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 🙂

 

Seeing Ourselves as Models

It’s hard to believe that we’re already in the second week of the second term, this year is flying by at a breakneck pace.  However, before it gets too far ahead of us I wanted to slow down and come back to something that I really believe to be the most important thing we can do as educators…model.

I’ve written about modeling our life as ‘learners’ for our students before but this goes beyond that, this is bigger, and is easier to forget.  At the beginning of the year, before we hit full stride, it’s easier to keep the small things in mind.  Modeling for our students, as important as it is, often seems like one of those small things.  It’s something that is easily overlooked as the year goes on.  We see our students’ true colors and they get to see ours…what are they seeing?

Recently I discovered Jennifer Gonzalez and her amazing website, The Cult of Pedagogy.  If you have some time it’s most definitely worth a look, she’s got great stuff to share about education.  I also began following her on Twitter, and over the weekend she shared one of her past blog posts.  As I read it, I realized that it was perfect timing for this piece at our school.  It came as a wonderful reminder to me and I believe you’ll find it as a great reminder as well.  

The post is titled, Lessons in Personhood: 10 Ways to Truly Lead in Your Classroom, and it is outstanding.  In fact, you should stop right now and read that post.

Jennifer’s 10 lessons are as follows but you’ll have to read the post to get the details…if you haven’t already read it, you should really do it now…

  1. Lead with imperfection.
  2. Lead with assertiveness.
  3. Lead with relationships.
  4. Lead with language.
  5. Lead with self-control.
  6. Lead with manners.
  7. Lead with quality.
  8. Lead with humor.
  9. Lead with enthusiasm.
  10. Lead with humility.

Over the last 12 weeks I’d like to think that I’ve done my best to lead in this way but I will continue being mindful of these 10 “Lessons in Personhood”.  Similarly, I hope that you take these lessons to heart and stop to think for a minute about what it is that you’re modeling for our students.  These lessons go beyond education, management, or business.  These truly are lessons for how to be a better person.

Week 12, hard to believe…enjoy it 🙂

Embracing Summer

It seems like a long time ago that I started writing this blog, five years and 146 posts ago.  Thinking about that makes me start thinking back to all that has happened over those five years.  Two different schools, traveling to all sorts of countries, lots of professional and personal experiences that have changed me (mostly for the better), and throughout all of that a constant reflective process that I’ve learned and practiced through the writing of this blog.  I’ve written before about why this blog is important to me and why I think others should try, if I haven’t convinced you yet…maybe now is the time!  Perhaps over the summer you’ll sit down and give it a shot.

Hopefully everyone managed to stay alive (literally and figuratively) and we’re now about to embark on a wonderful summer!  For each of us that will look a little differently.  Normally my summers are a time for me to reflect, read, write, and attend a PD or two but this summer will be different.  For Amy and I it will be a short and busy time.  After leaving Ecuador we’ve got just three weeks until our wedding (YAY!) and then only four more days until we head off toward Indonesia!  There’ll be lots of planning, visiting with family, and racing around getting everything ready for a wedding and relocation.  Then it’ll be the new school year before we know it!  

Even though my summer will be crazy (and I’m sure many of yours will be too), I want to offer a few summer time options for those who haven’t already ironed out every single minute of their holiday.  I’m not advocating for any one idea over another but I think any successful summer will include at least one of these five things.

My recommendations for the summer:

1. Hit the beach, mountains, trails, parks, ocean, lake, or whatever you can find outdoors!

Get outside and enjoy the fresh air (I’m hoping you can get away from a polluted city for this one).  Spend a few days camping next to a river with no wifi or mobile phone access, unplug and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.  Give yourself some time to just enjoy all that nature has to offer without the hustle and bustle of the ‘outside world’.  If camping isn’t your thing then take a walk, go for a bike ride, or just sit and enjoy a park…but do it often.  Take a road trip, see a new place, and get out of the city-life for a while.  All of these things will help rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit!

2.  Establish a PLN: If you haven’t done this already, now is your time.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Right around the same time I started this blog, about 5 years ago, I started on Twitter and slowly began to see the value of building an online/digital Professional Learning Network.  Some of you have experienced my PLN first hand, connecting across the globe to celebrate awesome activities, meet new colleagues, or even just find a new idea.  Start out by having a look at a past blog post I wrote about building a PLN (it’s short) and then create a Twitter account.  Once you have one (or if you already do) send me a tweet (@The1sWhoDo) and ask who you should follow…I’m happy to start recommending people immediately.  From there…follow along and get a feel for Twitter, summer is a perfect time to do so!  

3.  Take care of yourself.

Remember that New Year’s Resolution…yeah, I know the feeling…I was too stressed and too cold in the rainy season to really get anything productive going.  It’s too cold and wet to get out of the house and do anything!  I wanted a nice warm meal full of comfort food and some wine on the couch at the end of those days, not an exercise class and salad!!  However, now the sun is shining and we can sleep past 6AM!  So track down your trainers and get moving…10,000 steps (the standard FitBit goal) a day is a lot easier to manage in the summer when there are no papers to grade or meetings to attend.  Cook some homemade meals for your friends and family who still have to work through the summer, enjoy a nice dinner together and help them relieve some stress too.  The summer is your time to take care of yourself and feel great!

4. Read, read, read!

If you’re like me you might feel like summer is the perfect time to squeeze in some of that professional reading you’ve promised yourself you’d do.  That’s fine but don’t skip the reading for pleasure too!!  (I’ve got five books on my Kindle just waiting for me)  Whether you’ve got a book waiting or not, you might also consider reading some of the books that are hot with our kids right now.  This article is a great one and lists five young adult books that adults would also enjoy.  I’ve read a few on this list (Book Thief is awesome!) and agree that knowing what our kids are into is a great way to connect and relate to our school age kids.  If you’re thinking that professional reading might be in the works for the beach then have a look at this article, some great tips there too.  The old saying of “don’t mix work with pleasure” goes out the door here…when it comes to summer reading, mix away!

5. Reconnect at your own risk!

It goes without saying that living overseas requires a long time away from friends and family who are back ‘home’ or elsewhere.  However, if you’re like me it only takes a week or so at ‘home’ before you feel like it’s time for a break!  There are a lot of family and friends who want to spend as much time with you as possible and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the attention.  In a sense it’s almost like teaching…there’s only one of you but there’s a seemingly endless number of people who want/need your time and energy.  Be sure to take some “Me Time” this summer and don’t let yourself get run down while trying to connect with everyone.  I often joke at the end of summer that “I need to get back to work so I can relax!”  It’s easy to feel that way, especially if you’re bouncing from couch to guest room all summer.  Enjoy the time with family and friends but be sure to enjoy some time alone as well.

 

Enjoy the last week with our kids, it’s going to be a wildly emotional ride for many of them (and us!!)  Hang in there and enjoy the laughs and memories and embrace the inevitable tears.  Everyone has made a lot of strong connections here in the AC community and it will be tough to part ways, no matter how long you’ve been here.  Say what you need to say to those you’ve grown close with, trade contact info, and be confident that you’ll connect again soon!

 

Mindfulness: Getting Started

I began my personal experience with Mindfulness by researching the concept of Mindfulness and, to be honest, it was a bit overwhelming!  Type in “mindfulness” on Google and you’ll find enough to read for a million lifetimes.  I, needless to say, don’t have that kind of time on my hands.  In fact, I was struggling to find any time for researching Mindfulness.  I think I was having a hard time prioritizing this pursuit because I was so overwhelmed with everything that was out there.  Finally, I decided that it was time to just do something and commit to the journey.  

Having previously reached out to my PLN on Twitter about “good mindfulness apps” I had a place to start and headed to the app store.  What I found in the app store was once again overwhelming.  I found the app I went for but I also ended up downloading 10 other free mindfulness apps, yikes!  Mindfulness is certainly a hot topic these days and it shows in the amount of material available to download for free.  Despite downloading all these apps I decided that I needed one place to start, not 11!

The recommendations I received all pointed me toward Headspace, so this was going to be my starting point.  I had no idea what to expect when I opened the app.  My research led me to believe there would be some element of meditation but also that there were different types, three or four popular varieties, associated with Mindfulness.  Thankfully, Headspace has been super user friendly.  In fact, they have a 10-day starter series for people like me (well, for everyone really.)  This series includes a short two-minute introduction animation that walks you through some helpful tips for getting started, exactly what I needed!  

Tips for getting started:

  1. Find a place to be undisturbed for 10 minutes (silence isn’t required but to start out, peace and quiet might be helpful.)
  2. Research has shown that creating a new habit is easier when we do it at the same time each day, so find a good place in your schedule to plan this exercise (also doing it in the same place each day is even better.)
  3. Time of day isn’t important but Headspace strongly recommends trying to complete this exercise at the beginning of the day (more on this later).
  4. Some days this exercise will feel easy and other days it will be hard but sticking with it is important!
  5. Sit comfortably before you begin (you don’t have to sit cross-legged on the floor unless that’s what you’d prefer!)  

Now that I’ve started I’m happy to report that the overwhelming feeling of “where do I begin?” has finally subsided and I’m able to sit back and reflect a bit.  I’m three days into my 10-day series, and wouldn’t you know it I received a supportive email from Headspace today reminding me that “three is the magic number.”  I’m not exactly sure what their point was with that title to the email but I think they’re encouraging me to keep going 🙂  I was going to do that anyway but it sure feels nice to get the reminder!!  Although, to be perfectly honest it’s not as easy as it sounds!

I’ll leave it there for this post, I’m off to a good start and I’m already starting to see changes but I will wait to complete the first week before I say too much about that.  Next time I’ll share my challenges in the early days of my meditation cycle as well as some of those changes I’m beginning to see.

Starting Today for a New Ending

I love quotes, I collect them and enjoy reading them at all turns.  Perhaps more than anything I like breaking them down, contemplating their potential meanings and considering the context in which they were originally given.  

Recently a friend and member of my PLN posted a quote on Twitter.

@posickj got me thinking about this quote and I’ve been knocking it around in my head for a while now…

I immediately thought of Growth Mindset when I read this quote.  What could be a better philosophy in life than moving on from past troubles and starting anew?  Of course the past is important and we can learn a lot from our experiences, but the chance to wake up each day with a fresh opportunity is certainly motivational.  I could go deeper philosophically with this quote but I’m happy to focus on this marvelous message as a positive opportunity for the future.  I’d like all educators to stop and think about how this quote can be applied to their lives?  Was it a bad class or lesson?  Was it a long and stressful week?  Has the transition to a new school and city been harder than expected?  In all of these situations, “anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

It’s been a long start to the year without any breaks.  We’re staring down a five day weekend at the end of this month but we have to get there first.  Take some time for yourself and sharpen the saw.  Also, take a minute to think about where you can start working toward a new ending…

Use Your Connections, Build Your PLN

AASSA was great, there was a lot learned AND you met a lot of really intelligent people!!  So what do you do now?  As I’ve written already there’s plenty of reflection to be done and once you’ve thought through everything there are goals to be set.  There’s one more thing to attend to in order to bring your conference experience full circle.  Your network.

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Image provided by:  www.StockMonkeys.com

Long gone are the days of trading business cards (for most of us anyway.)  We’re in the digital age now, but connections are still as valuable as ever…maybe even more so!  Developing and fostering a professional/personal learning network (PLN) is perhaps the most important thing you can do as an educator, especially an international educator!  Sometimes in the international world we get stuck on an island, a PLN is the best way to connect and share ideas.

LinkedIn:

LinkedIn is a great resource for contacting professionals.  Some people use it to share and discover articles and news.  Personally I think there are better tools for that sort of thing but to each their own.  My recommendation for LinkedIn is to establish connections that you can count on as a professional network for the long term.  Think of this as your binder full of digital business cards.  A great resource for the future.

Twitter:

I’m a huge proponent of Twitter.  You may have noticed at AASSA that I was pretty active on Twitter.  To be honest, I’m not usually as active as I was that week.  However, a conference like that is made for Twitter.  My Twitter usage varies depending on my schedule and what I have to share.  However, I consider it as one of my top resources as an educator.

Building a network of people to follow on Twitter takes a little time.  However, it’s not hard and as your understanding of the Twitter-sphere grows so too will your PLN.  Follow these easy tips and you’ll quickly have lots of wonderful ideas flowing down your feed:

  • Follow your colleagues.
  • Look at who your colleagues are following, then follow some of those people.
  • Use Twitter’s suggestions, it’s amazing how smart Twitter can be 🙂
  • Go back to the #L4LAASSA feed and follow anyone who had something insightful to say.
  • Ask…feel free to reach out and ask people who to follow, I’m happy to make recommendations.

Twitter Chats:

Once you’re established on Twitter it’s time to start discovering Twitter chats.  These “conversations” usually last for about an hour and are centered around just about any topic.  Search here for educationally focused chats (warning: this page is a bit overwhelming.)  Once you’ve identified a Twitter chat you’re keen to join, do just that…join the conversation (this article does a good job of explaining how and why to join Twitter Chats.)

Twitter chats are a fantastic source of learning, networking, and sharing.  The amount of learning that takes place in a quality Twitter chat is amazing.  Think of it as a very focused session at a conference, except it’s crowdsourced and not just one person talking at the group.  In terms of sharing, this is a perfect place for you to share ideas you’ve been thinking about and get feedback from peers.  Lastly, the networking and bonding that happens in a Twitter chat is really cool.  The people in your PLN start to become virtual friends who you can rely upon.

As educators we enjoy the reality that we’re never done learning.  So once you’ve gotten your head around all of those notes you took at #L4LAASSA, it’s time to build your PLN and continue your professional growth.  I’m happy to help, if you’re looking for support please reach out at any time!

 

Why I Blog and You Should Too

Have you heard this before, “you should be writing/blogging/sharing”?  Maybe, maybe not…perhaps it’s been a colleague who’s tried to convince you to share your classroom knowledge and experiences.  Perhaps it’s your friends who know you’re such an amazing cook, photographer, or artist.  If your family and friends are anything like mine then surely someone has insisted you share your traveling experiences so they can live vicariously through your awesome life 😉  But it takes time and effort – time and effort you’d rather dedicate to your craft, hobby, or family…so what do you do?

About three years ago I made the decision to actually do it, to start blogging.  I had considered it for a number of years, mostly planning to write about my travels and experiences.  However, three years ago when I finally committed to starting a blog I decided it had to be about education.  Why?  Good question…

Looking back at my decision I realize (or at least I’m ready to admit) that it was a decision I made for selfish reasons.  See, I had started writing simple emails to the staff at our school.  They were short, one to two paragraph pieces generally related to a piece or two of research that I had encountered earlier in the week.  I never received much feedback from our staff and figured they generally went unnoticed or even worse, ignored!  However, I was seeing growth in myself as an educator and as a learner.  When I first started to send these short pieces to our staff I was trying to help them improve as educators.  However, I realized that perhaps more than anyone it was ME who was growing from this process!

What happened was that in order for me to write a short one to two paragraph summary of an article with a couple ideas, I had to spend a lot more time pondering education than it took me to actually type two paragraphs.  I estimate that for every article I bookmark in my “professional readings” folder, I read another nine or ten that I don’t bother saving.  Beyond reading these articles I spend a lot of time just pondering, wondering, and questioning the information I’ve learned through these readings.  It’s amazing professional development just to go through this exercise on a regular basis.

I hear you, “well that’s great Bret, but it has nothing to do with blogging” and I agree…kind of.  If I hadn’t committed myself to sitting down each week and writing a blog post (I’ve published 85 to date, make that 86 today!) then I would have NEVER gone through the time and effort to have read and learned so much over the last three years.  I’m a naturally curious person and can be easily drawn into anything (even terrible TV shows that I really should have no interest in watching!!)  SO, a lot of the time I spend reading educational articles, following people on Twitter, and listening to TED Talks is time that I would probably otherwise spend on silliness like Facebook, Instagram, or bad TV.  Blogging has redirected my time management in a sense but it has also expanded my horizons further into education than I could’ve ever imagined.

I will continue blogging and writing professionally (I’ve also started writing book reviews of educational texts) because I enjoy it and find the opportunity to grow personally satisfying.  But I’m not you and you’re not me.  You may be similar or maybe not…so why should you blog?!?

There is no way I could ever come up with an exhaustive list of reasons why anyone should blog but here are a few good ones (should you need more of a nudge):

  1. Professional Growth:  As you may be able to guess, I’m not sure I could come up with a better way to grow yourself professionally than by reading and writing about your craft.
  2. Networking/PLN:  Putting your ideas out on the internet is a great way to get feedback from others in your personal/professional learning network.  Conversations that you would normally never be able to have become options when you share your work/ideas with the world.  
  3. Positive Exposure:  Your online presence is becoming (or perhaps already is) a very important part of your professional portfolio.  Sharing your educational thoughts is a big step toward showing the world where your educational beliefs/ideas lie.  (Prospective employers LOVE to see a positive presence!)  AND sometimes cool stuff like this happens…

If you’re still unsure, I’d like to encourage you to try…just try.  Don’t publish anything yet, take some time to sit down each week and just write.  Use Word, Google Docs, or whatever and save your work.  Write about an idea that struck you, an article you read, or in response to something you’ve seen…it doesn’t even have to be about education!  Just start the practice of sitting down to write.  Give it a shot, in a couple weeks I’ll share some tips and articles about setting up your blog…by then you’ll already have some practice and a good idea of what your writing voice sounds like 🙂