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 🙂

 

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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?

 

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!

Starting With ‘Why?’

For the last few weeks our students have been my inspiration for my Nudges, even more specifically I’ve focused on our Year 10 students of late.  They’ve done some inspiring work recently with their Personal Projects and shown a strong passion for learning.  This week, however, I want to ask you to turn the mirror on yourself and think about your ‘why’.

If, for just one more moment, we think about those Year 10 students and ask “why did they put so much time and effort into their Personal Projects” we’re going to come back with a lot of different reasons as to ‘why’.  Maybe they are passionate about the topic and loved investigating, maybe it was because they wanted a good mark, or perhaps it was to impress their teachers or their parents. Surely each and every one of those kids, at the end of the day, has their own ‘why’.

So, back to you, what’s your ‘why’?  Why do you come in each and every day and give everything you have to working with (pre-)teenagers?  I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, by friends, family or even strangers.  What was your answer to them?

There’s a wonderful TedTalk by Simon Sinek, a motivational speaker and marketing consultant.  My Nudge today is has two parts.  Part One:  Take about 18 minutes to stop and listen to this TedTalk (you can add Indonesian subtitles if you feel like that will help).

Now that you’ve watched that TedTalk I want to encourage you to take some time to contemplate the second portion of this week’s Nudge.  Take a piece of paper and draw those three circles:  Why, How and What.  Start with your ‘Why’.  Make a list of all the ‘whys’ that you teach.  Why do you teach?  Then, move out to the next ring and answer the question, “How do I teach?”  From there continue on to the “What do I teach?”  Be sure to start with the Why and end with the What.

If you really take your time and are honest with yourself throughout this process I think that you’ll come to some interesting conclusions.  Next week I’ll be writing about our Year 10 Work Experience Week but in two weeks’ time I’ll share my results from when I went through this practice with myself.  It’s a great time of the year for reflection, we’re asking our kids to do it and we should too…enjoy 🙂

 

Upgrading Our Practice

Recently Amy and I had the chance to stay in a nice hotel for a night and were excited for a wonderful room, atmosphere, and a glorious night’s sleep.  Unfortunately we were awoken bright and early by the sounds of hammers, saws, and drills working on a renovation project in a nearby section of the hotel.  As I lie awake, frustrated with this early wake-up call, I began thinking about how this connected in some way to my life.

I soon recognized that this renovation was very similar to what we’re trying to do as educators. See, just like in a school, this hotel couldn’t shut itself down for a year while it did upgrades to the whole building all at the same time.  Instead, they chose to improve small sections, one at a time, over the course of a longer period.  Similarly, as educators we can’t just close the door to our classroom, forget about the kids, and work on improving.

The kids keep coming, day after day, for an entire school year.  So, if we want to improve as educators, it is a simple fact that we’re going to have to do just as this hotel and upgrade as we go along.  The hotel had chosen a small focus area to improve while continuing to run the rest of the hotel as usual.  As educators there is always something to improve and, in fact, there are usually many things to improve.  However, with limited time and energy due to the fact that students need the vast majority of our attention, the best thing for us to do is choose one small area and focus on upgrading that skill set.

If you’re anything like me when I was in the classroom, you can see multiple target areas for growth in your own practice.  However, you can’t tackle all of those areas at once, it’s time to focus in and choose one specific thing to work on for the short-term.  Perhaps, for you, this small focus area has to do with your use of formative assessment, classroom management strategies, or curriculum planning.  Maybe it is questioning strategies, creating more engaging lessons, or including opportunities for student reflection.  Whatever you decide as your area of focus, set all those other areas of growth aside for the time being and focus on that one specific skill set.

As we come to the end of the first semester I want to encourage you to be reflective about how the first half of the year has gone.  Examine your practice as a teacher and work to identify one area of growth for the second semester.  Remember, you can’t renovate the whole hotel all at once, pick an area of focus and stick with it.  Work to improve in this one area.  When you see the growth you’re looking for, then you can move on to another area of focus, one at a time, slowly upgrading your practice.

Pursuing Passions

Last week we started our Pathways conversations with our Year 10 students.  At the beginning of this process, which will ultimately lead to their decision about whether to take Full IBDP, DP Courses, or SBDP, they are still wide-eyed and confused.  As Year 10 students, these kids are only 15 or 16 years old and many of them haven’t figured out what they’re going to do over the weekend, let alone what career path they want to follow.  Yet, as they begin to consider their Pathway for Year 11 and 12, they are being asked to simultaneously consider their field of study for university and what career they would like to pursue…yikes!

Personally, this is crazy to me!  I told these kids and their parents a little about myself as an introduction to this conversation:  When I was their age I knew I was going to be an architect, 100%.  Then, by the time I finished Year 11, I really had it figured out, I was going to be an accountant.  In fact, I was almost three years into my accounting degree when I realized I wanted to be an educator.  How could I have been so wrong and what changed for me to make such a huge jump?

I didn’t know it when I made the decision to walk into the College of Education at my university but that day, for the first time ever, I was pursuing my passion.  I can see it now in hindsight but at the time if you would’ve asked me why I was there, I would’ve had no answer for you.  I was there, however, because I was passionate about coaching.  I had begun coaching younger kids in basketball when I was in High School and had continued through university.  It was something I enjoyed and was something more than just a summer job.  It was, without even knowing it, my passion.  

I’m sharing this today because I want to ask you to do two things:

First off, take the time to step back and reflect about why you got into teaching in the first place.  I saw a great Twitter post the other day, “Said no teacher ever…’I became a teacher for the money and fame’.”  I’m guessing that money and fame weren’t your motivations, so what were your reasons?  Why are you an educator today?  

Secondly, I’m begging you, please, to take some time and share how you identified your passion(s) with your students.  Perhaps you knew when you were 15 years old, or perhaps you were more like me and had an epiphany later in life.  Whatever the case may be, take a few minutes and share that story with your kids.  Explain to them why you’re telling them this story, let them know that this process isn’t always easy and that at 15 it’s okay not to know their whole life plan.  

If you ask me, we’re lucky, we’re the wise ones who identified the passion for teaching in ourselves and were lucky enough to choose the greatest profession ever 🙂  Share that story with your students, and while you’re at it, share it with each other!