The equation I was missing

Reflection is an important component of quality teaching. As preservice teachers, we are trained to think deeply about our emerging and improving practice, all with the expectation that the emphasis on that act will not only become habit, but also will serve as a continuous springboard for growth and change; the intention is not simply to think about it, but also to act on it.

Really, reflection should be ReflAction — reflection + action.

That seems simple enough: think about it and then make a change based on your observations and data. As a preservice and first year teacher, I felt pretty confident in my ability to do that. My mentors told me it was clear I was thinking about my choices and then adjusting based on what I thought was needed. Often, they felt my adjustments helped student learning. Woo! ReflAction expert: check?

Not so much. There was one major problem: I was alone in that RelfAction. I was doing the deep thinking. I was doing the changing — and I was doing it based on “student data,” which told me what kids knew or didn’t know based on what I just taught, but left out why each of them didn’t learn it. I would argue the second entity is just as important, if not more, than the first.

Missing from my ReflAction were the same things missing from my practice: student voice, true student choice, and empowerment. When I started giving the kids a major voice in their learning and asking them for their honest feedback with explanations (and then taking their advice as often as I could), my practice improved in ways I could have never previously imagined because it stopped being my practice — what I needed. Instead, it got to be our practice. What we needed. Together.

Sometimes educators get nervous about giving voice and choice to kids, both in learning and ReflAction. We sometimes fear that means we’re not needed or that we’ll lose any semblance of order. Sometimes we’re scared to hear the reasons kids are struggling in our classes. Those are real fears, and I understand them, but I also think that again, in those concerns, we’re only focused on the teacher. And what I know now that I didn’t know two years ago is that the magic doesn’t happen until we’re a team. The reward I feel as a teacher and the reward a student feels in authentic learning doesn’t happen much without the empowerment. On top of that, kids don’t learn to be self-driven and reflective in their learning if we haven’t made that part of the process for them. Isn’t that the goal?

Reflection(with kids) + Action(with kids) = Magic

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Empowered learners: What a student’s project taught me about education

I co-teach a new, interdisciplinary English III/US history course with my colleague Chris. When we designed this class, we knew our kids needed more than what they were getting to prepare them for a world where critical thinking, problem-solving, computational skills, collaboration, creativity, character, and citizenship are valued far greater than fact knowledge and regurgitation. We knew that research proved that teaching our subject-area content and skills cohesively would be more effective than teaching independently. We knew it would be challenging to create a course that personalizes project-based learning, but we also knew it would be rewarding, and let me tell you: It’s been way more of both challenge and reward than we could have ever imagined. We also knew that we had absolutely no idea where to begin.

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Image from Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani (pg. 7).

But it’s amazing what happens when we give kids a voice in their learning. The longer I work with design thinking and PBL, the more I realize that true, meaningful learning doesn’t really happen without giving kids the main voice in it, and their voices — all 60 of them in one room — have been the driving force behind almost every decision we’ve made this year. And for as much as our kids have grown and thrived this year, I have loved becoming a learner again alongside them. They’re teaching me incredible new skills and content through their projects, but their voices and questions and ideas are teaching me even more about myself, both as a person and an educator.

Our very first personalized PBL unit of the year was American History through Education. The kids thought about problems they saw in education and then created essential and supporting questions that they thought might help them arrive at solutions for the individual issue about which they each felt most passionate. They had one-on-one conferences with Chris or I to help them talk through those thoughts and questions. Once they researched and felt they understood that problem deeply and had thought critically about potential solutions, they created a project proposal that investigated the history of the problem, the type of writing/speaking they felt would best help them share their message (informative, persuasive, or narrative), the medium they thought would best help them deliver this message, and an authentic audience with which they should share this message upon completion. After that conference, they were free to start creating their individual projects.

The following video is one of the projects created through that very first unit. Watch what Emily, a junior in our course, developed to encourage educators to allow student voice and develop personalized learning experiences in schools.

For me, this video is both something I celebrate and something that hurts. I celebrate it because I am proud of the way Emily used the design thinking process to develop the concept and product from start to finish. I am proud of how she integrated research and interviews to develop such a strong message in this project. I am proud that she took a challenge posed and conquered it to share an important message with members of ICE and FutureReady as her chosen authentic audience. But it hurts because the faces and voices on that video are my kids. In my classes. And they aren’t the exception to the rule in our schools. If our kids don’t see value in what we’re doing, and if we can’t offer them the pace and challenges suitable for them, we’re going to have a tough time engaging them in learning and empowering them to take the driver’s seat.

Their thoughts weren’t rehearsed or coerced. Emily simply asked them the question, and their responses flowed so easily and naturally. How often are we doing what Emily did, which is asking our students exactly what they need? When we do, how often are we providing for those requests?

And more concerning to me: Why are they waiting to be asked? Why don’t they feel comfortable telling us without being prompted? Are we teaching kids how to advocate for themselves? To see learning as not only their responsibility, but more importantly, also a passion worth fighting for? Why aren’t they telling us — their teachers — what they need from us? Why haven’t we created spaces where that is the norm?

These are questions with which I’ve been grappling all year, and I can see that our course is giving kids those opportunities to discover and explore passions. But it is one course, and it’s not the only course I teach. I have so much more to learn. I have so much more that I want to improve. I’m so glad the experts — my students — are helping me along the way, using their voices to change the narrative of their educations.

Today I gave my students permission to walk out of my class #IMMOOC

This week I attended and presented at #ICE18. It was an incredible conference as usual, filled with lots of passionate educators sharing their ideas and building networks of support. One of the best things about being an adult at a conference (or at an EdCamp) is that if what you walk into isn’t what you thought it would be, you have the freedom to get up and find something that suits your interests, passions, or needs better. No one batted an eye when participants showed up late or left early. In fact, those actions are not only welcomed but are actually encouraged if it means growth is happening. I was thankful that as a student in those sessions, I had the ability to decide for myself.

Then last night as I listened to George Couros, Katie Martin, and AJ Juliani talk about innovation and compliance in schools during season 4, episode 1 of the #IMMOOC, I had an epiphany. How many of my students would walk out of my room if they weren’t worried about the repercussions of doing so? What would it tell me as a teacher, and how could it help me change my practice if that were an option for them?

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So today, I shared that reflection with one of my classes, and I gave them the permission to leave my room if they needed me to change. Here are the parameters:

  • They have to physically walk out of the room. For one, sometimes kids look disengaged when they aren’t, and other times they look interested when that couldn’t be further from the truth; the visual of their leaving the room leaves nothing to be assumed. On top of that, no one has to raise his/her hand and say, “This is boring, Mrs. K.” Yes, I want to teach my kids to ask politely and appropriately for what they need, but I also think it might be a better approach to allow them to challenge my practice silently at first so that when they return, I can be the one to start that dialogue and help them frame a response.
  • They have to come right back. This is where the conversation between George and AJ comes in. Last night, George mentioned to AJ that there is certainly a place in education and the world for compliance. He said something to the effect of, “You can’t submit your taxes to the IRS on Google Slides if you feel like it.” Likewise, kids can’t just leave school. I want to help facilitate their learning, and at the end of the day, all kids want to learn. Both entities want the same thing, and walking away wouldn’t be the best way to accomplish that.
  • They have to tell me what I’m doing wrong and contribute ideas to make the activity better because that conversation is the key to a solution. We’ll redesign in the moment together so that the kids have a say in their learning, and hopefully, that empowerment will be a motivating factor for them as well as a great opportunity for me to improve for them.

 

 

For me, this is an innovation. I’ve asked for feedback before, but this is new because I’ve gotten that previous feedback when I ask for it. Instead, this change allows the kids to give me feedback at any time, which is far better because I’ll actually get that feedback when they need the change; however, there are also parameters with which they have to comply because life is filled with situations where compliance is necessary. They’re not allowed to come and go from school as they please (yet), so I’m trying to innovate inside the box (and still push it out a little bit).

The economy of a school

I currently teach an interdisciplinary US History/English III course with my teaching partner Chris. Developing this course and co-teaching have been the two most incredible challenges I’ve faced in my time as an educator, but they have also been of the most rewarding experiences because the thinking and creating we get to witness from students on a regular basis is nothing short of inspiring.

Let me go ahead and admit that not every day is awe-inspiring. (We’ve even had a few days that could almost be called awFUL.) But after over a term together, we’ve found our way — all of us — and we’re seeing together just how much can be accomplished when we take a risk and try a different approach.

One of those beautiful moments came on the second to last day of this past unit. As a wrap up before the kids presented their Company Consulting Projects in our Economics unit, we asked them to:

Read:I, Pencil” by Leonard Read
Watch: “I, Pencil, the Movie”
Respond: How many people does it take to make a pencil?  What does that have to do with the economy/markets?

It was a pretty open-ended question, but overall, we were hoping they would make the connection that economies are complex and influenced by many factors, from major entities like governments all the way to the individuals who take part in producing and consuming goods and services.

One student’s take on the material and the link of human capital to successful economies was particularly noteworthy to me, as a teacher:

All the people whom have something to do with the creation of a pencil work towards making it. That is what it has to do with economics. Every job which someone performs has an influence on an element of the world. A teacher has an influence on a student. That student may be working at the supermarket and has an influence on the customers of the supermarket. That customer goes home to his/her family and has an influence on them. …[Those kids and parents] go to their work [or school] and they have an influence on their coworkers. On and on and on.

My point is that everyone has an influence on something. Just by talking with someone we are changing the world, and we do not even know it. That is why the waitress, who gives the woodworkers coffee, has an influence on a pencil.

She had other things to say related more closely to the unit, but for our purposes today, there are two major takeaways from these words, I think.

For one, our students see that interactions matter. The other day I read a post shared on Facebook by Jennifer Gonzalez who authors the popular Cult of Pedagogy blog. The article, titled “Why Aren’t We Rude to Grown-ups the Way We Are Rude to Kids?,” is more than worth the few minutes it will take you to read through it. In it, writer Ben Martin points out that we often speak to kids impatiently or even rudely. He reflects honestly, which helps the reader, specifically this teacher, think about all the times I may have been impatient or acted frustrated with students. And while my students often joke that it’s hard to take me seriously when I need to be stern because I’m often pretty smiley, I know there are times I’ve said the wrong thing and negatively impacted a student.

According to my very own student, our actions, reactions, and interactions mean everything, and continue to impact our students long after they’ve left the room. That’s a responsibility we can’t afford to take lightly.

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The second takeaway is about the importance of teachers specifically. No where in this unit did we discuss schools, and yet, my student’s example of an economy began with the influence of a teacher on not just her/his students, but as a result, on the world. Let that sink in for a minute. You matter. A lot.

The economy of a school is determined by the educators in it. How will you contribute to the strength or growth of a stronger “economy” in your school?

 

 

 

Engaged or empowered? Am I allowing my students to love and own what I teach?

A student writes a poem about writing a poem:

Venice

Standing in an hourglass,
Sand funnels beneath my heels.
I dig them in
desperately, frantically.
But swirling doesn’t stop,
only funnels faster,
down, down
to nothing.

My mind gets blanker –
blanker than the page
I’m forced to fill.
The timer goes off.
The last grain falls
and hits the pile,
loud, echoing.
I see lines and space between.
Failed again.

She hasn’t failed! I rejoice. She used metaphor, imagery, tone, great diction – I halt, suddenly aware. She hasn’t failed, but I have. The underlying meaning would be much different if her poem read this way instead:

The hourglass, my beach.CT, Italy
Sand funnels beneath my heels,
and light currents sweep me,
wave after wave, crisp and cool,
refreshing.
Words unending.

The page: an ocean of opportunity.
Freeing.
There’s not enough water
for a swimmer like me,
cutting, gliding through currents,
no need for air.
I am the wave. I am the page.
I have the words.

 

 

Innovating Together: My First Lesson in Co-Teaching #IMMOOC

“My mother always said, ‘If you’re not striving for the ideal, you’re not working hard enough.’”  – Roni Riordan

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Image from pixabay

This week in the #IMMOOC, there was a lot of mention of designing the ideal. This fall, I will have the opportunity to move toward my ideal for school. A colleague and I will be teaching a combined English III/American History course that allows students to take control of their learning and choose the way in which they are assessed. When the course was approved, I was ecstatic, but that enthusiasm quickly transformed to panic when I realized I would truly be working with another teacher. Another teacher. In MY classroom. Ehem, I mean, OUR classroom.

At the ICE Conference this morning, Adam Welcome said, “Teaching really isn’t that collaborative.” We ask our kids to collaborate effectively and we preach that this working together is the way of the future. But we don’t do it very well in schools. I realized this myself when my panic set in about sharing the room with another adult — even when it was a colleague I admire.

Chris and I (my future partner in co-teaching) had our first planning meeting last week. There were two main takeaways that I wanted to share this week that might help others take the jump from innovating in a bubble to innovating together.

Be open minded:

In our first meeting, Chris said, “I want to share with you what I already do, but I need you to know that that doesn’t mean I expect to do things the way I have been doing them.” Wow. I consider myself pretty open-minded, but what that did for me was help realign my expectations for myself — that I should expect to change because he was expecting to change and grow, too. Eric Sheninger reminded us in his keynote this morning that “change is the only constant.” I am thrilled to be working with someone whose mindset is focused on being better.

Choose to work with those who challenge you:

I’ve long believed that the most important assessment is a project or product, not a standardized test. Yet, I have still given standardized assessments as part of how I assess students and “prepare them” for the inevitability of “the system.” In our meeting last week, I said that to Chris. His response: “Why?”

I had to think about that. And all my answers were about me. I want my students to score well. I need my kids to be familiar with the types of tests that schools require of them. Did you catch that? I want. I need. It’s about me. Because really, my kids don’t care much about the tests. They care about learning. In the words of Adam Welcome, “The kids should BE the conversation.” My dialogue was focused on the wrong stakeholder, because in the end, the stakeholder that really matters is the child.

“The kids should BE the conversation” – Adam Welcome, #KidsDeserveIt

Co-teaching, interdisciplinary learning, and student-led learning are huge aspects of my ideal, and even though I feel strongly about that, it’s still hard for me to take the leap. But how can I ask my kids to take risks if I’m not willing or enthusiastic to model that for them? It’s about the kids, yes, but it starts with me. And that’s a huge but really important responsibility to follow through on.

My students wanted to make their own final. When I let them, they did more than “exceed standards.”

In late November, my Mass Comm students and I were reviewing the finals schedule. One student asked, “What will our final be in here?” Every kid in the room had a puzzled (and somewhat concerned) face as they waited for me to answer.

I had to admit pretty quickly that I wasn’t sure. The previous year, the students in that class had written a blog post for their final. They had a detailed rubric with lots of writing and tech requirements, and they enjoyed it, but my class this year had already started blogs, and I wasn’t excited about just doing something similar because while we do blog in class, we do a lot more than that. They write the school newspaper, plan professional development on apps for teachers, sell advertising to area businesses, create digital stories, and pretty much take on any project they can find. How could I possibly assess their learning on all of those things in one traditional final?

The truth was that I couldn’t. And the kids knew that just as well (if not better) than I did. One girl raised her hand and asked, “Can we make our own finals and just show you what we’ve learned?” Each student nodded hopefully in agreement.

Absolutely.

But we had to do some brainstorming first. I gave the kids five minutes at the end of class to do a group quick list of the things they thought they’d learned in the semester. This is what they came up with together.

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These were great ideas but big ideas. I wanted to make sure they could narrow this down to specific things and also be able to show their progress in those areas. We sat together and came up with some requirements, and everyone had a voice in deciding what was important to show, including me. We all agreed that all things informative writing, multimedia, and presentation were important. Creativity was a must.

I wrote up the assignment and shared it with them to make sure I hadn’t missed or misunderstood anything. In it, I also included some hyperlinks so that they would feel challenged to really be creative and try producing something completely new for them.

After we went over the assignment, the kids only had one question: “Can we start now?” They spent the next two class periods (and time at home and in homeroom) working on these projects. I couldn’t believe their enthusiasm, and I got to spend all of my time during class checking in with them, giving feedback on their scripts, helping them self-assess progress with their rubrics, trouble-shooting equipment problems, and learning new apps they planned to use to present. My teaching was truly based on their group or individual needs, and most importantly, I saw their critical thinking in progress, and got to provide feedback on those skills as well as their writing and technology content skills.

The day of the final, there were no nervous faces, and there was no last minute cramming. The kids were so excited to share what they had produced. They supported each other like no other group of kids I’ve seen before, and they gave honest, constructive feedback (based on standards from the rubric) after each presentation. They evaluated themselves using the rubric as well, and their assessments were shockingly accurate. I had never felt more effective as a teacher, and all I had really done was give them the opportunity to choose their own path. They felt empowered to do more, so they did; it’s amazing what can happen when we hear and trust our students.

To my Mass Communications class: Thank you for pushing me to give you more opportunities and for your drive and commitment to make your world a better place. I’ve learned just as much (if not more) from you than you have from me, and your influence will stick with me long after you’ve left this class.

An open letter to my seventh graders after their standardized tests

My wonderful, unique, 7th grade humans:

Today you finished up your winter MAP test. It’s results are supposed to show your areas of strength and weakness, providing you and your teachers with valuable feedback regarding your instruction. Some of you were jubilant about meeting your goal and showing how much you have learned since September. Others of you made growth but felt self-conscious that you didn’t hit the goal you set for yourself, or worried that your score was “still too low.” And some of you didn’t “make growth” this time around. I watched your disappointed faces as you finished your tests, and I watched the confidence you’d built all year slowly dissipate because of this one number.

Now, I don’t know everything, but there are two things I do know for sure: 1) You are not defined by a number determined by the answers you select on a multiple choice test, and 2) You have made more growth these last few months than a test could ever begin to show you.

Let me start by explaining that you came to my classroom this year already wonderful. Your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and family frieKids working.jpgnds and previous teachers who all play a role in making you the people that you are have done an outstanding job. You are kind, thoughtful, enthusiastic individuals. You have empathy, and when someone else is hurting, you do whatever it takes to help alleviate their pain. Do you know how incredible that is? So many adults struggle to be compassionate when someone else’s experience or background has been different from their own, but it seems to come so naturally to you. The resilience you show when something doesn’t go quite right the first time is so admirable, and you’ve taught me that — to never give up and to always come back stronger and with a new plan after a day that tests me.

 

And throughout this year, you have only become even more impressive learners and people. You’ve kept the empathy, generosity, and kindness you brought with you, but you’ve also become some of the greatest critical thinkers I’ve ever had the pleasure of teaching. When you write, you write about things that matter, not just to you, but also to your classmates and to me. You see the heart of a story, and you understand that writing isn’t meant to be formed from a prompt — it’s meant to deliver a message others need to hear: of hope, of change, of pain, of resilience, of love. All of you recognize that reading is a vehicle for exploring your passion, not a task of which the purpose is to determine your supposed ability.

You are not 210, 237, 205, 223, or 214. You are so much more than a score, and you are anything but average. You exceed my standards for what students should be every day. You take charge of your learning, inside the classroom and outside, and that motivation is the true determiner of success in life.

Keep striving to do well on these tests. Knowing how to survive or thrive in tasks that feel overwhelming is such an important life skill to master. More importantly, though, continue mastering these most important traits: caring for others, loving yourself, engaging in respectful debate and discourse, and reading and writing to learn. Aristotle said that we are more than the sum of our parts. What you do with the skills you learn will always be more important than having the skills themselves.

Keep doing. Keep creating. Keep changing your world. And know that I am proud of you — each one of you.

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Image from flickr

Why blog?

This fall, I joined the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC after some serious urging by our district’s Instructional Tech Director. The facilitators of the MOOC encouraged participants to blog about their learning as they read and then share their posts and comment on others’. Even though I write constantly for myself and coach kids in writing every day, I was skeptical about taking the time to set up a blog and put my writing out there for others to read, use, and maybe even criticize. Wouldn’t writing in my notebook have the same reflective value? What could I have to say that someone else wasn’t already thinking?

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Two weeks into the course, I had a little chuckle to myself when I realized that I had gone against everything I knew about education when I doubted what blogging could do for me. I preach that learning is doing, and yet, I was hesitant to “do” blogging and see what I was capable of producing.

When I started reading others’ posts and receiving comments on mine, I realized that blogging isn’t about saying something that no one else had ever said or thought before; it is about connecting, relating, sharing, and growing. I think the whole point is to say what other people are feeling — to give voice to a common thought, issue, or concern — and then come together to share ways of improving.

This is why blogging is good for any subject, but especially education.

I have always felt that teaching can be isolating, which is ironic because I’m surrounded by people all day, and by nature, my job is pretty transparent. My administrators are in and out of my room all the time, and the kids share what is happening in all their classrooms. But there are not many opportunities for me to bounce my ideas off of other professionals and have a lengthy troubleshooting session during the school day.

It’s tough to match the quality of face time with a trusted colleague, but to be able to come home and fully process my thoughts, write them out, and then share with a wide audience of people as passionate about their work as I am is as close as I’ll probably ever get. Blogging is limitless. I can connect with any person who happens across my little corner of the internet, and if they share it online or even with a colleague, my corner gets a little bigger. Suddenly, my community isn’t just the people I try to squeeze in conversations with during the day; my community is a web of people that read what I share and share their thoughts for me to read, too.

In that way, blogging completely changes the way I reflect on my teaching. I teach my kids that writing is a way of learning, and again, it’s important for me to practice what I preach. In class, my students self-evaluate and peer-evaluate. They often say that hearing from other students helps them recognize things they wouldn’t have noticed before. Blogging does that for me, too. Reflective writing for myself is still really important, but like my students, I’m noticing that sharing it increases the benefits tenfold.  In the words of AJ Juliani, “When you write what your heart tells you it will always have a dual impact. The reflection impacts us personally, and also those who read it.”

 

A few months ago, I had countless reasons why I couldn’t blog. Now that it’s part of my practice, I can’t think of one.

Embrace the new

I constantly hear teachers talk about educational trends as a metaphorical pendulum. It swings back and forth every ten years or so, reintroducing previous ideas rebranded as something new, shiny, and necessary for students’ success.

My tenure in education is not yet a decade deep, so I haven’t experienced the pendulum swing myself, but I do know that when teachers are excited and enthusiastic, kids are more likely to perk up and get involved in their own education as well. Maybe the whole point of rebranding something old is less about introducing something better than before and more about getting people excited again so that they can transmit that energy to students. After all, when you see the same scene over and over again, it gets a little boring, but if you view that scene from a slightly different angle, an entirely different world can emerge.

Sometimes as teachers, though, we fail to see the “entirely different world” because we feel so overwhelmed that we don’t think we have time to look out the window, let alone look outside twice — from two different windows, no less! And when we get overwhelmed, we get a little… negative. While I’ve certainly been guilty of attending (and even hosting) the frustration-with-education pity party, I also know that dialogue gets us nowhere. Here are a few practices that can help minimize the education pendulum whiplash.

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See the good before pointing out the bad.

Today I was totally overwhelmed. My calendar is filled with IEP meetings, ELA PD, and testing over the next three weeks, and I need to get evaluated sometime in there. On top of that, I just started three new units with my classes this week, and my Mass Communications students need to finish final drafts of their articles so that we can get the newspaper to print by next Saturday. And that’s just my professional life.

So today after school when I walked into my Future Ready meeting, I was mentally listing all the things I needed to be doing instead. I came in with a negative attitude; it felt like one more thing I needed to do instead of the next great thing I got to do. And yet, we had a productive meeting. I got to sit next to my sister, who is the teacher and person I have always admired most, and when I left, I felt like I had more direction for myself because I was reminded of the vision we have for students. So tonight, I’m excited again about all the busy because all of it boils down to doing better for kids. And that’s my job. Can you imagine how much I could have offered and gotten out of that meeting had I thought of the positive outcomes first?

When presented with a new opportunity to improve student learning, make a promise to yourself that you’re going to find all the good first. My guess is that after listing all the potential positive outcomes, you’ll find that any downfall pales in comparison to the benefits for kids. Immediate excitement will replace temporary negativity.

Be a problem finder, but show up with a solution, too.

If you consistently showed up to a potluck with friends sans dish to pass, do you think you’d continue getting invited? Probably not. Even worse would be showing up with liverwurst every time.

This is what happens when we constantly bring problems to attention without providing any positive, concrete solutions. Pretty soon, we’ll find ourselves without a seat at the table. George Couros (and lots of other really incredible educators) see the obvious value in being a person who can recognize real issues, but problem-finding can quickly equate to complaining if there is no action suggested to resolve the issue.

If you’re going to be a problem-finder, be a problem-solver, too.

Know that you don’t have to know everything to get started with a new practice.

The true beauty of the age we live in is that information is easy to come by. When I was in middle school, if I forgot my textbook at school, I was calling (on my landline phone) to every neighborhood friend begging (read: sobbing) to borrow the book. The book had ALL THE ANSWERS! If I were to pull a textbook out in class now, it would be because all of the power in the universe had been consumed and our Chromebooks were dead. If my students want to use a new app, and I don’t know how to use it, we find a YouTube video or an online tutorial and we figure it out together. If I’m busy helping someone else, sometimes the kids just teach themselves without a resource and then they get me caught up later.

I don’t have to know everything to help my kids learn that they can learn anything they want. And if we really want them to view learning as a lifelong, enjoyable endeavor, it’s best that we don’t pretend to have all the answers.

Develop the lesson for the consumer

Probably the most important thing I have ever done as an educator was ask my students what they wanted. I’ll never forget the first time I did this. I was using a poetry highlighting strategy to analyze “One Face Alone” with a group of Pre-AP 9th graders. We had done it before with other poems, and the kids had responded well, but this time they didn’t seem into it. I stopped and asked them if something was wrong. One very straightforward but sweet girl in the front said, “Mrs. K, I don’t know about them, but I’m tired of doing it this way, and I’m not a huge fan of the strategy we learned yesterday.” When I asked how they’d rather do it instead, they wasted no time coming up with new ways to get to the same outcome: analyzing the poem to be able to write about it. I couldn’t believe how fast they came up with the ideas, but in actuality, they’d probably spent most of their lives in education dreaming of the ways they wished they could learn in school.

As I milled around the room, I saw that they were all working in different ways but coming to many of the same conclusions about the poem, and I got to spend time working with kids instead of asking questions from the board. It wasn’t my idea, but it was better.

I’ve never forgotten that day, and so whenever a new idea in education arises, before I think about how it affects me, I think about how it affects the consumers: the kids. If it would benefit them — prepare them better for the world in which they’re going to be leaders — I’m trying it as soon as is humanly possible. And I’m sharing the why with the kids so that they see it as the new, exciting opportunity that it is.