What Happens When Teachers Grow?

I like to argue (let’s call it “debate”) and I like to learn.  Recently I was thinking about how I’ve grown and changed as an educator throughout my career and, thanks to the things I’ve learned along the way, realized that if time-travel was real then I would be able to have some very intense arguments with myself!  

There are topics in education that I’ve changed my opinion on, a full 180 degrees.  In other cases I’ve slightly modified and shifted my views based on things I’ve learned and experienced.  Also, along with my ever-evolving educational philosophies, there are a certain segment of my beliefs that have been strengthened by things I’ve learned.  Throughout my educational career I’ve taken the time to sit down and, literally, rewrite my educational philosophy five different times. It’s very interesting (to me anyway!) to see how my views have shifted over the years.  

I’m sure, if you’ve been teaching for more than a couple years, that you’re able to see changes in your own educational beliefs as well, they’re completely normal and (I would argue) expected.  As educators we are surely life-long learners; when we learn, we change. How has your educational philosophy changed throughout your career? This question should take some time for you to answer.  If you haven’t been sitting down to think about this regularly over the years, then you may not even be aware of how much your opinions have changed. Take some time to think about it…

Beyond nudging you to think about your educational philosophy and how it’s changed (a great practice in and of itself) I want to encourage you to think about why you’ve changed as well.  I can trace most of the changes in my educational philosophy to four different things (in alphabetical order): 

  1. Colleagues:  I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really wonderful educators tracing all the way back to my teacher training program.  Keeping an open mind, watching and listening, and having philosophical conversations with my colleagues has allowed me to constantly learn and adapt my educational practice over time.
  2. Experiences:  Living and traveling internationally has given me the chance to see many different views on all sorts of topics.  Not only have I seen education through many different lenses but I’ve also had the chance to learn about how cultural expectations, languages, and religious and political views can impact a person’s philosophy on education and life.  
  3. Further Education:  Whether masters courses, educational workshops, conferences, online courses, or in-school PD opportunities, I never pass up a chance to learn from someone new.  The experiences of others can be just as valuable as our own. By putting myself in a position to network and learn from others I know I’ve been able to grow considerably.
  4. Reading/Listening:  Teachers and educators have taken the internet by storm.  Between the amount of educational books available to be read (or listened to) on digital devices, the volumes of educational blogs, oodles of podcasts and information on social media platforms such as Twitter, there is literally too much to read and/or listen to.  Digging in and finding interesting and thought provoking educational material isn’t even difficult now days…honestly, if you’re not doing this yet, this should be the first thing you look to do! (Listening to educational podcasts would also be a GREAT way to improve English language skills!!)

From a great article I read a while ago called, Why The Best Teachers Change Their Minds:

“The best teachers change their mind because things themselves change. 21st century learning is, above all else, diverse, interdependent, and formless. Technology, culture, academic standards, assessment forms, and the cost–and format–of higher education all evolve endlessly.”

Of the four different things that have helped me grow so much as an educator the easiest and quickest way to have my thinking challenged is the last one, reading and listening online.  With that in mind I want to start sharing some interesting articles and blogs I’ve read recently. I’ll start this week with an Earth Day inspired set of great articles and videos.  I’m hoping that by having a look at some of the things I share over the next few weeks you’ll be inspired to dig a little deeper and find a way to improve your practice even more 🙂

 

Earth Day: Ending Plastic Pollution

Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 2018 around the world…Earth:)

This year’s focus was on helping End Plastic Pollution.  For those of us who are educators this couldn’t be a more relevant topic; in our lifetimes the amount of plastic created and discarded has grown exponentially.  If we don’t educate our students (the next generations) about the dangers of this epidemic, then it’s very possible that the plastic waste in our world could choke the life out of this planet.  

I want to share some great resources for your (and your students’) learning.  Have a look at these and please find some inspiration to make steps toward, not only ending plastic pollution but also educating our students on how to create a greener lifestyle.

Inspiration:

Check out these videos to better understand what’s happening to our world.

Plastic Ocean (video)

What Really Happens to the Plastic You Throw Away (video)

 

IF They Can Do It, So Can You!

Individuals, corporations and governments all over the world are working to help solve the problem of plastic and pollution.  What are you doing to help?

How This Town Produces No Trash (video)

You Can Live Without Producing Trash (video)

Four Years of Trash:  One Jar (video)

Apple Says It’s Facilities Are Now Powered By 100 Percent Clean Energy

IKEA using mushrooms to create packaging for shipping

Plastic Waste Can Fix Our Roads (video)

An enzyme that eats plastic

Scientists Make Renewable Plastic From Carbon Dioxide and Plants

‘Zero Tolerance’ Plan for Plastic Pollution

 

Classroom Connections

These resources can help educators better engage their students in the fight against plastic and pollution.

Climate Education Toolkit

How Small Steps Can Create Outdoor Experiences in Schools

How Access to Nature During the School Year Can Help Students Thrive (in case you need more evidence for WHY!)

 

The Future?

One final idea about where education could go

Could Urban Farms Be the Preschools of the Future?

Student Takeover: What would students change about school if they could?

If you were a student in this school and had a magic wand that would allow you to change anything you wanted, what would you want to change to make the learning experience better?

Next year’s Student Council candidates have already been chosen and the elections will happen in the middle of May.  I’ve been meeting with the candidates and asking them questions like the one above. I believe it’s important that our students begin thinking about how school can be a better place for them to learn, they should be advocating for themselves in this regard.  

What I want to ask you to think about today is what you would do to change the learning experience if you were a student in this school.  So, take off your teacher hat for a minute and put on your student hat.  What is something that students at this school would want to change if they had a magic wand?  

I’m sure you’ve thought of some obvious answers that, as teachers, we think are pretty crazy.  “No homework!” or “No grades!”  (Note: What would school look like if we got rid of both of these things??)

Put your student hat back on, and think about more things you’d (as the student) like to change about the learning experience, go beyond the knee-jerk reactions and think about this for a few minutes.  From the students’ perspective, what could we be doing better to improve their learning experience? If you were sitting in your class, or your colleague’s class, what would you be thinking? Would you be fully engaged in learning?  Would you be excited and eager to come to class?

If you were a student, what would you change?

 

Luck, Who Needs It?

Last week we sent our Year 12 students off to their study time before Unas (national) exams, which happen this week.  Speaking with them I shared that, I don’t believe in “good luck”…

They’ve studied hard for many years, they’ve practiced multiplied times for this exam specifically and they’ve demonstrated that they can be successful students many times over, so why do they need luck?  The answer is, they don’t!

Really, luck isn’t something that we should be encouraging our kids to rely on, or even think about, in the first place.  It’s as though we’re telling them that their results are out of their control and up to fate, ouch! So when I spoke with our students the other day I reminded them of the things that they had in their control over the next few days before their exams, the things they could still do to help themselves.

First off, when I spoke with them it was Wednesday afternoon so they still had a little time left to practice, review and cram the last bits of knowledge into their heads.  Hopefully by this point they have studied and practiced enough. They’ve been learning everything they need to know for a long time and with only a few days to go they should be building their confidence by reviewing the content and affirming their knowledge for themselves.  They should know what they need to know by now…luck won’t help them!

Secondly, they can prepare their bodies for this upcoming week by being physically and mentally healthy.  Getting enough sleep is essential for teenagers and not just the night before an exam. Our students should have healthy sleep routines that allow them the eight hours necessary for their brains to clear the toxins out each night and ready their brains for learning.  If they’ve not yet developed these habits they can at least get a few solid nights of sleep leading up to the big day. A rested body and mind will provide them with the energy and ability to focus that no amount of luck can match.

The final step that our Year 12 students should focus on, instead of luck, is how they approach the actual exam itself.  By preparing, studying and getting the ideal amount of rest, our students can set themselves up for success. On the day of the exam, however, nerves can really destroy even the most well-prepared student.  I’ve shared with our Year 12 students, on multiple occasions now, that nerves are normal and healthy. However, when it comes to nerves we have to work to ensure that they don’t consume us. So, when our Year 12s enter their exam room today they need to find their seat, close their eyes, identify their nerves and acknowledge them.  Once they’ve settled their mind and realized, “okay, I’m nervous and that’s normal,” then they can set those nerves aside and focus on the task at hand. No amount of luck will make nerves go away, but acknowledging them and setting them to the side will allow the preparation to take over and lead the way to success.

Our students are ready, they should be confident and eager to prove that their hard work and preparation has paid off.  I left them the other day with these three tips and hopefully the confidence to excel this week, and…just in case they don’t buy what I’m selling…a wish of “good luck” 🙂

Preparing Students for an Unknown Future

I hope everyone had a chance to rest, relax and sharpen the saw a bit over the holiday.  We’re back for the final stretch of the year, it’s going to fly by!

During the holiday Amy and I traveled to Shanghai to visit friends and see how the city has changed since we left there almost three years ago.  Shanghai has been a land of opportunity for a long time now, especially over the last 15-20 years. As such, new restaurants, stores and other entrepreneurial opportunities have popped up quickly.  While we were visiting I had the chance to talk to a few of my friends who’ve been able to take advantage of this hotbed of opportunity and it got me thinking about our school mission and how we’re preparing our students for a booming world economy.

I don’t know the secret combination of all the ingredients but I think I’ve figured out the recipe for success that so many of these young entrepreneurs have followed.  It starts with an idea, or many ideas, targeted on an identified problem or void in a community. From there it takes time, effort (lots of effort), planning, organization, and what many of the people I‘ve spoken with called ‘good luck’.  I, however, believe that the ‘good luck’ factor isn’t truly named at all, we should be calling this last bit ‘preparedness’. And here is where I believe that we, as a school, come into the equation.

See, we’re the ones preparing these students.  We’re preparing them for the unknown, for the future that is still (at best) a foggy and murky idea of what their lives could possibly hold.  So how do we do that? Are good lesson plans, homework and final exams the answer? What about service learning, interdisciplinary units and Education Outside The Classroom?  What happens if we integrate ATLs, technology and TOK links into all of these things? Do any of the combinations from above prepare our students for the future?

Therein lies the biggest question – what future are we trying to prepare our students to meet successfully?  Are we content with preparing them for university? Should we be preparing them for life beyond university? What if our students don’t attend university, will they be successful?

My nudge to you this week, as we prepare for the final quarter of the year, is to start considering some of these questions.  As part of the three year Strategic Plan currently under development we are thinking about a lot of these questions and what the implications of their answers could mean for how we prepare students.  Take some time to contemplate these questions and debate them with your colleagues. I’d love to hear from you or be a part of any of these conversations, it’s fascinating stuff and there are certainly no ‘right’ answers!

 

My Why

A couple of weeks ago I challenged you to stop and think about your “why”.  I encouraged you to think about why you teach, why you do what you do.  I wanted to lay that challenge out without giving “answers” or examples.  My hope was that you would take some time to watch the wonderful Simon Sinek video and stop to go through the exercise I suggested.  

This week I want to share the results I came up with as I went through this process.  One thing I want to add before I share my results is that I believe that these are ever-changing results.  I know that when I started teaching, this list would’ve been very different from today. Even just a few years ago these answers would’ve been extremely varied.  I’m confident that as I learn more and grow as an educator, my reasons “why” will change as well. There are no right answers and no wrong answers…

Why I’m an educator:

I hope that everyone in the world can achieve a curiosity and passion for learning; this is how the world will be made a better place.

There’s nothing better than the moment a child realizes they “can do it”, discovering capabilities and finding never before seen confidence is beautiful.

I hope that I can inspire students to be nice and work hard; these two qualities have never failed anyone.

I absolutely love helping someone who feels hopeless or unable; showing them that they “can” or even that they “might be able to” is amazing.

By influencing young people I hope to help the next generation to be better off than mine or any that came before. 

How I educate:

I focus on the whole-child; often times looking straight past the classroom and academics to “who the student is inside”.

I am unrelenting in holding students to high standards.

I face challenges with courage, daring to say things people don’t necessarily want to hear when necessary.

I listen, contemplate and evaluate new ideas, opinions and information.

I hold myself accountable to high standards and continuously re-evaluate my values and goals.

I work to establish positive relationships, learn about the people around me and use this knowledge to help people reach high levels of success.

I challenge the status quo.

What I teach:

I teach social-emotional skills.

I teach passion and courage.

I teach curiosity and persistence.

I teach kindness.

I teach courage.

I encourage all of this in others.

 

There you have it, my reasons “why” as of today.  These may change and some may be missing but at the end of the day, going through this process has centered my focus back to “why I do” instead of “how/what” I do.

I hope you’ve given this a try already but if you haven’t please do so!

Explore, Experience, Learn

Last week was another great week for your Year 10 students (wow, they’ve been busy lately!) as they went out into the community and got the chance to see a side of the “real world” that they haven’t necessarily seen before.  

The opportunity that Work Experience Week offers for our students is one that I’ve not seen offered before, it’s a wonderfully unique experience that gives our students the chance to go beyond their comfort zone and begin thinking beyond Sekolah Ciputra.  The preparation, the actual experience and the reflective process all help our students experience the world in a totally different way than we could offer from a classroom.

Beginning well in advance of Work Experience Week, our students began the planning and preparation needed to earn themselves a position working with a business or organization.  They prepared job application letters, many of them went for actual interviews and they began thinking about what it would take to enter the workforce (if only for a week) and what it would mean to carry that responsibility.  By the time the Work Experience Week finally arrived our students were excited and nervous, but ready for the opportunity in front of them.

With more than 50 businesses and organizations involved in hosting our Year 10 students this year, there was certainly no shortage of diversity in the experiences that our students received.  Having opportunities at jobs with the Jawa Pos, any number of event organizers, or even just down the hall in the PYP, our students have been able to find something that is interesting, exciting and speaks to their own personal tastes.  Work Experience Week has given our students a glimpse into the future and helped them learn a little more about what lies beyond the walls of our school.

My nudge this week is to you and your departments…How can we continue to inspire our students beyond the walls of the school?  We’ve put a lot of time and effort into some amazing IDUs over the last couple of years but none of them require leaving the comfort zone of the school building.  Is there a way to take an existing IDU and move beyond the walls? If not, are there new potential IDUs that could help us expose our kids to the culture and opportunities that lie beyond the comfort zone of our school?  Perhaps you won’t act on this nudge this week but, in the future, when you’re working to plan IDUs or other engaging units, I’m asking you to think beyond our ‘bubble’ and get our kids out into the world!

 

“Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind.”  – Rebecca Solnit

“Keep exploring. Keep dreaming.  Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know.  Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world.”  – Barack Obama