Challenging thoughts and culture

imageHow we react to problems shows so much about the culture of a school, of a community, of a society. Think about what happens when someone constantly has en excuse for not solving a problem, what comes from that? Excuses keep us in the past, thoughtful reflection brings us into the future. When we begin to challenge what has been and what could be, we move away from excuses and start to reflect and come up with solutions. This is what learning is all about. This is why I am an educator and this is why I began to write. I needed to challenge my thinking about what has been and what could be through writing. I challenge for me since I never considered myself a writer, nor ever thought that others would read my work. This challenge has brought about a dramatic change in the way I approach teaching. We are at a crossroads of those that continue with the usual and those that strive to make it better, all through thoughtful reflection.

This past week I was tagged by Eric Johnson (@yourkidsteacher) in a post that helped me to reflect on what my challenges and successes were so far this year. I found this incredibly powerful since this is my first year being an “instructional coach” at our school. My position changed from 3rd grade teacher to a coach that helped facilitate and teach a program called Project Lead the Way with all K-5 classes at our school. There have been so many challenges and successes that it’s difficult to narrow it down to one, but it’s been a thoughtful process, one that has helped me to think about where I’ve been and where I’m going. Thanks Eric for the encouragement to think and reflect on those challenges and successes.

What has been your ONE biggest struggle during this school year?

The biggest challenge/struggle that I’ve experienced comes from the change in my position from classroom teacher for 3rd grade to a whole school teacher. The challenges comes from helping 30 students create a culture of thinking to helping 500 students and 20 teachers begin to create a culture of thinking and reflecting. For our students to successfully grow and our teachers to grow, we have to create a culture of thinking. A culture that is not built on worksheets and teachers teaching at the front while students absorb, but a culture where teachers are a guide and students are learning to create, not just finish for the teacher. We have many teachers that are striving to do better for their students and we need to help create that culture.

I’ve been challenged to help create this culture by modeling for teachers, by assisting students, and by having tough conversations. PLTW is a great program that provides a very interesting structure that supports a culture of thinking and design. It will always be a challenge to produce this culture unless we change the way WE think and teach. All of us have to shift our thoughts, our teaching methods, the way we interact with students if we are to create a culture that helps students to innovate and make learning a lifelong goal.

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Share TWO accomplishments that you are proud of from this school year.

The first accomplishment comes from my move from 3rd grade to PLTW coach/facilitator. Many of our students and teachers have bought into the program and have seen the benefits that a more student driven learning process brings to our school. Without the opportunity to try this program at our school we would not have the opportunity to host other teachers and principals to show the benefits of PLTW. I’m proud of the work that our students have done, the thinking they have done, and the communication that is occurring between students of all different learning levels. I’m proud of the work that our teachers have done to try this program, to be willing to make mistakes, and more importantly to try and build a culture of thinking in their own classrooms. We’ve seen kindergarten designers create amazing structures and explain to adults why they worked or didn’t work all the way to 5th graders who have created robots to clean up a nuclear disaster. In between we’ve had 4th graders design a concussion app to help diagnose concussions, 3rd grade designers create gliders that carry certain loads to help natural disaster hit areas, 2nd grade students create coolers that can help insulate popsicles using all recyclable materials, and 1st grade designers creating a communication device using light and sound that helps lost hikers get the attention of rescuers. This is a huge accomplishment, one that I am proud our school has undertaken for now and in to the future!

The second accomplishment comes from helping other teachers see the benefit of using twitter to expand their learning networks. I’ve been using twitter since I first started teaching (2009) and have had wonderful opportunities to learn and collaborate with educators from all over the world. Working with teachers at our school has shown me that they are doing great things and we need to share those pieces of work with others outside of our school. We need to connect with others to learn from them, not just stay inside the same school building. We started a district hashtag #gcslearn and began it all through a 20 day twitter challenge. There are only a small amount of teachers who have taken the chance to network on twitter, but it’s building, getting bigger by the week. The importance in the accomplishment is that these teachers now have the chance to collaborate outside of school, to share what their students are doing, to get a different perspective than what they get every day. Conversations begin when reflection occurs and twitter brings that opportunity to our teachers.

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What are THREE things that you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

  1. First item I’d like to accomplish by the end of the year is creating a better understanding of what student choice looks like in our school day. We say we give students choice, but really that doesn’t happen. The teachers drive the choice, not the students. What happens if we provide the goals to students, students take those goals, and create the options they’d like to do to meet the goals? What kind of learning will come from that? In my opinion the amount of learning and success will increase. Students will want to come to school because they are excited for what each new day brings.
  2. Second item I’d like to accomplish is to get more teachers sharing the awesome things that are happening in their classrooms. I’d like to get at least 5 more teachers connecting with others and sharing what is happening with their students. We can’t just have pockets of innovation, we need our school to have an innovator’s mindset. This mindset comes from collaborating and sharing outside of our school’s walls. I’d like to see teachers from all different grade levels trying out Skype or Google Hangouts to connect their students with experts in a field the students are learning about. Don’t just read about it, experience it first hand through an expert.
  3. Third item I’d like to accomplish comes with students experiencing storytelling from a new perspective. I wrote a grant for a drone to use with students at school and I’d like to help students see how storytelling changes when they look at stories from different perspectives. Wouldn’t it be awesome if teachers engaged students in true storytelling? Think how many of our students would love to tell stories as if they were a movie producer? If I had that opportunity as a student who knows where I would be today. It’s not the same as a teacher giving you a prompt and you writing it. This allows for students to plan out their story in real time, act it out with Hollywood effects, and produce a visual story that advances their understanding of writing by leaps and bounds.

Give FOUR reasons why you remain in education in today’s rough culture.

  1. Learning is all our world is about. Without learning we have no operable society. I remain in education because students need to have their eyes opened to possibilities they haven’t even thought of.
  2. Questions. I’m in education because I have questions, more importantly I want to guide students to ask questions. To go deeper than I ever could go in elementary school. Questions are huge!
  3. Education is so much more than the political system it has become. Being creative and seeing all the excitement students have when making is what drives me each day.
  4. One word-Curiosity……. I am curios and want to help students build that curiosity. That’s why I do what I do.

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Which FIVE people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?

I’d be interested in hearing from:

  1. Laura Fleming who is a big inspiration in using makerspaces to change the landscape of education.
  2. Kelly Tenkley who’s doing amazing work with her school.
  3. Krista Troyer who I have had the opportunity to work with and be interested in her perspective since she just changed grade levels.
  4. John Spencer who is a creativity genius and inspiration on changing education.
  5. Trevor Bryan who writes at 4oclock faculty and has done amazing work in helping change the culture of education.

Thanks again to Eric Johnson and Anthony Purcell for helping me to cultivate this post. So important to reflect and think about where I’ve been and where I want to go. If you have time to write about your successes and challenges, please tag me @atkauffman on Twitter so I can read your thoughts. Enjoy reflecting so that we all can change the future of education.

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