My Advice (Five Steps to Change)

Last week I had the privilege of joining over 5000 of my independent school colleagues at the FISA Conference. I found it to be an uplifting two days, but there was also an underlying call to action to all of the teachers in attendance. (I will get to that later)

On my way home I was on the Skytrain and couldn’t help but overhear three younger teachers talking about how they enjoyed the conference, but that they all still had a sense of being overwhelmed with all of the things that teaching entails and feelings of guilt that they just can’t do enough to feel like they are being successful both as teachers and as people. What I really wanted to do at that point was to interrupt them and add my two cents to their conversation. I don’t profess to be any sort of expert, but I have worked at four schools and have learned from many excellent teachers and principals over the seventeen years that I have been a teacher. I think I have picked up a few tidbits over the years that might be common sense, but that I think some people might need to hear.

So, in place of interrupting random strangers on the Skytrain, I thought I would offer my advice here. First, an affirmation:

  • Teachers, you are doing good things for kids. I have been in a lot of different teacher’s classrooms and what I can say is that, without exception, the teachers I know are influencing kids in a positive way. What that means is that you can let go of the guilt that comes with not being able to get to everything on your to-do list. As teachers, we could work twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and would still find things to do. It is okay to let some things go. You are doing good for kids.

With that said, my one big takeaway from the FISA Conference was this: The world is changing. We are preparing our kids for a world that is changing rapidly and we have a moral imperative to change. I think many teachers find this overwhelming, so I would like to offer just a little bit of advice that I hope someone might find helpful.

  1. Pick one thing and try it. Positive change is a series of small wins, so choose just one thing and go for it. Whether that one thing is Genius Hour, Makerspaces, blogging, or anything else, try something new. If it doesn’t go well, try something else. I bet though, once you have tried it, you will see the value in continuing.
  2. Go to a Saturday Pro-D. I know, Saturdays are tough. Trust me, I know. What I have discovered, however, about events like Ted-X, or Edcamps, or Ignite Nights is that the people that attend these events are the people who you want to be around. They are excited about education and their attitude and energy will inspire and motivate you. There is no one sitting in the back of the room saying, “This is stupid. Why do we have to do this.” like there are at all other pro-d events.
  3. Read a book. What I really mean, when I advise you to read, is to pick up a book that will help you grow as a teacher. I would recommend “Drive” by Daniel Pink, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck, or “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess. I am in the middle of “Creative Schools” by Ken Robinson and am excited to read “Hacking Assessment” by Starr Sackstein. All of these books will challenge and inspire you to improve.
  4. Try out Twitter. I know, many people are skeptical of Twitter because they think it is just a series of celebrities sharing pictures of the sandwich they ate for lunch. There definitely is that out there, but if you are selective of who you follow, there is also a great deal of sharing and learning going on that you are missing out on. I can honestly say that the people I follow on Twitter have made me a better, more effective teacher.
  5. Seek out support. If any of this stuff seems overwhelming or difficult, don’t worry. There are many people out there that would be happy to help you out. If you can’t think of anyone, ask me. I will try to help you. If I can’t help you, I will connect you with Rose. She knows everyone! Seriously, our schools are full of smart, competent, helpful people, but we need to get out of the four walls of our classroom to find them.

Teachers are doing great things for kids, but we have a responsibility to change. We need to take the things that we know work, and combine those things with new, creative ideas that empower and prepare kids for a future that doesn’t exist and will be much different than our present. Start small. Let go of guilt. Seek small wins. Change.

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Learning For The Sake of Learning

Anyone who has read my blog (all six of you) has probably noticed that I haven’t written a whole lot lately. Other than the fact that I was feeling a little bit saturated and lacked the umph to write, the reason that I have’ been writing very often lately is that I have been doing other things on my afternoon transit commutes. 

Lately I have been on a podcast kick. I have listened to twenty or so episodes of a podcast called The Emperors of Rome and probably about 50 episodes of a podcast called Revolutions that has talked about the history of the English Civil War, American War of Independance and the French Revolution. 

Why, beyond my obvious nerdiness would I spend so much time listening to all these podcast? Simply put, because I wanted to learn something new. I have no desire to become a historian, change careers, or get a new job. I was learning for the sake of learning. 

I think that teachers have a moral imperative to also be learners. We spend our days trying to convince our students that learning is a good idea. I think kids have a very good sense of when we are not walking the walk. 

I think that learning to improve my practice is important. I have found many great books and articles that have stretched my understanding of education and of learning. I have also found Twitter to be an endlessly useful source of professional connection and growth. 

Sometimes, however, I think we need to balance our professional learning with our personal learning. We need to learn something for the sake of learning. We need to give ourselves mental stretch marks. 

So, what am I going to do next? I am not too sure. I have always wanted to try my hand at painting. Maybe I will make my wife happy and try to learn how to do some of those home repairs that I do not have the foggiest idea of how to tackle. One way or another, I know I will find something. 

Looking Back

It was my goal a little more than a month ago to contribute daily to my blog for fourty days straight. I missed a couple of days, but in general I posted at least a little something every day. I wanted to take some time today looking back on what I have learned and how I can apply what I have learned to my professional practice. 

Reflection Is Important 

The main thing that I took away from this exercise is the importance of reflection on the learning process. By forcing myself to write, even on days that I didn’t really feel like it, it allowed me to solidify and take a closer look at how I really feel about either what I am doing in my teaching or how I really feel about certain issues in education. In particular, in making my writing public, I really had to make sure I had thought something through before I posted it for the world (or the few of you who read my blog) to see. 

My take-away for my students is that I need to be more purposeful in allowing them time and opportunity to reflect on their learning. It is not enough to just go through an activity and hope that students learned something. It is important to make reflecting an ingrained part of the process. 

Connections Matter

One of the things I have enjoyed about writing this blog so far is the opportunity that it provides for me to connect with people in different ways. Every night I wait impatiently to see if anyone will take a few minutes to respond to what I have written so I can connect to and learn from them. I hope to continue to connect with more and more people as I continue to write. 

The take-away in this for my classroom is that I need to find opportunities for my students to connect with people outside my classroom. I would love to try a mystery Skype or find another class somewhere in the world to connect with. If any of you have any ideas of how I could make this happen, please let me know. 

Audience Matters

I have written about this before so I won’t spend a lot of time on this except to say that students need audiences beyond their teachers and parents. Having their peers as audience is a start, but technology has opened up so many opportunities for students to gain an audience for their gifts that it would be foolhardy for teachers to not at least look at them and think about how they can motivate their students. 

I can’t say that I will be posting daily any more. I would like to post at least once a week and I have asked a number of my colleagues to write guest posts. I do plan to continue to learn and take risks and do things that make me slightly queezy when I do them and I look far ward to anyone out their sharing their learning with me. 

Taking Risks- Garage Band Edition

One of my personal goals for this year has been to push myself to do things that make me just slightly uncomfortable. This blog is a good example of that. When I started writing, I was slightly uncomfortable putting my thoughts out there for the world to read. The more I have done it, the easier it has become.

Today, I am going to do something that doesn’t make me slightly uncomfortable. I am going to do something that makes me VERY uncomfortable. I am going to let you hear me sing. I am okay to sing songs with my class at school or to sing in Church because I am singing with someone. The thought of singing by myself in public sends me into a minor panic. That being said, I am going to follow my goal and do something that makes me quite uncomfortable.

Why am I doing this, you might ask? The reason is that, if you read the blog yesterday, I attended a Garage Band Workshop at the Apple Store last night. I had only just played around with Garage Band a little bit previously and this gave me the opportunity to learn more about it. What I discovered is that it is really easy to use. You can easily create a song that actually sounds like a song with little to know knowledge of how to play a musical instrument. The app does the work for you.

This morning, I decided to play around with Garage Band for about a half hour. I put together the music to Amazing Grace (One of my favourite songs ever) and thought I would just put it out there, sans lyrics, to show people how easy it was to put a song together. In the end, I decided to add the lyrics track to it as well. So, if you have made it this far, and actually want to subject yourself to it, click HERE to hear my Garage Band version of the first verse of Amazing Grace.

Well here we go…

After listening to a number of inspiring speakers last week at an event called Ignite Night, I was challenged to put some of my thoughts down on a blog. In particular I took inspiration from my friend Lara Martini, who writes a blog that I enjoy very much. I decided to give it a go and post at least a little something every day for the next little while. For the most part it will focus on my roles as classroom teacher and vice principal, but I may well ramble on about whatever crosses my path on a daily basis. If anyone is reading, thanks. Feel free to leave a comment if you like.