) would be moderating on open, online course about the book, she not-so-subtly encouraged me to do it with her. I’d join and lurk, I decided, but it only took half of the first chapter to realize that I wasn’t going to be a lurker.

The last week of the #IMMOOC, I blogged that the end was really just the beginning. In that post, I reflected on the change I experienced over those few weeks:

Over the last few weeks, I have noticed a huge change in myself, both as a person and as an educator. It is amazing what fueling your passion can do for all aspects of your life. I have had more energy for my family, for my students, and for myself, and it hasn’t been an energy burst — like the kind I need for a week or two when I have a lot going on. That type of energy isn’t sustainable, and when the busy weeks are over, you’re left feeling empty — drained. The energy I feel now fills me up and keeps me constantly pushing for more. If I was asked to explain what innovation does for a person, that is how I would describe it: fulfilling in innumerable ways.

I had been so worried about what the book study might take away form me: time and energy. Instead, it only gave: fuel for my passion, permission and encouragement to be the educator I’d been fighting to be, a growing PLN to learn from and share with, and an energy I’d never known before. And those gifts keep on giving a year later. Before beginning, the thought of one more change in my life exhausted me. After five short weeks, this was what I had to say about change:

Sometimes we are scared to change our ways for fear that that means we’ve been doing it “wrong,” when in reality, we need to see every iteration of what we do as a step towards something better, even if that something better is always changing. That doesn’t mean we’re “throwing out the book” of our past experiences and successes. It just means that the book is a living document and we get to add to it all the time.

I’m not exaggerating when I say The Innovator’s Mindset and #IMMOOC changed my life, and minus the cost of the book, it’s FREE! If you’re even considering signing up, please read Annick Rauch’s post about what the book study entails (and to answer your question: Yes, I “met” her through #IMMOOC!). If you’re ready, you can go straight to the sign up!

And if you do sign up, please comment to this post or tweet me @MrsKrolicki_phs with your Twitter handle and blog so that I can follow you! I can’t wait to get started on round 3 with you!

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Technology isn’t the problem. We might be.

I realize that title sounds harsh, but the experience I’m about to relay highlights the unintended (and kind of terrifying) lessons we might be teaching our students, not just about technology, but also about life.

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A week and a half ago, George Couros, author of The Innovator’s Mindset and The Principal of Change blog came to speak at Peoriapalooza, the Peoria County teacher’s institute. Somewhere in his speech, he mentioned a school where access to online resources was so locked-down that the teachers went to the students constantly to access useful content from which they were restricted. Everyone laughed because: #truth.

Except that when it happened to me this week, I wasn’t laughing at all.

This past Friday, my kids edited an uncapitalized, unpunctuated version of this Dear John” letter as an anticipatory set to help them see purpose in punctuation for meaning. They loved it, grappling especially when they finally figured out how to make it a love letter, and I explained that now, they’d need to make it a break up letter. Their wide eyes and dropped jaws let me know that they didn’t see how ONLY changing punctuation and capitalization could make this happen. “We can’t rearrange or delete words?!” They didn’t think it was possible, but they figured it out, and all agreed that punctuation could be a game-changer. Of course, I was on cloud nine: the hook had worked!

The next part of the lesson was a content primer, so I had shared Terisa Folaron’s “Comma Story” and three other videos about sentence structure for a project my students are beginning. In slow waves as they finished notes on the first three videos, students started coming up to my desk to tell me the fourth one was blocked. Without thinking much about it (because this happens all the time), I e-mailed the link to our system administrator asking for it to be unblocked. But a few minutes later when they had just moved on to the next step, I wondered why they hadn’t used their usual tricks to get the blocked content.

My next two classes came in, and the same situation occurred. I let it unfold much the same, but when they started coming to my desk in the second class, I asked them to solve the problem. “Have you asked for it to be unblocked?” some asked. I had, I explained, but sometimes the system doesn’t update right away. They walked away and moved on to the next step.

When I finally asked if they knew how to get blocked YouTube videos, they all hesitated, but said that yes, they did. So if they knew of a tool to get content the school felt they shouldn’t be able to access, why wouldn’t they use that same tool to get content they knew their teacher had approved and wanted them to have? Cue the crickets.

I spoke to several groups of kids after that, and I’ve concluded that some of them didn’t use the tool to unblock the video was because they were scared to use it when they knew I was watching. They wanted to protect their tool so that they could continue to use it to get what they valued more: their music. And I can completely understand that thinking.

In far more cases, though, it never occurred to them to use it for class-related content, which to me, is the concerning part. Are we demonstrating through our actions that only pre-approved tools have value in our classroom rather than signalling that all tools can have impact while focusing on positive use? Will our kids leave our classrooms truly better for having transformative tools, or are our practices holding students back from life- and world-changing applications?

Have we inadvertently taught our kids that breaking the rules is reserved for what is deemed “wrong” or questionable  rather than for doing good or even just learning? I know we certainly haven’t meant to, but the consequences are still the consequences — intentional or not.

Hug your students

…or give them a high five. Or a fist-bump. Or a pat on the back.

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Every morning starts the same way for me. I drive my daughter and I to school, we drop my things in my room, and then I walk her over to her elementary school to begin her day. Then I walk back, smiling and wishing a good day to all the kids walking on the sidewalk or into their first classes. Somewhere in that routine every morning, I get a hug from at least one former student of mine. Every. Single. Day.

I feel like I need to stop to address the elephant in the room: Yes, I hug my students. If they ask for one, if they reach out, if they are crushed or sad and I have asked if they need one, I hug them. Sometimes it’s a high five (or an air high five) or a fist-bump or a pat on the back, but sometimes it’s a hug. I’m in the low-paying, high-need, extraordinarily rewarding, all-consuming, emotionally-draining, incredible business of education (aka relationships), and if a student asks for a hug, I won’t say no…

…because I don’t know what they just walked out of before they walked into my room.

…because some of them have told me that they hate the weekends because school is more stable than home.

…because it’s a compliment that they want to hug me.

…because they might not be able to remember the last time someone hugged, high-fived or fist-bumped them.

…because someday in the not-so-distant future, each and every one of these kids is going to leave our classroom and our school, and I want them to be kind, compassionate, empathetic humans who make others feel important and loved.

One day last year, one of my junior high students made an incredibly poor decision in the way he treated another student in our classroom when I was out for the day and had a sub. When I returned and heard about his behavior, my principal and I had a discussion with him that, although calmly delivered and threat-free, resulted in his breaking down in tears. Instinctively, I put my arm around his shoulder. In that moment, he was scared and he lied, but I stayed.

Later in the day, he came up to me and told me the truth: He had said the terrible things we asked him about, but he was scared to disappoint me any further than he already had. When he finally unloaded the real story, he said: “Thank you for comforting me even though you were disappointed in what I’d done and you knew I was lying. I just didn’t want you to be mad at me.”

That was the moment that I truly understood the power of a hug (or a high five or a smile or whatever you’re comfortable sharing with your kids to show them you care). It hadn’t even crossed my mind at the time, but what it showed my student was that he could count on me to be in his corner no matter what. I would continue to respect and care about him as he made mistakes and learned how to be a good person. I wouldn’t turn my back if he messed up; instead, I’d stand next to him and help him find a way to pick up the pieces.

In education, the importance of authenticity and relationships can’t be overestimated. If the kids know you care, their investment in your class increases. I share my faults with them, I admit when I’m wrong, and I apologize.. If I’ve learned anything from the educators I read and respect, it’s that the three most important aspects of education are relationships, relationships, and relationships.

I learned it from my favorite professor in my graduate program, Dr. Lynn Masterson at Texas Sate University, who modeled for us every day what a positive classroom culture and a culture of writing can do for students. I learned it further from Susan Shires, my cooperating teacher at Steele High School in Cibolo, Texas, who knew her students so completely and took the time to really know and invest in me. I continue to learn it every day from my current principal, Rich, who makes knowing kids and teachers his business, even when his other responsibilities as principal feel overwhelming. I learn it from people like George Couros, Adam Welcome, Todd Nesloney, Joy Kirr, and many more, who write incredible books and blogs that shift my perspective and strengthen my resolve to be the best teacher I can be for the students I serve.

And if you’re a friend, colleague, student, or acquaintance who has ever hugged me, know that you’ve impacted me positively through the care you’ve shown when I needed it. I appreciate you.