My #OneWord2020 was EMPOWER. Last year it came to me pretty easily. My “why” behind selecting this word was that I wanted to continue to create spaces and opportunities to empower others to share their passions, gifts, and voices with the world. The beautiful part about life is that everyone you will ever meet will share something that you didn’t know previously. If we open our minds to different perspectives and ideas, elevate others, and give recognition in the process, doors will open to paths of empowerment, innovation, creation, and exponential growth beyond our imaginations.
The year 2020 invited a range of emotions into the hearts and headspaces of every human being I know. I’ll admit, every day felt like diving into the deep end of hope, faith, uncertainty, and fear. Every day I found myself submerged at the deep end; when I pushed off at the very bottom and propelled my way to the surface, I contemplated my next moves with as much conviction, persistence, and fortitude my whole being had to expend. When I finally arrived at the surface, I began treading water and tried to find ways to keep afloat. Can you relate to this experience? During this time, I revisited my #OneWord2020. My internal thinking was running wild and at times, I was struggling to live the word EMPOWER. How could I continue to elevate others and help people see their gifts if there were moments I was struggling to see my own?
Not One Day is the Same
One of the many reasons I love being in the field of education is that not one day will ever be the same. NOT. ONE. DAY. Why? It is because we are putting the needs of our learners front and center. We are keeping them at the heart of decision making. We are committed and passionate about supporting and guiding them to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential. We know that their needs change day to day, minute to minute. As an educator, you can plan as much as you want, but most likely those plans can change in an instant. Great educators are not reactive, they are responsive. Great educators can dive into the deep end, come up for air, and be willing to dive in again knowing that they can empower themselves to rise above the challenge.
Diving into the Deep End
I was inspired by Beth Houf’s latest blog titled “All the Words.” Her beautifully authentic words resonated, “The new year that has been anticipated for the majority of the previous year. Shiny and new and full of hopes and dreams and new beginnings. I’m an optimist enough to believe in positive change. I’m a realist enough to know that the challenges of 2020 haven’t been left behind. Realistically speaking, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic.” With this in mind, I found myself diving into the deep end to search and connect with my #OneWord2021. I explored my options knowing we are embarking on an extension of the preceding unique year. I patiently waited for the word to jump off a page, latch onto my heart, and cling like a magnetic force because it us a word I will live by for another year. Over the course of my life, there have been moments of impulse where I have let my emotions make choices that have not always been reasonable. Now I know better. My life experiences have led me to commit to choices that are more balanced and purposeful. George Couros shared an idea about purpose in his latest Saturday email. He eloquently expressed, “One of the words that I have been REALLY thinking about as of late is “purpose.” There is so much in our world that we strive for (joy, happiness, success, etc.) that really could be connected to that single word. He continued to share this quote by Chadwick Boseman:
I try to live my life with purpose, self-efficacy, and true commitment to things I am passionate about. This rationale has inspired me to be more courageous in my convictions and make decisions that are more intentional. I have always found purpose in the words and values I choose to live by. I have always been reasonable with my choice so I can reconnect with my word when I am pushed to the deep end. It might have taken me a little while to push myself to the surface for air, but when I finally did, my #OneWord2021 was right there waiting for me.
My #oneword2021 is BELIEVE…
Merriam-Webster Definition of Believe: to consider to be true or honest; to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something
I chose the word BELIEVE as my theme this year because I want to have the belief in myself and others to overcome obstacles, accomplish anything we set our minds to, and take action on achieving hopes and dreams! I am going to live this word by believing in myself to accomplish new goals without overthinking and without having hesitation. I want to believe that I can jump right in and use moments of wonder to create, inspire, innovate, and thrive!
Recently, the educational landscape we have always known has been challenged and has shifted faster than we could have ever comprehended…way beyond our imaginations. It’s as if we have instantaneously soared into a virtual learning universe that seems faster than the speed of light. Did you know that the speed of light in a vacuum is 186,282 miles per second, and in theory, nothing travels faster than light? So, if we were actually able to travel at the speed of light, you could go around the Earth 7.5 times in one second. This seems incomprehensible, doesn’t it? Well, wasn’t there once a time where many of the practices we employed in education seemed light-years away? The fact of the matter is that education has always evolved and changed, yet, those deviations seemed much easier to consume and digest because they happened more gradually. On the other hand, in the spring of 2020, educators were urgently launched into another dimension of teaching and learning. We were left questioning whether or not the instructional practices we have always held close to our hearts would still be significant in virtual and physical spaces. We were left questioning whether we could connect with learners and develop meaningful relationships. We were left questioning whether or not we could honor the teaching frameworks that have historically impacted learners in positive ways. We were left questioning if the resources we have worked so hard to curate throughout our years of teaching would still be compatible virtually. We were left wondering how we could monitor and track learning through meaningful formative and summative assessments.
What I Know Now
For me, the first question that stirred within was whether or not educators would be able to keep the magic of the workshop model alive in our new physical and virtual atmospheres. As I continue to question, reflect, revise, and shift how I approach cultivating relationships, analyze curriculum, deliver instruction, and administer assessments, I know now more than ever that no matter where our learning spaces exist, it is up to us, the educators to embrace it. I know now, it is up to us to own it. I know now, it is up to us to navigate this new territory with open hearts, flexible minds, and positive spirits. I know now that it is up to us to take the instructional practices we know have always worked, and fine-tune our techniques to meet the needs of ALL learners throughout the process. And since I am knee-deep into the experience of Hyflex teaching, the philosophy and implementation of the Workshop Model can be achieved by keeping these 6 non-negotiables at the core of the work.
(Click on the link above for access to the infographic)
Connection Before Content– When you place cultivating relationships and building community front and center, it is likely that you will leave a lasting impact on the learners you encounter throughout your educational career. I am pretty sure that the legacy we choose to leave is not in the time we took to plan and execute a lesson; it is not in the homework or assessments we assigned or graded; I am positive that it is in the time we took to get to know our students as human beings first. If you commit to leading with passion and empathy. If you take the time to find common ground. If you create inviting, safe, nurturing learning spaces for ALL learners, you will see a big return on your investment. In a recent Future Ready podcast titled Universally Designed Connection and Reflection with Brianna Hodges and Dr. Katie Novak, Dr. Novak brilliantly and simply states, “If you can connect with students, then that’s a good enough tool right now.” Learners have an emotional compass and will use social referencing to take cues from adults they admire. With that being said, by connecting and sharing your authenticity and passion, students will believe in and be an integral part of the magic in the important work that lies ahead.
Honor the Architecture– When planning and executing a minilesson, keep in mind that the content, focus, and/or space may change, but the architecture of the minilesson and it’s components don’t! In the book Leading Well: Building Schoolwide Excellence in Reading and Writing by Lucy Calkins, (written before the COVID-19 global pandemic, but still remains true) she says, “When teachers lead effective minilessons, these short bursts of instruction will mobilize the whole community to be on fire as readers and writers and will immerse the kids in an understanding of the work they are doing” (p. 69). However, keep in mind that since there are new and different learning spaces to consider (physical and virtual) when delivering a minilesson, educators must be flexible with each component, the pacing, and the way learners are engaged throughout the process. According to the Heinemann article, How the Essentials of Reading and Writing Workshop Do-and Don’t Change with Virtual Teaching, “Traditionally, the architecture of minilessons remains largely the same from day to day—and contains a connection, teach, active engagement, and link. For virtual minilessons we keep the “connection” and “teach,” but often combine the “active engagement” and the “link” as a way to set kids up to practice the strategy demonstrated. So instead of kids trying the work during the minilesson—hard to do virtually, especially with recorded instruction—after the teacher demonstrates, we set the kids up to go off to work.” Honoring the gradual release of responsibility, the effective transfer of skills and strategies, and leading learners towards independence will always remain a constant in any learning environment.
Conferring is a Cornerstone- 1:1 and small group conferencing is a key ingredient to having learners practice, improve, and elevate their literacy skills. This sacred time spent with students can be messy as the learner guides the direction the conference will take. In turn, the teacher should be able to notice and name a learner’s strengths and areas for growth and adjust the direction and goals of the conference accordingly. According to Jennifer Serravallo, in her book A Teacher’s Guide to Reading Conferences K-8, she beautifully conveys, “Conferring is where the magic happens. It’s the heartbeat of the literacy block…. Conferring blurs the lines between teacher and student” (p. 1). In a conference, the teacher and student are both learners, except, the student is doing most of the work while the teacher coaches in and offers thinking prompts to lift the level of the work. Students need to understand the goal(s) of the conference in order to make the necessary progress in their learning and during independent reading. In virtual spaces, these vital interactions take place in Zoom or Meet breakout rooms. This is a more personalized space to connect, interact, and personalize learning. Katie Martin confirms this in her blog titled, To Engage Students, Focus on Connection Over Content, “Scheduling time with each student to connect, learn more about their circumstances, their goals, and ideas, created a different dynamic that built empathy and allowed for more personalization and meaningful connection.” In her blog Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership Dr. Martin states, “5-minute conferences can be a really powerful way to check in with students and provide timely meaningful feedback based on their needs. Teachers who are remote might use breakout rooms to meet with a few different students or small groups each day to check-in. If you are in person you can call students up while others are working or giving each other feedback.”
Curate Relevant Resources
-Print and Digital Texts
In a workshop classroom, readers should have access to a tremendous volume of books in a mutlitude of genres and topics that spark their interest. As a matter of fact, Richard Allington suggests that schools have a minimum of 1,000 books per classroom! Over the last few years, learners have also been introduced to digital readers. Since we are attending to the needs of learners in both physical and virtual spaces, it is important to provide students with access to rich classroom libraries as well as websites and apps that house a plethora of digital texts. I am fortunate that my school district has provided our students with digital texts on Raz-Kids, Epic, Bookflix, and Sora (just to name a few). In the physical classroom, books are checked out when readers go book shopping, and then they are quarantined for 4 days until they can be checked out again! We must continue to keep in mind that maintaining a classroom library is an ongoing process to ensure that there are high-interest, high quality texts that represent various genres, topics, and series that students will embrace.
-Purposeful Anchor Charts
Purposeful anchor charts that are created with students is an essential part of the workshop experience! If you walk into my classroom, you will see that the walls are adorned with meaningful charts that help learners access skills/strategies that are needed to navigate various texts they encounter. These tools are meant to maximize students’ independence, encourage choice and risk-taking, and celebrate the productive struggle along the way. In the book Smarter Charts by Marjorie Martinelli and Kristine Mraz, they explicitly state, “Charts help to make our teaching explicit and clear by providing step-by-step directions and key tips and strategies for how to do something” (p. 86). For students in the virtual space, I recreate mini versions of these charts and intentionally attach them to a digital notebook of strategies for learners to access when they need the support.
Physical Space Anchort Chart (left) and Virtual Space Anchor Chart (right)
Preserving Independent Reading-Independent reading is the heart of the workshop model. Within the gradual release of responsibility, it is critical to be able to guide learners towards independence in physical and virtual spaces. This is where they will be able to apply the skills and strategies that are taught during the demonstration portion of the minilesson. Independent reading is a routine and protected practice that transpires across grade levels. According to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Position Statement on Independent Reading, “Effective independent reading practices include time for students to read, access to books that represent a wide range of characters and experiences, and support within a reading community that includes teachers and students. Student choice in text is essential because it motivates, engages, and reaches a wide variety of readers. The goal of independent reading as an instructional practice is to build habitual readers with conscious reading identities.” If you are an educator who embraces the workshop model philosophy, it is a professional obligation to model your own reading life and create the time and space for learners to independently read.
Ongoing Assessment & Feedback– Meaningful assessment can propel the teaching and learning process. It is a way to collect information about the learners’ strengths and areas of need. In a workshop model framework, it is important to embed thoughtful assessments that drive daily instruction. Assessments help teachers provide thoughtful feedback, create small groups, create personalized goals for all learners, and structure minilessons accordingly. This includes, but is not limited to formal and informal running records, spelling inventories, checklists, rubrics, and anecdotal notes. When adminstering assessments in physical and virtual spaces, it is vital to plan accordingly. It is beneficial to be transparent with learners and families about the “why” behind each assessment. Learning shouldn’t be a secret! Personally, I always spend time discussing the expectations in rubrics and checklists with learners. We analyze the nuances in language and develop a shared understanding of the goals. In Katie Martin’s blog titled, Using Feedback to Build a Sense of Connection, Purpose, and Ownership, she expresses, “When students are clear about the learning goals and criteria for success, they can self assess their work and take ownership of the process. Checklists and rubrics can be really helpful, especially if they are co created and the students have a clear grasp of what is expected of them. Creating time and building the routine for this practice is critical to understand where they are and determine next steps.” Furthermore, it is valuable to provide learners with ongoing, cyclical feedback that clearly paints a picture of where they are in relation to the learning targets, what the next steps are, and what it will take to get there. Katie Martin goes on to say, “Meaningful feedback is not the same as a grade or an evaluation. Feedback is information for the learner about where they are in relationship to the goal or target to help them get there. If we can prioritize the learning goals and only assign meaningful work, we can make the time for students to go deep, get feedback, revise and do something meaningful.”
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 4: Honoring the Workshop Model Framework
Special Note: This is blog post entry 2 of a blog series titled: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model. Blog post 1 in the series can be found here: Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 1: Inviting Change. This blog post series is written from my perspective, as I teach face-to-face and virtual cohorts of middle school learners simultaneously.
The Magic of Then
Entering a classroom that embraces the reading and writing workshop model is like walking into a galaxy blanketed in magic. Each learner is like a shooting star that heats up and glows as new learning orbits through the classroom atmosphere. You could feel a sense of wonder, observation, and exploration as teachers and students delve into a new skill and strategy. You could sense a special thrill as students are empowered to move towards independence. It’s the type of teaching framework that builds community, human connection, and cultivates powerful relationships. The workshop model is strongly connected to authentic literature, various genres, and relevant learning experiences. It’s the type of practice that rallies learners together in safe cozy spaces. It is a universe surrounded by accessible stacks of books in colorful bins and bookcases. It is a place you can usually find an easel with chart paper and your favorite markers (my preference is Mr. Sketch). If you are entering a true workshop classroom, be prepared to enter a world where both teachers and students are viewed as learners.
The Magic of Now
Throughout emergency remote learning and up until this very moment, I find myself in a constant state of reflection. I continuously come back to the questions… How can I hold onto my beliefs and recreate the magic of the workshop model in post-COVID-19 learning environments? Will I be able to rally learners together and build community in physical and virtual spaces effectively and seamlessly? Can learners embrace the idea of the gradual release of responsibility and apply skills and strategies being taught in both physical and virtual environments? Now, if you walk into a room that embraces the workshop model, you may notice that aesthetically, this space looks different; now, you will see limited furniture; now, instead of gathering on a community rug, (there are no more rugs for gathering) learners are sitting at desks that are 6 feet apart and in rows; now, you will see some bookcases that house various genres of books and quarantine baskets strategically placed as a holding place for books when they are returned. Now, learners are relying on having more access to digital texts and are book shopping personal devices. Now, learners are wearing masks and are not encouraged to face each other in close proximity to turn and talk during active engagement and independent practice. Now, instead of seeing the teacher sitting on the corner of a rug or right beside learners and calling them over to the community space with anchor charts, Post-its, and Mr. Sketch markers in hand, you will see the anchor chart in the front of the room facing rows of desks, or an anchor chart slide presented on a screen. You will observe little movement and as little to no transitions as possible. And yes, now you will see lots of screens. Personally, I have three screens on as I teach; one to connect with learners and manipulate my document camera, slides, and/or digital tools I am utilizing during synchronous sessions on Google Meet, another screen is the Smartboard; this is where physical learners can look to the screen I am presenting so they don’t have to constantly look at their 1:1 devices and another screen that allows me to see the virtual learners level of engagement as I share my screen to teach. I hope I painted this picture well for you because I had to think of ways to invite change into the new environments we were obligated to adjust to.
What Remains Constant
If you walk into a physical and/or virtual workshop community here is the magic that will always remain familiar and constant; you can still feel the authentic learning in physical and virtual spaces. The structure and components of a workshop minilesson are being delivered with intention and purpose. Learners are invited to connect previous learning to new learning, teaching points are carefully constructed and clearly show the skill and strategy learners will employ. The teacher is explicitly teaching the skill and strategy by using a carefully selected portion of a mentor text, using think-aloud, and the “watch me as I show you” verbiage. Anchor charts are purposefully co-created with learners and are hanging around the room, while mini-anchor charts are recreated for the learners in virtual learning spaces. Learners are being given the opportunity for active engagement in collaborative physical and virtual spaces, the skill and strategy are reinforced throughout the minilesson, workshop interruptions are transpiring, learners are practicing the skill and strategy in partnerships, small groups, and/or independently while the teacher is conferencing with individual students. Furthermore, learners are being given the opportunity to share their thinking and learning work in safe, supportive environments. A recent Heinemann blog post confirms this, “Traditionally, the architecture of minilessons remains largely the same from day to day—and contains a connection, teach, active engagement, and link. For virtual minilessons, we keep the “connection” and “teach,” but often combine the “active engagement” and the “link” as a way to set kids up to practice the strategy demonstrated. So instead of kids trying the work during the minilesson—hard to do virtually, especially with recorded instruction—after the teacher demonstrates, we set the kids up to go off to work.” Stay tuned for specific examples of each component of the minilesson in future blog posts in this series.
Rallying Learners and Building Community
Before sharing more detailed examples about how I am implementing the architecture of the minilesson and giving you strategies for each component, here are some activities I used to get to know and rally learners while building community in physical and virtual workshop atmospheres.
Learning Survey for Families and Students: I created a Google Form Learning Survey for both learners and their families inspired by Catlin Tucker. I used similar questions for both because it was important for me to get to know the learners in my classes from both perspectives. This was also a way for me to introduce Google Forms as I plan on using this digital tool in a multitude of ways. I embedded a welcome video for the families right into the form so they can learn why filling out this form was important to me. This was also a way for me to connect with them, show who I am and what I value as an educator.
Jamboard to Share Answers From Survey: I wanted to show the students that I took the time to read their surveys and how I value their feedback. I utilized questions from the Learning Survey and had them answer those questions using the sticky note feature on Jamboard. Learners thought this digital tool was very intuitive, fun, and easy to use as a collaborative digital tool. This is also a way to be inclusive of ALL learners in both physical and virtual spaces while developing your classroom community and holding ALL students accountable for their thinking and learning.
Digital Notebook on Google Slides-Passions and Interests Collage: Learners utilized a digital notebook on Google Slides to create a collage about themselves while sharing their passions and interests. They inserted pictures, captions, and colors that represented who they are. This was also a way for them to practice using Google Slides…a digital tool we will be using for various learning activities. I was able to provide learners with specific feedback and use the information they provided to embed into my conversations with individual students. There is such magic that happens when you are able to weave their passions and interests into teaching and learning practices and dialogue. The students light up with excitement when their teacher remembers who they are as a human being and shows they really do care. This investment of time will lead to deeper learning in the future.
George Couros’ 5 Questions: I used George Couros’ 5 Questions to connect with learners. Students got the opportunity to respond in a Google Form with video embedded directions and/or a Flipgrid video. I am finding that video is a powerful way to connect with learners and simulate more authentic learning experiences, especially the ones who are learning 100% virtually. They get an opportunity to see me and hear me as they learn every single day. I was pleasantly surprised by how many students chose to use Flipgrid. Learners explicitly shared that they feel connected to the classroom community using the Flipgrid platform. They love having the back and forth dialogue with their peers and me. Their responses were incredible! I always jot down notes about ideas learners include in their responses. This helps me plan instructional moves that are more targeted to meet the needs of every learner.
Setting Classroom Community Agreements in Physical and Virtual Environments: I do not believe in setting the rules and expectations for my classes. Why? It’s because they aren’t MY classes. These are OUR learning spaces. When learners have an opportunity to contribute to community agreements, they take ownership of the norms and promises they create. We utilized Mentimeter’s cloud feature to brainstorm “What makes a GREAT classroom community?” After sharing their ideas, we wrote a summary of the agreements together. After, I dropped the link to the slides into the Google chat, learners committed to the agreements WE created by signing our contract in real-time and in a collaborative way. Learners were invited to practice how to experience collaborating on a slide with their peers. We will be using this method for collaboration and response this year. See the process below! Make sure you click on the right arrow to see the video of learners collaborating on the Google Slide!
I scheduled five-minute meetings with all of my learners. This idea was inspired by Dr. Mary Hemphill’s book The One Minute Meeting: Creating Student Stakeholders in Schools. I learned about Dr. Hemphill in George Couros’Innovator’s Mindset Podcast. The idea of these meetings is to check-in with my students, learn more about them as human beings, and then utilize the information to elevate their emotional literacy. The responses elicited were powerful! After asking those simple, open-ended questions and having those personal conversations with each learner, I feel even more connected to each one of them. I now have a deeper understanding of what is happening in their world. Some had really cheerful, positive stories to share, while others were expressing that they are going through challenging times. I appreciated every minute with those students. I have always led with empathy, but now I will be able to utilize what I know to personalize instruction in much more meaningful ways. One learner responded to our interaction by saying, “Mrs. Kaufman, it’s really nice to know you care. Your class is more than just turning in assignments.” I plan to use this check-in strategy over the course of the year in order to continuously develop the relationships I have formed. Note that the responses below are from middle school learners in grade 6-8. The responses were collected in Google Forms.
Embedding Meaningful Experiences
I believe that the heart of teaching and learning is rooted in the connections and relationships we develop with the learners we are lucky enough to serve. Cultivating strong relationships, understanding the learners’ strengths and areas for growth, tapping into their passions and interests, and authentic, responsive teaching are the cornerstones of any worthwhile educational journey. Without truly caring about the social-emotional well-being of our students, learning will not be as productive or meaningful. If we want to see the positive, lasting impact we are hoping for, we have to make it our obligation to get to know all learners as human beings first. If we vow to make the commitment to continuously embed rallying our learners and building community into everyday practices and really mean it, I promise you… the magic of the workshop model will magically and naturally come alive!
Stay tuned for the next blog in this series:Reimagining the Magic of the Workshop Model Series 3: Non-Negotiables in Physical & Virtual Spaces
As I scrolled through Twitter this week, I stumbled across a new term that defines the new educational landscape I am currently navigating along with many other educators across the country. It’s called HYFLEX TEACHING: Torry Trust, Ph.D. recently created an infographic that includes a clear definition of what the expectation is of educators who are diligently trying to implement this practice:
HYFLEX TEACHING EXPECTATION: Highly-skilled teachers who provide simultaneously in-person and online learning experiences, students and teachers who move seamlessly between in-person and digital interactions, high-quality technology infrastructure for teachers and students, equitable learning experiences for all, and additional support (e.g., teaching assistant) (EduCAUSE, 2020).
I also learned that there IS a difference between HyFlex vs. Hybrid instruction. Torry Trust, Ph.D. also outlines this in her infographic:
HyFlex teaching is NOT the same as Hybrid (or “blended”) teaching. Hybrid teaching combines the benefits of in-person learning (e.g. social knowledge construction, project-based learning) with the benefits of online learning (e.g., flexibility, adaptability, personalized learning). Ideally, it’s the best of both worlds.” K-12 Example: Students work on group projects in-person and then individually complete a HyperDoc or choice board on a computer or on a station at home.
After reading this, I thought “Wow, there is actually a name for the type of instruction my colleagues and I are experiencing…and wow…there is actually a term that was created for an instructional practice that has been stretching my cognitive capacity beyond anything I could have ever imagined… and wow, this is yet another term that will be permanently engrained in my repertoire of educational terminology that I will actually be able to authentically speak to because I am personally living it.”
There are Many Opinions
This week, I have read a lot of different opinions about the current infrastructure many school districts, including my own, have adopted in order to open schools during a global pandemic. What I have learned is that although I have 11 years of post-secondary education under my belt, along with thousands of hours of theoretical and practical professional learning experiences (most of which have been completely voluntary and embraced on my end), none of those experiences had fully prepared me for HyFlex instruction. I literally needed to be thrust into this challenge in order to make learning come alive and create the most authentic learning experiences for students I possibly can. I know that the planning and preparation have been unbelievably time-consuming and the daily reflection about my instructional choices has been draining, to say the least. However, because we are educators, I believe that it is our professional obligation to invest in figuring this all out. Why? We chose to be in education because we care about students; we care about our colleagues, and we care about the communities we serve. I will never wait for professional learning to be provided for me…I HAVE to seek it out because every minute I am with students and colleagues matters. With that being said, I have been embracing these challenges because our learning communities are depending on us to help them through this!
Here’s What I Know
While we are working through these new, exciting, and challenging times, what I know is…you have to be thoughtful, you have to be creative, you have to think of ways to engage the learners in both the physical and virtual environments; you have to create spaces where you can connect with all learners and let them know you are there to support them; you have to plan meaningful, authentic instruction that can move students as learners; you have to reach out to colleagues and have conversations about what’s working, what’s not working, and then be willing to make intentional shifts in your practice when you realize that what you thought was a great idea, actually isn’t; you have to understand that just like the more traditional instruction we were used to, there will be successes to celebrate and failures to work through. I am also feeling the need to say this: Whether you think that HyFlex instruction is right or wrong for teachers and students, many educators are living it and will do the best we can to support our learners, families, and colleagues. With that being said, based on my experiences thus far, I am going to share some tips for HyFlex instruction that are non-negotiable for me. My hope is that these tips can help other educators who are experiencing the same type of process.
5 Quick Tips For HyFlex Instruction
Simple and Authentic: Create meaningful learning experiences by utilizing authentic assessments to collect information about learners (e.g. running records). Connect learning to previous experiences, demonstrate skills/strategies with simple anchor charts/slides, use visuals to link learning (avoid visuals that are too busy and fancy…quality over quantity, break down new learning into multiple lessons, & allow time for independent practice.
Checking In: Check-in with learners synchronously as much as you can. This is an opportunity to greet them personally & connect on a human level. Developing relationships in physical & virtual spaces make all learners feel a part of the classroom community. Set up 1:1 sessions to check on learners’ social, emotional, & academic progress.
Use the Chat and Keep Meet On: Use the chat feature to engage & empower learners throughout the time you are logged in. Ask them questions (i.e. How’s your day going? What is something you learned today? What questions do you have?). Learners also keep each other accountable during instruction! Keep Meet on during independent practice. Learners feel supported when they know you are there and they can pop back in with questions.
Come Back to the Grid: If you are sharing your screen to show a slide show while teaching, pause & come back to the grid to “read the room”. Make eye contact with face-to-face learners & virtual learners. This is a great way to check for understanding & keep the learning interesting. Learners do not want to keep staring at the same screen continuously.
Provide Ongoing Feedback: Feedback drives the learning process. When you invest time in providing learners with ongoing, cyclical, high-quality, specific feedback, you will see a big return on your investment. Benefits: learners are held accountable, you are personalizing instruction to meet individual needs, learners feel supported in physical and virtual learning spaces.
5 Quick Tips For HyFlex Instruction: Click HERE for Infographic Link
My first full week of the 2020-2021 school year is in the books! And although I have had 15 first weeks in education… let me tell you something, this particular first week was WILD!!!!!! If you would have told me this time last year, “Lauren, this time next year, you will be teaching reading to middle school learners.” I would have laughed and said, but I have been in the elementary school world for 14 years!” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year you will be teaching three different cohorts of students, face-to-face and virtually simultaneously while social distancing, I would have laughed and asked, “What in the world does social distancing mean and what does virtual teaching look and sound like?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, you will wear a mask for protection and safety while doing it and you can take a mask break if everyone is working independently and not talking.” I would have laughed and asked, “For my protection and safety from what? AND Don’t we want students talking to one another…sharing and connecting is the jewel of learning, isn’t it?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year, there will be no flexible seating or any desks and tables arranged in groups so students can work comfortably and collaboratively.” I would have laughed and said, “How are learners going to collaborate, have meaningful social interaction, and learn in purposeful ways?” If you would have told me, “Lauren, this time next year all professional learning experiences, conferences, and meetings will only be held virtually.” I would have laughed and asked, “How can I build significant connections and continue to network in virtual learning environments? Oh my goodness… after this week, I KNOW that THIS year is not going to be like the rest. And for this reason, I am happy to share some of my learning from this week!
Starting the Year Off Right I am grateful that my school district started the school year off right with having one of my favorite educators and speakers on the planet, George Couros keynote. I discovered George’s book The Innovator’s Mindset a little over a year ago and used his book as a framework to drive the learning in the new teacher mentor program I facilitate. And although I was looking forward to hearing him in person, he brought down the house virtually! He did! Last year, he was able to influence and inspire the teachers in the mentor program and me by sharing his positive messages, experiences, the importance of developing strong relationships, keeping learners front and center of the decision making process, and finding new and better ways to teach and learn. His philosophy and mindset have permanently latched to my core. And while I was listening to him speak on the morning of September 8, 2020, I could feel my heart smile for 60 minutes straight. To me, EVERYONE in the school organization needed to hear his words and messages of positivity. We owe it to the kids and the community we serve to approach THIS year with hope, promise, grace, determination, and the willingness to invite a #NewandBetterNormal into our lives.
Making Connections to the Heart
As you can see in the tweet above, Couros says, “If you want to inspire meaningful change, you have to make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind.” With that being said, I made a deep commitment to get to know the learners I serve in the physical and virtual environments I am teaching in. I dedicated this entire week to get to know my students as human beings first. I do understand that this is a process that will authentically be embedded into my practice and WILL remain ongoing over the course of the school year and beyond! Relationship building is truly an investment of time that will have a monumental impact and influence over the way students approach and access the learning that transpires in the learning spaces we choose to create. Here are the learning experiences I created for middle school learners. All activities can be adapted for K-12 students. Keep in mind that all of these activities were explicitly modeled as I would never ask learners to do something I wouldn’t do myself:
Learning Survey for Families and Students: I created a Google Form Learning Survey for both learners and their families inspired by Catlin Tucker. I used similar questions for both because it was important for me to get to know the learners in my classes from both perspectives. This was also a way for me to introduce Google Forms as I plan on using this digital tool in a multitude of ways. I embedded a welcome video for the families right into the form so they can learn why filling out this form was important to me. This was also a way for me to connect with them, show who I am and what I value as an educator.
Jamboard to Share Answers From Survey: I wanted to show the students that I took the time to read their surveys and how I value their feedback. I utilized questions from the Learning Survey and had them answer those questions using the sticky note feature on Jamboard. Learners thought this digital tool was very intuitive, fun and easy to use as a collaborative digital tool.
Digital Notebook on Google Slides-Passions and Interests Collage: Students utilized a digital notebook on Google Slides to create a collage about themselves, their passions and interests. They inserted pictures, captions, and colors that represented who they are. This was also a way for them to practice using Google Slides…a digital tool we will be using for various learning activities.
George Couros’ 5 Questions: I used George Couros’ 5 Questions to connect with learners. Students got the opportunity to respond in a Google Form with video embedded directions and/or a Flipgrid video. I am finding that video is a powerful way to connect with learners and simulate more authentic learning experiences, especially the ones who are learning 100% virtually. They get an opportunity to see me and hear me as they learn. I was pleasantly surprised about how many students chose to use Flipgrid. Their responses were incredible!
Setting Classroom Community Agreements in Physical and Virtual Environments: I do not believe in setting the rules and expectations for my classes. Why? It’s because they aren’t MY classes. These are OUR learning spaces. When learners have an opportunity to contribute to community agreements, they take ownership over the norms and promises they create. We utilized Mentimeter’s cloud feature to brainstorm “What makes a GREAT classroom community?” After sharing their ideas, we wrote a summary of the agreements together. After, I dropped the link to the slides into the Google chat, learners committed to the agreements WE created by signing our contract in real time and in a collaborative way. Learners were invited to practice how to experience collaborating on a slide with their peers. We will be using this method for collaboration and response this year. See the process below! Make sure you click on the right arrow to see the video of learners collaborating on the Google Slide!
Tips for Face-To-Face and Remote Teaching
This week, I have lived the experience of teaching learners who are in the physical environment with me while also teaching students who are learning virtually. I am going to share some tips…but I’d like to be clear; these are strategies that are working for ME. I want to give all of the educators around the country and world all of the recognition and credit for approaching this new educational landscape in ways that work for them and their learners. Also note, that I am constantly in a state of reflection and any of these strategies may be revised over the course of the year to meet the needs of my students in intentional ways.
If You Would Have Told Me
So… if you would have told me that THIS year may actually go down in history as the year that has stretched my cognitive capacity in ways I never thought were possible, I wouldn’t have understood how if I wasn’t living it. THIS year is going to be the year where no matter how many times I check my email, new information will be flying into my inbox faster than Mariano Rivera can throw a fastball right over home plate. THIS year will be the year of troubleshooting, failing, and using that failure to learn and grow. THIS year will be the year of showing vulnerability and sharing successes and failures with colleagues so we can learn from each other and do what’s best for students. I know what you’re thinking…well, no two years have EVER been the same Lauren, and I know…they shouldn’t be. That’s because every year we have new students, new staff, new initiatives, new policies, and new procedures in education. And because this year is different from all of the other years, I am going to commit to continuing to write about my experiences and share my learning with other educators because I’m living it. I’m living this wild ride and I want to pay it forward. The truth is, I want to give recognition to all of the educators in my PLC and PLN for sharing their learning over the years. It has made me better and I truly believe that sharing our process can help others serve their learners in this new educational landscape we are living in!
I think it is safe to say that I have stared at the calendar this week more than any other app on my phone. When I open the calendar app to get the full view, I immediately begin swiping backward. First I count how many months it’s been since March 13, 2020. Do you want to know how many? It’s been almost 6 months! Then, I’m not sure why I did this, but I even counted the days. Do you want to know how many? An unbelievable 170 days! I have actually interrupted myself in mid-stare, blinking my eyes several times to make sure that I am still seeing the correct month and date on the calendar. It couldn’t possibly be the end of August, could it? I’ll admit that I have also been relentlessly checking my commitments as I always have this fear that I could potentially miss another Zoom meeting (which I did this week by the way), one of my son’s baseball practices, and much needed personal appointments with family and/or friends. All of the months and days are blending together like mixing paints on a palette. The colors that once stood out as vibrant have transformed into a variety of shades; a blurred version of its original appearance. As I have watched the month of August slip away just like the colors on a paint palette swiftly metamorphose into unique, unfamiliar colors, I finally figured out why I am suddenly consumed with the calendar numbers.
Here’s What I’m Thinking
Here are my thoughts about my obsession with time: There are moments when my internal clock is still telling me that it is March 2020, even though I clearly know that it is not. There are moments where I can feel the pressure of expeditious transformation. This includes rapidly learning digital platforms and tools, reading blogs, books, and articles about the obstacles educators and learners are facing as the entire landscape of education shifted so abruptly. This includes diving deep into professional learning experiences headfirst and learning news things to support colleagues and learners in virtual environments. Do you know where else my mind wandered to? I have been thinking about all I have accomplished along with other educators around the world in such a short period of time. I have been thinking about the connections I have made with people I didn’t even know 6 months ago. I am thinking about the new tools I have in my repertoire to build capacity in educators and learners. I am thinking about moving forward and never wishing to turn back time because I can’t. And then, as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across this tweet by Thomas C. Murray:
For this school year, our WHAT and our HOW have changed….significantly.
This is just what I needed to see. “For this school year, our WHAT and our HOW have changed…significantly. But our WHY hasn’t!! We can’t lose sight of that.” WOW! And just as I began reflecting on this quote and recognizing that my WHY has not and WILL NOT ever change. Of course with more knowledge and experience, it has certainly evolved, but the core of my WHY is exactly the same. I always ask myself, how can I create learning experiences that will empower students to reach their full social, emotional, and academic potential? Moments later, I noticed that this Tweet resurfaced and was showing up in my feed numerous times in the same day.
Educators: The first day of school is an amazing opportunity. What can you do on Day 1 that has your kids running back to you on Day 2? We can’t forget: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Make the first day count! #FutureReadypic.twitter.com/6d7PkiSXpj
If you are an educator…PLAY THE VIDEO ABOVE! It’s inspiring, it’s empowering, it’s beautiful. Although this post was from one year ago, it is still and will always be relevant to the work we do as educators no matter what learning environment we are in. What will YOU do on day 1 that will have learners running back to YOUR classroom on day 2 and all the days after (whether it is in the physical or virtual space)? How will you create a culture and community of learners that want to learn alongside you because they know you care about making learning fun?
Worth the Investment
Recently, I was also inspired by Katie Martin’s blog titled, 10 Ways Professional Learning Can Model the Practices that Engage and Empower Learners in Distance Learning. When you get a chance, read it! She discusses how vital human connection and effective teaching and learning practices are for efficient implementation and execution of distance learning. Katie beautifully states, “Although there are great tech tools and many programs that at first glance can seem to minimize complexity when everything continues to shift, we have to remember as we plan for the fall and beyond that there is no substitute for a teacher. Now more than ever we need teachers who can connect with students, guide them on their path and codesign authentic, participatory, and relevant learning experiences based on their needs, strengths, and questions.” Katie is right, technology will NEVER replace an amazing educator who spends the time getting to know their learners and is responsive to their needs in intentional ways. She inspired me to think deeply about what I will continue to invest in as we approach unfamiliar territory this school year.
Building and Maintaining Strong Relationships and Genuine Connections
Getting to Know Learners’ Passions and Interests
Embracing Failure as an Opportunity to Grow
Setting New Norms and Expectations
Quality Over Quantity
Listening to Understand and Learn
Creating Spaces for Voice, Choice, and Collaboration
The BIG Question: Are You Ready?
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been getting the same question over and over again. It goes something like this, “Are you ready for the school year Lauren? It happens everywhere…on the beach, on the street, through text messages, phone calls, and recent small group gatherings. My answer is yes… I am ready to cultivate strong relationships. I am ready to stay true to my core beliefs. I am ready to embrace every learner. I am ready to utilize the tools and resources I have curated over time. I am ready to collaborate and share my learning with other educators. I am ready to invite families in as learning partners. I am ready to troubleshoot and fail. I am ready to use failure as an opportunity to refine my practice. I am ready to have patience and show grace to all. I am ready to lean on my PLC and PLN for confirmation, feedback, and support. I am ready to continue to commit to the path I was destined for. I am ready to move through the days in the calendar with intention and purpose. I am ready to use many minutes in the days to reflect on my practice, who I am as an educator, and the legacy I will continue to write.
I have been in education for 15 years and throughout my career, I have served in many roles at the Elementary level. This includes Teaching Assistant, Classroom Teacher, Reading Specialist, and most recently, Instructional Coach. Throughout the trajectory of my career, I have always worked to challenge myself in every position I have ever served in. Each position has taught me how to fine-tune what I know and do; each position has allowed me to see and focus on my strengths and the strengths of others in order to provide the best opportunities for students to reach their social, emotional, and academic potential; each position has allowed to me stay true to my core beliefs while learning new ways to approach teaching and learning. And because I have been fortunate to travel this path, I recognize the value every role brings to an organization. Over the course of time, I have asked myself, “How can I continue to honor my core belief system as I navigate the different roles I serve in?” At the heart of this journey, it became clear to me that developing relationships, connecting, being human, and leading with empathy and grace, opens doors to creating a community of learners who work together to ambitiously develop solutions to instructional challenges.
Not the Same Educator
Five years ago my school district decided to invest in job-embedded professional learning at the Elementary level. They reached to educators within the organization who had a strong background in literacy to elevate literacy practices and bring shared experiences to four buildings. When I took on the role of Literacy Coach, my school district had already committed to embracing the balanced literacy approach; this is an approach to reading and writing instruction I feel very strongly about to the core as learners can authentically engage in rich literacy experiences including the reading and writing workshop, interactive read alouds, shared reading, small group instruction, one-on-one conferencing, and have choice and voice as they get to self-select from diverse texts across a plethora of genres. This was an opportunity to work side-by-side with teachers as I got to collaboratively write curriculum and develop meaningful assessments with teachers, students, administrators, and literacy consultants. Over the course of a few years, we developed 73 Units of Study that were grounded in the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project philosophy. I got to work intimately with the other Literacy Coach, a brilliant colleague, and friend as we rallied teachers together to analyze, reflect, and revise a live curriculum to meet the needs of a diverse population. Additionally, we purposefully and intentionally took an audit of all elementary classroom libraries and ordered books and mentor texts to support learners and enhance the curriculum. Furthermore, we vertically aligned the curriculum, so there was a smooth progression of literacy development from K-5 that was aligned to the learning standards. In the last few years, I worked with my other Instructional Coach colleagues to ensure continuity of instruction in the Reading and Writing Workshop model, provided meaningful professional learning experiences during faculty and grade-level meetings, and participated in formal and informal conversations about student learning. All of this heart work has always been grounded in best practice. Best practices and systems are what guided this incredible experience. During this time, my coaching belief system was shaped by Jim Knight’sSeven Partnership Principles (introduced to me by Jessica Gruttola during an Instructional Coaching workshop). These principles influenced conversations, theory, and practice. These are the principles that supported my team as we embarked on the mission of creating positive change. If we modeled the change we wanted to see by consistently using the Partnership Principles as a guide while keeping learners at the heart of the decision-making process, we were off to great things!
It was this work that led me to deeply understand what teaching and learning practices would best support learners in order to move them to higher levels, guide them towards independence, and create lifelong learners.
Coaching work I facilitated in faculty, grade level, and one-on-one meetings.
Taking A Leap of Faith
This year I am taking a leap of faith as I enthusiastically join the Middle School team where I will serve as a Literacy Specialist. Although I will always keep my years of elementary experience close to my heart, I am incredibly excited to continue to collaborate, connect, network, reflect, and share all I have learned in every role I have ever had the privilege of serving in with colleagues and learners. I am also inviting the learning curve that will come with acclimating to a new culture and climate. I will learn for, about, and with new leadership, colleagues, and learners. In making the transition from Elementary to Middle School, I believe that there is great strength in knowing and understanding the building blocks of learning, where the students are coming from, and what skills they should have mastered. If we work together towards building a bridge that will reinforce what they know while making new connections to learning, there will be a strong vertical progression of literacy development. As I make this transformation to the middle level, there is one thing I know for sure… I will continue to honor my own core belief system and the teaching and learning practices I am so insanely passionate about. As I continue on my educational journey, I will never forget the experiences I have been a part of and the people who have impacted my growth along the way. They are all a part of who I am, and that will never change!
Keeping Partnership Principles at the Core
I created the infographic below to demonstrate how Jim Knight’s Instructional Coaching Partnership Principles translate to working with learners using a balanced literacy approach. I believe that belief systems in education can be applied to any learning environment, if they are in fact, best practices!
Summers… they are usually a time to exhale, a time to rejuvenate, a time to focus on self-care, a time to engage in meaningful professional learning, a time to reunite, and spend quality time with people you hold dear. In my family, summers are for birthday celebrations, attending sporting events, gathering with friends on the beach, and taking annual trips to Hershey Park or another fun crowd filled destination. And then there is the summer of 2020. A very different summer than any other. Actually, at times, it has been difficult for me to see when summer actually began. Since March 13th, the days have blended together and my learning and hunger for professional growth during these unprecedented times in history has only intensified. I have been relentlessly seeking meaningful opportunities to stretch my capacity for learning in ways I could have never imagined. And believe me, I did not think this was even possible, as historically I already live and breathe literacy and education. Since the organization and flow of a typical year have been interrupted by a global pandemic, I recognize that I may not be fully aware of what day or time it is, but I do know that I will continue to view these challenges as opportunities instead of obstacles. I will also continue to passionately pay attention to anything and everything that will benefit learners as we take a leap of faith into the upcoming school year. As George Couros says in his new #InnovatorsMindset self-paced course Developing the Innovator’s Mindset Through Remote, Face-to-Face, and Blended Learning with regards to being an observant learner (1/8 characteristics of The Innovator’s Mindset) “When you look for things you start to find them… We must learn to make connections with the things we’re doing.” He goes on to ask this question, “How do we look for opportunities and how do we develop that in ourselves?” This is the mindset I am observing in great educators across the world. We are proactively seeking professional growth in pursuit of getting better. There is just no other choice, even if it is summer.
What Exactly are Educators Doing this Summer?
Despite my blurred sense of time,I can communicate with conviction and certainty what exactly it is that educators have been doing. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are consumed with thinking about the unknowns and the what-ifs and are doing their best to plan accordingly with that in mind. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are committed to thinking about ways to continue to connect with other educators and forge powerful relationships with students in unconventional learning environments. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been lifting the level of their technology literacy, taking classes, and self-paced courses to prepare for the unknown school year. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They are familiarizing themselves with various learning management systems so that they can seamlessly deliver effective instruction and meet the needs of all learners. This summer, do you know whateducators are doing? They are participating in book clubs and are discussing innovative ways to honor traditional practices that have worked while bringing fresh ideas into physical and virtual learning spaces. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been spending hours upon hours, meticulously curating relevant resources in digital spaces that are saturated with them. This summer, do you know what educators are doing? They have been leaning on colleagues, their PLN, and other go-to educators for ideas and inspiration for how to implement effective face-to-face, distance learning, and/or hybrid learning plans. There’s more: This summer educators are honing their craft and sharing their learning with others. This summer educators arerelentlessly listening to go-to podcasts, reading articles, Elementary, Middle Level, and Young Adult books so that they can recommend new titles to colleagues and students. Do you know what educators are doing? This summer educators are trying to prioritize time for self-care so they can approach the school year with renewed energy. This summer educators are deeply reflecting on what they should start, what they should stop, and what they should continue, all while keeping the students at the heart of the process.
What Exactly are School Leaders Doing this Summer?
Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer school leaders have been tirelessly working with committees involving various stakeholders in their educational communities to create plans for an unprecedented school year while keeping the students’ health, safety, and learning at the forefront of all decision making. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they have been glued to computer screens, are in Zoom meetings, and in-person socially distant meetings while wearing masks. Do you know what are school leaders doing? This summer they are figuring out ways to get devices into the hands of every single student… they are making sure that ALL students have proper connectivity so they can have equitable access to learning. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they are measuring classrooms…yes, they are! They are making sure that there is enough space for students to learn in socially distant compliant, safe spaces. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer they are fielding phone calls and questions from community members and families who are concerned about school reopening plans, safety, and the learning that will take place for their children. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer, they are making sure that teachers and staff feel safe to return to work and are busy providing resources and meaningful learning experiences that will support learning in physical and virtual environments. Do you know what school leaders have been doing? This summer, they have been trying to fit in self-care and squeeze in time to spend with loved ones.
Future Ready Schools has shared powerful podcasts titled Leading Through Unprecedented Times that highlight various school leaders from across the country. Each podcast is facilitated by Thomas C. Murray (Director of Innovation) and features school leaders who share their insight, knowledge, and experiences with leading during this challenging time in history.
Some Other Thoughts About What Educators are Doing
This summer educators are agonizing over the hurtful and mean spirited comments chastising educators all over social media. This summer educators are concerned about the misinformation and the virtual pounding they have received from people who are not in education and cannot comprehend that education is a calling (an extension of who you are vs. a job you do). This summer educators are thinking that they want families to know that they will do the very best they can because they deeply care about all learners. This summer, educators are thinking about how important it will be to continue to cultivate strong relationships and continuous communication between school districts and families because there is nothing more important than working together, especially during challenging times! This summer, educators are hopeful. They are hopeful because they know that when the dust settles, we will be better for it. We will have learned new teaching and learning practices, more effective ways to communicate, connect, and collaborate within the educational communities we serve.
5:30 am… this is the time my morning routine begins. This is the time, my mind begins to race as I instantly start to think about all of the things I want to accomplish in my day. This is the time my internal clock is set to, even when I don’t have anywhere specific to be. This is a time when no one else in my house is awake yet. It’s my time. A time to ponder, to think, to analyze, to reflect, and to set new goals. I’ll admit, it’s REALLY hard for me to turn off the thoughts and ideas that speed like wildfire through my head. It kind of feels like a dream, the ones with different scenes that overlap with one another. The kind of dreams where there are problems that present themselves as barriers and you have that urgent feeling to search for the right solutions. The kind of dream where you encounter various people you have met in your life and you are happy they are there to be the thinking partner who will help you overcome the challenges. Do you ever think about how you can navigate your days with intention and purpose and who you may invite to come along for the journey?
Time… time is something that we all have and choose to use in different ways. One way isn’t better than the other, that’s what makes us who we are. For me, when I am in professional thinking mode, I tend to perseverate over how I will use my time so that I can make a difference for learners and the educational community. I ask myself, “What could I do differently today and make it better than yesterday? I believe that this type of thinking actually works well in our current climate. The way we are learning and the types of resources we have access to are constantly changing within spaces of time. It’s happening really fast. Day by day… hour by hour… minute by minute. Sometimes, it’s difficult to keep up with it all. It’s like running a race. You take off with plenty of open space in front of you and then suddenly there are hurdles that get in your way. It’s a barrier that doesn’t appear to be moving, and you must figure out a way to successfully move beyond it. Do you stop and run backward or do you keep moving forward? More than ever, we are living in times where we must roll up our sleeves and embrace the change. Actually, to me, there is no other choice. It is dangerous to say “This is the way we have always done it”. Our world and the learners that exist within it are constantly evolving and educators have an obligation to stay ahead of the curve. It is also important to understand that we do not have to do it alone. After all, aren’t we in a field of sharing and collaboration? We must constantly rally together to analyze, reflect, assess, and work deliberately towards improving instruction, the practices we employ, and solutions to instructional issues that get in the way. It is crucial to invite others to share their expertise and guide us towards providing optimal learning experiences for students. Katie Martin recently shared the image below on Instagram that expresses just what I am saying. We can choose to use our time to actively seek out opportunities that will help us thrive in the unpredictable times we are living in.
We Can Dance in the Puddles
Time…it is time to think differently about the things we are used to seeing daily and create systems that support the process for creating and refining ideas. In a recent Future Ready podcast, Thomas Murray interviewed Superintendent, Dr. Tiffany Anderson. I was captivated by her ideas, convictions, and courageous leadership qualities. She expressed how her school district recognized that they must be versatile and adaptable as they shifted to remote learning. She mentioned that if you leverage technology well, you can continue learning in all different ways. She went on to say that since we have not been confined to our classroom walls, there are no borders that will get in the way of our growth…the possibilities are limitless. The challenging times we have been faced with have led us to take a deeper look into how students and educators learn. These times have allowed us to be more innovative than ever before and have prompted us to take more risks. I have always believed in the power of being a connected and networked educator, and this notion only amplified the value of it. Dr. Anderson also indicated that students and educators are truly resilient to the new structures that have been put in place. This idea really resonated with me because we can now think intentionally about using our time differently than we have before. And, because there are so many unknowns, that there is no “right” way to approach this work. The idea of starting with what you know, learning the facts, and then moving forward, makes it all more manageable. Of course, the preparation for this type of learning certainly has to have a great deal of flexibility. My favorite part of this podcast is when Dr. Anderson says that when it rains, and right now it’s a thunderstorm, “You have two options. You can complain about the rain or you can dance in the puddles.” I have certainly seen educators in my own school district and in districts across the country dancing in the puddles. This work is admirable. It can be hard. It can be emotional. It can be draining. But, it sure is rewarding! These virtual spaces have really opened up times to collaborate and connect with colleagues in new and exciting ways! I highly recommend viewing this incredible podcast as there are so many MORE gems of information and words of wisdom shared.
Time Moves Forward
Time…time is moving and the world continues to evolve in ways we could have never imagined. When my 5:30 a.m. internal clock wakes up, I will continue to think about how learning is messy. I will continue to perseverate on how I can make teaching and learning better. I will continue to think about the challenges that are getting in the way. I will continue to think about how learning is not a step by step, linear process. I will continue to think that it’s complex and often requires multiple solutions that have several correct answers. One thing I can say with certainty is that my mind will never stop moving with time. I am committed to rolling up my sleeves, embracing the change, navigating the days with intention and purpose, and inviting others to join me!
I’ll never forget my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Roth. Although I was only 9 years old, I can still remember thinking that she was one of the most innovative and inspiring teachers I’ve ever had. She had this unbelievable ability to make you feel special and valued. She celebrated your strengths and would ask you to share them with peers, she made learning incredibly fun, and continuously tried to implement new and better teaching and learning practices every single day. The overhead projector (remember those?) was a staple in her practice when most other teachers had them pushed into a corner in the back of the room (perhaps because it was a new and unfamiliar technological tool). I didn’t realize it then, but she used it to model her own writing life, make her invisible thinking visible, and showed us “the learning process” across various content areas. I often recreate the mind movie of me lovingly staring at her with my elbows locked on my desk and the palms of my hands cupping my chin as she gracefully carried around a book that was practically stuck to her hands like glue. This book looked important because it had that “lived-in” look about it. It was worn out at the edges like it had been thumbed through frequently, had colored tabs strategically placed throughout, and was covered with intentional highlighting, underlined words, phrases, and sentences from top to bottom. It was a book that reminded me of my favorite “go-to” 80s movies; you know, the ones I watched over and over again because I connected with the plot lines and hidden gems of life-lessons, or the humorous parts that made me laugh or the serious parts that got me to reflect on my own life and all of the “what if this happened to me?” moments!
My Lucky Day
I contemplated asking Mrs. Roth what the name of the book was, but I was a painfully shy young girl; so shy that I only spoke in class when I was invited to do so. Also, I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for an elementary student to be interested in a grown-up book for teachers! And then the moment arrived…it was my lucky day. I noticed that the mysterious, treasured book was left by itself on the kidney-shaped table Mrs. Roth used for small group instruction. I spontaneously grabbed my notebook and pencil, briskly walked up to the table, and furiously scribbled down the title and author of the book. This was all while Mrs. Roth wrote the schedule for the day on the chalkboard in different colored chalk (remember chalkboards?). I hurried back to my desk and immediately opened my notebook to read the title…In the Middle: A Lifetime of Learning About Writing, Reading, and Adolescents by Nancie Atwell. So, this was the book that Mrs. Roth kept close to her teaching heart. I had to have it. I had to because I felt compelled to emulate the qualities I saw in Mrs. Roth, someone who valued their students, someone who created exciting learning experiences, someone who made you feel like your contributions mattered and kept you running back to school every day. And, if I was going to be a teacher one day, I wanted to be the teacher that felt empowered to create innovative experiences for students and colleagues. I wanted to be the teacher who was collegial, but also not afraid of success or the idea of positively impacting others in dynamic, influential ways. I wanted to be that teacher who embraced every student and tapped into their passions and interests. I wanted to be the teacher who was aware of the learning goals, but did not necessarily get there by using the same pathways as everyone else. I wanted to value people, creativity, and motivate others to share their gifts. So, at the age of 9 years old, I asked my parents if they would purchase the book for me, and they did.
Moving Beyond the Status Quo
Do you ever find yourself continuously reflecting on the impact your mentors have had on your growth and development both personally and professionally? I believe it’s a wonderful way to reconnect with your “why”. Just imagine if every child had their very own Mrs. Roth from a young age to touch their hearts and minds? How would having these positive role models impact their personal journeys, encourage them to create their own opportunities, and then share those gifts with the world? Recently, I listened to a new #InnovatorsMindset podcast by George Couros titled “Hopes for School”. He asked the questions, “Who has empowered you to create and be a leader?” and “Are we empowering people to create their own opportunities?” Later, he went onto share that his best mentors have pushed and challenged him to grow. These are also the same people who have his back and truly value him as a person and an educator. These ideas resonated with me because the trusted people I would consider to be my mentors have pushed me to grow in ways I never could have expected; they never held me back from success and perpetually pushed me to move beyond the status quo. Perhaps these were the people who saw qualities in me that I wasn’t able to name or see in myself because I was so consumed with employing daily practices and routines naturally. Don’t we have the same hopes for our own children, and for that matter, every student who enters our classroom door? All learners deserve to meet trusted people who will be their champion. All learners deserve to be welcomed into an environment that values their stories. All learners deserve to have a voice and choice in how they learn. All learners could use an invitation to share their thinking in safe spaces. Throughout my educational journey, I have crossed paths with a multitude of people who have modeled practices that were destined to become a part of who I am as a person and educator. I consider myself a very observant person. Studying people, their actions, and reactions to various events are important when intentionally exploring the ins and outs of life. Why is that? Every time I get the opportunity to observe the habits of others…styles of communication, teaching and learning practices, approaches to management, and the types of leadership qualities they embody, I am more inclined to open doors to new experiences with an empathetic heart and open mind. It is difficult to navigate the world without having the ability to understand others. There are things I observe that I hold onto so tightly because I look at those ideas as vital to my present and future successes.
About 10 years ago, my supervisor had sent an email inviting a group of literacy teachers to attend a Nancie Atwell conference. I immediately jumped on the opportunity to meet the literacy guru who had a profound impact on my favorite teacher, and me. Before leaving for the early morning New York City conference, I tucked my “lived-in”, worn at the edges, highlighted, underlined, tab filled 21-year-old In the Middle: A Lifetime of Learning About Writing, Reading, and Adolescents book in my bag. As I listened to Atwell speak about her passion for literacy and what it means to her to empower learners to have meaningful literacy lives, I couldn’t help but think about what got me to that moment. If it wasn’t for Mrs. Roth, her love for learning, and empowering her learners to grow…would I be sitting at the table with other educators who traveled near and far for a Saturday morning of professional learning? During the lunch break, I patiently waited for my turn to speak with Nancie Atwell holding my adored book in hand. I got to share the story about why and how I have a 21-year-old copy of the book. She smiled, laughed and appeared to have connected with my experience. Then, she graciously and willingly signed my precious copy of the book, a cherished book that symbolized eternal memories of hope for the future.
Call me stubborn, but I refuse to quit! T.R.U.E. G.R.I.T. is the foundation to success in learning and life! Exploring the dynamics of a successful classroom and how grit is a vital characteristic for student achievement