The ebbs and flows of education can keep you on the edge of your seat. The days are full and all the minutes you live can pass you by if you let them. When you enter spaces of reflection, you can rewind time and recognize that the minutes are small moments in time. They are a courageous compilation of big and small wins, challenges, a plethora of learning experiences and interactions that are stirring within.
An educator’s collection of minutes are rooted in the well-intended spirit of supporting colleagues, community, and the most important stakeholders…students. While you walk through many unpredictable minutes in your days, it is clear that you are continually yearning for spaces to connect, collaborate, share your voice, actively listen to others, network, and sit in the driver’s seat of your learning so you can expand your impact and broaden your influence.
The sentiments shared above may have you wondering…
Where can you find both like minds and different minds?
Who are the people who will reaffirm your unique trajectory and where are the others who will push your perspectives to new places?
Who will lift you higher, celebrate your successes, embrace your failures, and love you harder when you step into the mess of learning?
The #EdCampLI Learning Ecosystem
Welcome to #EdCampLI, a participant-driven learning ecosystem blanketed in a sea of educators who will enthusiastically wake up on a Saturday to reflect on the educators they were, are, and are continuously striving to be. The contagious spirit of an #EdCampLI room lights up with the hopes, wishes, and dreams to learn and infinitely grow a solid professional learning network. It doesn’t matter where you are on the continuum of your educational journey. At an #EdCampLI event, the professional learning playing field is leveled. You are embraced. You are welcomed. You have a seat at the table. There is no hierarchy and there are no titles when talking about learning and teaching. I used to call it teaching and learning, but this is the new phrase I learned from Nicole Hunn and Joseph Wiener during the 3rd session of the 7th annual #EdCampLI event, held on October 15, 2022 at Bethpage High School. While I was participating in a conversation with the educators around me about this phrase, it made me think about the George Couros quote, “If you want to be a master teacher, you have to be a master learner.” And although I facilitated two sessions at #EdCampLI, I felt no different being a participant in another. You will find yourself in learning spaces that are collaborative, not evaluative. You will know that in this learning ecosystem, everyone is a teacher and a learner and everyone is valued as a leader of their learning.
The Session Board Lives
As educators swarm into an EdCamp, you will watch them hover around a living and growing session board. As they chat with colleagues old and new, they are simultaneously, personalizing their session schedules to meet their individual learning needs. While attending sessions, it is known that if one session doesn’t meet your needs, you can drift to another and then maybe another. That’s the #EdCampLI way! There are no egos. There is no judgment. There is only acceptance and kindness. Your time is valued. Your time is precious. YOU choose how you will learn.
Reconnecting and Connecting
At #EdCampLI you reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. You will leave with your own stories and moments of impact. The interactions you may have had at #EdCampLI may seem like a microcosm of your day. But, you will see, those interactions will be much bigger than that. It’s the collection of small moments with various people that become your stories to share. They will be waiting for you to courageously unwrap at the right place, at the right time, with the right people.
#EdCampLI Will Lift You Higher
So for the next #EdCampLI, be ready to share the goodness you bring to education. Be ready to be an active learner who takes it all in at your own pace. Be ready to be the educator who unexpectedly finds yourself launched into a session of your own because you were inspired by the energy and the gifts of others. You have found your place. Take your seat at the table because #EdCampLI will lift you higher!
As I was waiting for my flight to board from a much needed vacation this week, I decided to take one last quick scroll through a few of my inboxes before my journey home. While scrolling, I recognized a name I hadn’t quite thought about in recent years. I carefully scrolled back up my smartphone screen as my thumb finger hovered over a name that was frequently seen and vocalized in my household 8 years ago. It suddenly dawned on me that this was a message from my oldest son’s kindergarten teacher. As I gazed at her name, my mind took me back in time. I could clearly see my now 13 year old son’s 5 year old kindergarten face skipping joyfully to the bus stop, filled with enthusiasm and excitement as he was always ready for a new day of wonder and discovering what it means to be a learner. “Mrs. H is so kind, Mommy. She is always smiling when I walk into the classroom, she never yells, and tells me I’m a reader, I’m a writer, I can do things.” were the daily sentiments that rested on his lighthearted, malleable heart. My thoughts were interrupted by me curiously clicking on the unexpected and unpredictable message.
As I began reading the message, I remembered hearing that she had moved from New York to Florida many years ago. She had crossed my mind every time I looked at old photos or projects my son lovingly and eagerly created in her class. I anticipated that the message would be a quick hello, possibly checking-in on my son, her former student, or perhaps because she knew I was in education, she would have a question or two about a topic on her mind. Instead, I received this message:
Tears collected in my grateful eyes as I pictured Mrs. H over 1,000 miles away listening to her principal read a blog post titled Riding the Waves of Change to her faculty that I had written during the height of the pandemic. I had written that post with a lot of emotion and change pushing on my heart and resting on my shoulders. And some way, somehow, her principal found my writing appropriate to read on the first day of school to help set the tone for the year to possibly motivate, inspire, and influence her staff. Together, they can ride the waves of change, collectively celebrate their big and small wins, and overcome any obstacles that can be unexpectedly thrust upon them in the ever changing landscape of education.
Why Do I Write?
This message encouraged me to revisit the following, “Why do you write, Lauren?” is a question I am asked frequently. I do not have one particular answer. The truth is, there are many reasons, but here are a few that rise to the top of my list. Perhaps these may be the very reasons that inspire both you and your students to take the leap and write a little more than you have considered before.
To Document My Learning – A few years ago, I connected with George Couros through using his book the Innovator’s Mindset for a book study in the mentor program I facilitated in a previous school district. I was always inspired and influenced by George’s writing and had several opportunities to share my thinking and ideas with him. One day, during a virtual mentor meeting that he visited, he challenged me in front of the group of mentors/mentees to start blogging on my own platform. “But George, what would I have to share that no one else knows or has seen before?” I often shared. “Lauren, you write for yourself to reflect on your own learning,” George would confidently reply. He went on to say that what may be obvious to you, is not always obvious to others. That made me pause. He is right. How many times have you shared an idea that was obvious to you, but were shocked to learn that others were hearing it for the first time? We revisited this dialogue and my writing journey in THIS #InnovatorsMindset podcast titled, Why Mentorship Matters! Here is a wonderful video that is shared in the podcast mentioned above titled, Obvious to you. Amazing to Others. It will take less than 2 minutes to watch and can be encouraging for writers (educators and students) who may feel hesitant to share their ideas in writing.
2. ToMake the Invisible, Visible – Adam Grant recently shared the following graphic and sentiment in a tweet below. “Writing isn’t what you do after you have an idea. It’s how you develop an inkling into an insight. Turning thoughts into words sharpens reasoning. What’s fuzzy in your head is clear on the page. “I’m not a writer” shouldn’t stop you from writing. Writing is a tool for thinking.” I think I read this tweet several times. Each time I read it, I said the big word YES in my head even more! Like most educators, I cannot turn off my thinking switch. I am constantly creating ideas in my head and when I get into that zone, I need to write! Some are ideas that have already been implemented and others are newer versions of those ideas. One of the strategies I used to craft ideas, is that I use the notes section in my phone to write what I am thinking. That is exactly what I started to do in the airport and on the airplane as I thought about writing this post. In addition to that, I use it as a space to collect notes and quotes from books I read and presentations I attend. Just like a puzzle, I piece those ideas together to form new ones, I write about and implement them. Overtime, I have been able to bring more clarity to my thinking by writing. I can then continuously revisit that space to curate my resources and refine my practices.
3. To Connect with Others – I am not concerned with the amount of “likes”, retweets, or comments my writing receives. That’s not why I write.I write to reflect on my own learning and for that reason, I am not always aware that my collection of writing has inadvertentlyexpanded my impact and broadened my reach to other people I may have not known before. I know that writing brings people together. This has been proven to me time and time again as I have connected with educators by asking me questions about my writing, practices, and perspectives on various educational topics. I have collaborated with some of those educators on writing projects, presentations, and other educational endeavors. I have even visited and gone on vacations with some! Most of these amazing people have become a vital part of my professional learning network and serve as sounding boards, mentors, and guides. Your impact can reach far and wide through writing and the connections you make can forge significant collaborations and friendships that can sharpen your lens and impact your future.
Back to the Beginning
I took my seat on the airplane and thought about the message I received the entire plane ride home. Isn’t it ironic how a teacher who made a significant impact on my son’s perception of learning was now sitting in her new school listening to her principal read a piece of writing I wrote a few years ago? In that particular post, I shared, “As we move forward in an ever-changing educational landscape and make teaching and learning practices more accessible for students, families, and educators, it could also be a good time to revalue decisions that involve change. Go below the surface, explore the inner workings of the system…there is so much more to take in.”
You’re a Writer Are you thinking about going below the surface to deepen your reflections and share your voice with others? YOU have so much to offer and others have so much more to take in. Writing has the potential to travel into the hands of those who need it. The beautiful part about it is that it doesn’t need a stamp or shipping box. It needs a space to manifest your spirit, nurture your ideas, and capture your inner thoughts. Writing can cultivate courage in others. Writing is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be. Your impact stretches farther and resonates more deeply than you think. The world will be a little better with your voice in it. YOU are a writer… you can do these things.
This post was written to honor and celebrate the launch of the book #EvolvingWithGratitude by Lainie Rowell. I am one of the proud contributors of this important and meaningful read. My hope is that #EvolvingWithGratitude will be a source of inspiration for every person who serves in an educational organization. It holds a rich source of ideas, resources, and information about how to use gratitude to create safe, equitable, empowering learning experiences for ALL learners.
Gratitude is a feeling of deep appreciation that is woven into the fabric of our lives. Feelings of gratitude are discovered in small moments that manifest in the stories we live in over the course of time. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize and feel gratitude in those moments because we are so caught up in the experience itself. Have you ever found it difficult to notice the impact simple moments have on your heart and mind when you are living in them?
Gratitude is feeling thankful for simple actions, possessing an urge to give recognition to those who have touched your life. It’s showing how deeply appreciative you are and not expecting anything in return. It’s harnessing a state of reflection and thinking of all of the moments that may have passed you by, ultimately impacting the trajectory of your life.
Gratitude lives in all the moments. It’s easier to show it during moments of happiness and joy. It’s the moments that push on your heart, rent space in your head, and put stress on your emotional deposit box that can be hard to unpack. It’s the unfavorable and disappointing experiences you may have encountered with various people or circumstances over the course of your life that can feel heavy resting on your shoulders. These are the feelings that can become trapped in your conscience and shift your spirit. So I ask, how do you find gratitude in those hard moments? While you are searching, you may have to dig a bit deeper to find gratitude through the hurt, the disappointment, and the adverse actions you may have experienced and could not control in those uncomfortable spaces.
Maybe you can find gratitude in the lessons you have learned because they have made you stronger. Maybe you can find gratitude by calling these interactions learning moments. Maybe those unfavorable moments have encouraged you to think about how to approach people or situations differently in the future. Maybe the gratitude is understanding that those moments have shaped you into the person you are and are continuously striving to be. In the book #EvolvingWithGratitude by Lainie Rowell, she shares, “We often don’t appreciate what we have until we imagine how different life could have been.” Can you find comfort in knowing those difficult moments have transported you to the very place you are living in now? Those difficult moments will continue to guide you as you find your way to the new destinations that await.
Recently, a friend I hadn’t heard from in a while reached out to share that they were having some challenges in their life. I responded to her sentiments with these words: “Life can be hard, but the barriers put before us make you stronger. It’s easy to find gratitude in moments of joy, but harder to find it in the disappointing or hard times. Keep holding your head high; there are bright spots in the hard moments that can only be realized in the future.”
Gratitude is taking the time to tell the people from the past and present that you are truly grateful for them more often. It could be people who were placed in your life for minutes, hours, days, months, or years. Perhaps you have held on to some of those people, while you have let others go. Whatever the case may be, those people were placed in your life for a reason. Maybe they served as signposts, guides, mentors on your journey. They have helped pave the way to your growth and development for the person you are and want to be; THEY are the stories that are woven into the fabric of your lives.
Could you imagine a world where each and everyone of us use our talents and resources to nurture the potential that simmers within? Could we work toward developing an in-depth understanding of our unique talents that are awaiting to be courageously unwrapped and shared with others? What if we strived to build systems that focused more on lifting each other up instead of pushing ourselves and others down? Can you imagine a world that is grounded in cultivating our natural capacities while embracing creativity, critical thinking, empathy, collaboration, and communication? Don’t we owe it to ourselves, our communities, colleagues, and the students we serve?
In the book Imagine If… Creating a Future For Us All by Sir Ken Robinson, PhD and Kate Robinson, they share, “Imagination is what separates us from the rest of life on Earth. It is through imagination that we create the worlds in which we live. We can also re-create them.” Sir Ken Robinson PhD and Kate Robinson add “Imagination allows us to envision alternative possibilities, and creativity equips us with tools to bring them into existence.” Inviting colleagues and kids to own their learning and reflect on their thinking instead of passively using their imaginations, we can empower them to engage, create, and collaborate, which ultimately leads to deeper learning. Speaking of imagining, I was recently participating in Dr. Katie Martin’s #EvolvingEducation #LCbookclub where Dr. Katie Novak shared her brilliance, “There is not one single practice we use that works for everyone…when you anticipate that someone might need a support, design for it.” When we design meaningful learning experiences and allow students to be exactly who they are as they learn, imagine, and create, they could essentially be on the precipice of success and innovation.
How can we create conditions that remove barriers and open pathways for educators and students who visit our learning spaces to apply their imagination, create new ideas, and put their minds to work?
Share your heart with kids, our most precious stakeholders: They are interested in who you were, who you are, and who you are striving to be. Invest in their hearts. Get to know who they were, who they are, and who they want to be.
Be the trusted teacher: Welcome all students, value their stories, empower them to explore their interests in inclusive, safe spaces. Take the best attributes of all of the educators you’ve encountered and be the best version of them!
Learn from colleagues who make an impact: Collaborate, communicate, connect, actively listen, share your learning, empower, and celebrate others. Keep kids at the heart of your conversations.
Be the human-centered administrator: Lead with empathy, recognize the gifts in others, involve stakeholders in the decision-making process, and build capacity from within. Show intrinsic, authentic appreciation for those you serve.
Tell someone, YOU CAN: Give them a smile, a nod, a note, a glimmer of hope and encouragement. Help them say yes to themselves and embrace new people and opportunities.
Life and learning are not linear. Both are complex, unique experiences that can be challenging to navigate when we don’t have the right people in our corner who allow us to see things we haven’t seen before. Dr. Katie Martin says that when we embrace what we know about learners & learning, honor people in a space, help others develop a sense of belonging, and tap into strengths and interests, our learning communities grow. Could you imagine an atmosphere where we help others create the world we want to live in tomorrow?
Stories are windows into the soul. They are hidden treasures that are buried beneath a sea of hopes, wishes, dreams. They are small moments of time that pass you by. They are memories that enrapture your heart and wrap around your spirit. They are the hidden paths to who we are and what we will become. Every piece of who we are, are invisible stories strung together and concealed by our external being. There are moments in time where our masked stories are unearthed amidst the creation of the new versions of ourselves. Stories bind us to people; they are entry points to connection, collaboration, conversation, and contact. Our stories are a learning journey, our core identity, they are a reflection of our values and what we stand for. What if we do not like the way a story is unfolding in our lives? Did you know that we have the divine power to choose our own? What can we intentionally do to shift the narratives we are creating and write the stories we want to be a part of?
Stories are windows into our experiences. They are small moments etched into our memories. They are the ammunition that pushes us down the path of discovery. They live in mind memory boxes waiting to be courageously unwrapped and gifted to people who use them to discover ideas and recognize their own passions. In a recent #InnovatorsMindset podcast, George Couros brilliantly says “Stories are the fuel for innovation, they inspire us, they give us pertinent ideas, they get the work we are doing out to people in a really compelling way that goes beyond what a score could tell people about our students.” Beneath the facade of every human being lies personal, unique collections of stories that reveal reflections of who they are and who they want to be. How can we intentionally create spaces for learners to share how they view the world through stories?
Layering Stories into Learning
Here is a simple and authentic formula to consider following when thinking about how a classroom community can intentionally embed stories into their learning lives:
Personalize – The teacher links a personal story to learning by saying.
I was thinking about…
I remember when…
Let me tell you a story…
Connect- Learners connect their own stories to a learning experience.
This is making me think…
I’m realizing that…
Share: Learners share connections with peers to form new ideas.
Your story is making me think…
Your story is making me wonder…
Stories are lenses that formulate perspectives and cultivate community. They are sound bites, and short episodes of our lives. They are opportunities to personalize classroom experiences, make connections to new learning, and a bridge that connects us with people to form new ideas. In chapter 3 of the book Personal and Authentic, Thomas C. Murray passionately wrote, “Weaving together our experiences creates our story, makes us who we are, and determines the context in which we each learn.” Understanding the stories within our school organizations forges deeper connections that lead to deeper learning. Understanding stories values the uniqueness of each individual and brings purpose to authentic work. Understanding stories helps us shift the narratives we want to create in our classrooms, honors people who live in our world, and nourishes the feeling of empathy in the spaces we choose to create.
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.
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.
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