Work With Elisabeth

Empower Learning

LeadupTeach

Education Empower Learning featured Inspiration

Spark Curiosity, Create Learning That Is Irresistible

 

At age three, my son was intensely curious about the world around him. He was particularly interested in flowers and the names of the parts. Walking around our yard, he’d see flower after flower and run to each of them and exclaim with glee, “Pistil, momma! This one has it too!” He was also fascinated with where the wind was coming from and asked more questions than I could respond to at once. Throughout the years, his curiosity has shifted to new wonders. However, it’s evident that curiosity has lessened the older he has become. Many of us can relate personally to this from our own experiences or those of our children.

 

While he still enjoys aspects of learning, my hope is that curiosity reignites within him. I believe that curiosity is what drives us as humans to ask better questions and pursue new avenues that lead us to places we may not have ever expected.

 

Author and principal, David Geurin, hits on the topic of making learning irresistible in his book, Future Driven. Geurin’s book speaks to my heart as he and I have very similar views on education and how we can support learners to thrive in an unpredictable world. In writing about making learning irresistible, Geurin shares:

 

“There are too many students who find school boring. You see them at your school too, maybe even in your classroom. They are slumped back or propped up. Tired eyes. They are physically living and breathing but little else reveals thinking not to mention brilliance. But we know it’s there.

Every child has genius.

These children weren’t always this way. In each student who has given up on learning, there was once a kid filled with curiosity, wonder, and awe.”  

 

Learning through authentic experiences that are infused with the learner’s passions fosters the feeling of irresistible learning. Recently my learners and I launched a STEM challenge with two classes from New Mexico. I was fortunate to meet Rachel Lamb and Steven Thomas @collabgenius at the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator Summit who frequently engage learners in virtual collaboration. Our STEM challenge from Design Squad Global incorporates the learning of how NASA successfully landed rovers on Mars after failed attempts. Learners utilized design thinking to develop prototypes of rovers being lowered to Mars to simulate the process. In our classrooms, we are using an egg to represent the rover. Our classes continue to meet back to share designs, thought processes, and to provide feedback to one another. Having an authentic audience has catalyzed the experience as there is relevancy to their work, making it more meaningful. While learners are engaged and empowered as creative thinkings, problem solvers, and designers, throughout this process, what impressed me the most was how many questions they crafted following the launch of this challenge.

 

Learning that is irresistible increases engagement and can lead to empowered learning. In all honesty, I didn’t anticipate the number of questions learners generated. I had plans for the next steps of our STEM challenge but seized the opportunity for learners to pose questions about what they wondered. Around our room, I put up chart paper, and teams of learners continued to generate questions based on their curiosities. In project-based learning, this is how we begin to identify our driving questions.

 

One question spawned another and every child eagerly contributed questions such as:

  • How fast do rockets go exactly?
  • How long have rovers been on Mars?
  • What are they finding, have they found signs of life?
  • How much faster is a rover than a car?
  • How large is Mars compared to Earth?

 

Rather than remaining confined to the virtual STEM challenge, I chose to navigate off the map and empower learners to select a question they felt passionately curious about and am now coaching them through developing passion projects that focus on their topic. Of course, I too have mandates and curriculum to follow. However, I always seek to identify ways to incorporate our standards in learning. Drawing on curiosity and passions makes learning irresistible, and as educators, we have to recognize ways to innovate inside the box as author George Couros writes about in The Innovator’s Mindset. We can’t ignore mandates and curriculum, but we can undoubtedly empower learners to co-design learning experiences with standards embedded. Through this, I’ve had the opportunity to see learners excitedly arrive at school to continue their working on their passion projects and share their learning with others. I see them independently working on shared Google Slides from home with peers who they’re collaborating with online. And no, it was not assigned as homework. They have ownership and want to learn and create.

 

In Future Driven, Geurin lists 9 valuable ways to make learning irresistible. Included are choice, creativity, discovery, challenge, involving the community, student conversations, real audiences, play, and having the opportunity to make a difference. In his book, he goes more in depth as he shares tips and strategies for educators to support learners to thrive in an unpredictable world. 

 

 

Let’s continue the conversation about how we can support learners to remain passionately curious and how as educators, we can make learning irresistible.

In the meantime, I have a signed copy of Future Driven that I’ll be giving away to a randomly selected individual! Simply post a picture of irresistible learning that sparks curiosity or write a blog post reflecting on this topic. Tag @DavidGeurin and @ElisaBostwick along with the hashtags of #FutureDriven and #LEAPeffect with your post to be selected. I look forward to sharing this book with you, and am excited to see examples of irresistible learning in your school or classroom! Connect and continue learning with David via his website, too. 

 

Education Empower Learning Inspiration

Taking Steps Toward Fostering Ownership

Obstacle after obstacle at the 2016 Western New York Tough Mudder, I channeled my inner warrior. When I say I had to dig down deep, I mean it. A year prior, my husband Michael and I, along with several friends, signed up to take on the Tough Mudder. With the understanding that it was a 10-mile course with 20+ obstacles, we knew we had to prepare both physically and mentally.

On their website, it states, “every journey starts with a single step. Start yours here, then see how far you can take it. Whether a fun 5K or a 10-mile chance to push your limits, we’ve got the challenge for you. Our courses are engineered so that teamwork isn’t just encouraged; it’s required. With the help of your fellow Mudders, you’ll overcome best-in-class obstacles and adrenaline-packed challenges. You’ll find out what you’re really made of, while having the most fun you’ve had in recent memory.”

As a crazily passionate educator, of course, I found a connection to this experience and education. In education, we’re on an ongoing journey that continuously evolves. Teamwork makes us stronger, and infusing passions is what inspires us to continue forward. You see, no one forced me to sign-up for the Tough Mudder as it was a challenge I aspired to conquer. Recently, I spoke with David Conley, Ph.D., professor of educational policy and leadership at the University of Oregon’s College of Education and founder of EdImagine. He and I discussed the future of education and shifts that are occurring such as developing student ownership over learning.

Dr. Conley explained, “students need to have high aspirations, it’s really a problem when you’re asking kids to do stuff that they don’t care about or feel they’re not particularly good at. To own learning, students have to develop clear goals and have self-direction because anything you own has to be connected to your internal motivation structure. Goals then convert motivations and aspirations into behavior targets. When things don’t go well, you have to be able to demonstrate perseverance and grit.” We have all faced failure and will continue to experience it in life. We need to persevere through failure, reflect, and retool to move forward in our journey toward growth.

Ownership Versus Compliance

In speaking of goals and high aspirations, imagine how I would have approached the Tough Mudder in contrast if it was something I didn’t care to do but was being told to complete. I don’t think I would put in the high level of effort that I did. If entirely uncomfortable or feeling ill-prepared, I may have even demonstrated resistance. Or, perhaps out of compliance I would have drudged through it if a repercussion was connected to not completing the course.

Fortunately, I’m passionate about facing new challenges and pushing myself toward growth in a variety of ways. We have to remember that every individual has a passion, and by infusing passions and the insights shared by Dr. Conley to develop student ownership, we can transform the learning environment to empower learning. Let’s explore using the experience of the Tough Mudder.

Developing Clear Goals

Throughout the months that led up to us stepping on the starting line, we prepared our bodies through training. Developing clear goals in preparation was critical for us to conquer the course. We wanted to head into the Tough Mudder with confidence and knew that our confidence would grow by feeling physically and mentally prepared. As we recognized progress toward our goals, it motivated us to continue pushing further. We were driven to continuously work toward our goals as we had ownership over them and aspired to do our best at the Tough Mudder.

As educators are we developing goals and carving out time for our learners to as well?

High Aspirations

The night before the event, I began to read through the waiver that I had signed months in advance. You see, I was leaving our two boys for the day and thoughts of uncertainty started to run through my head as I read the levels of possible injuries that range from minor, serious, to catastrophic. The reality of what I was risking… even death. The wording on the waiver hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to focus on my aspirations to overcome fear and to push my body beyond its comfort zone. I persisted through the feelings of doubt and focused on all that I’d done to prepare myself. Without high aspirations to complete the Tough Mudder, I would have stepped back into comfort. We cannot allow fear to suppress our aspirations, and we need to leverage passions to inspire learning.

What are your aspirations? How do they connect to your passions? Are we supporting learners to identify their passions which lead to aspirations?

The Vibe Connects The Tribe, Creates Motivation

The morning of the event, we stepped onsite ready to take on the obstacles! There’s nothing like being present at a Tough Mudder event. Music pumped from speakers, and everyone was giving high-fives, the vibe is more about camaraderie compared to similar events such as races. What I appreciate most about Tough Mudder is that they place a significant emphasis on teamwork and bonding as a tribe. It doesn’t matter if you know the person or not, help out each when you see someone needs help.

What steps are you taking to create a vibe that connects and inspires a tribe to move toward the shared vision? How does the energy in your school or classroom inspire learning?

 

Perseverance and Grit

At the Tough Mudder, it was the Lock Ness Monster that grabbed ahold of my fears. I stood on the brink of jumping into the depth of the murky water and just observed. I knew the water would be over my head and that I’d have nothing to step on to lift my body up and over the revolving metal obstacle. Waves of people kept passing by (except for my encouraging teammates), and I noticed how quickly individuals knocked into others, forcing them underwater. While I successfully conquered this obstacle through perseverance and grit, it was messy; both literally and metaphorically. Muddy water filled my nostrils and individuals collided into me.

Reflecting on this serves as a reminder that when we see individuals who are more hesitant about shifts, it doesn’t mean that they’re defenders of the status quo. I think that risks require us to calculate the benefits, and consider implications of our actions. The same goes for our learners. They may be cautious to transition to developing ownership over their learning, especially if they’re accustomed to compliance based learning. It was the encouragement of others that supported me to step forward through every challenge throughout the Tough Mudder course.

What holds you back from embracing shifts? Whether it’s infusing moving from teacher to coach or empowering learning, take time to reflect on what you require to move forward. How are we supporting our learners to develop perseverance and grit?

Reflection

Reflecting on that day, we laughed, cried, and there were times I flat out wanted to quit. But, I never did. As educators, we’ve all had days like this in the classroom. Throughout the experience, I was never pressured to engage in an obstacle that made me feel uncomfortable. It’s incredible how the Tough Mudder environment provokes your inner warrior while also creating systems of support. When confronted with new challenges in education, I think back to my Tough Mudder experience. There were obstacles that I thought I’d completely skip, but I ended up taking on. It was all about having ownership over my goals/, high aspirations that connected to a passion of mine, a supportive environment that energized, and the ability to demonstrate grit.

How do we approach shifts as individuals? Are we teaming up with others to make more significant strides, scaffolding our efforts to gain confidence, or are we trying to entirely avoid the apparent obstacles that are staring back at us?

Education Empower Learning featured Inspiration

Imagine the Possibilities

By nature, kids are curious. They’re explorers, makers, and doers. As educators, do we see this side of our students? Are we providing opportunities for students to explore? Do we acknowledge the deep thinkers who ponder life’s mysteries and carve out time for them to dig deeper? In our schools, are we empowering learners or expecting compliance? Author, teacher and speaker, Pernille Ripp states that “for too long we have ignored the voices of our students and we are now paying the price. We have created schools that children no longer want to be a part of, so it’s time for us to break some rules.” Pernille speaks to my heart, and I stand with her; it’s time for us to break some rules, particularly those that are embedded in traditional education. We must craft authentic learning opportunities for learners to explore, dream and discover. Our learners each have unique strengths and talents; I wonder how well we’re tapping into them?

 

While conversing with a teacher, she shared with me that there are so many things that she’d love to change about teaching and her classroom, but gets nervous. I couldn’t help but ask, “what makes you so nervous?” She explained, “I don’t like to rock the boat.” Educators, I’m here to say that it’s time we rock the boat. Right now is a fantastic time to be in education. There are endless possibilities for us to unleash creativity and empower learning in our schools. I too, feel the pressure. Time is always of the essence, as teachers we often have programs to remain on pace with, or think that we can’t veer too far from where our teammates are regarding teaching content. Constraints and obstacles will always exist, and we must identify strategies to tunnel over, under or through them. Whether real or perceived, parameters indeed exist.

 

I continue to explore these questions:

How do we go about innovating inside the box and break free from the mold?

How do we shift mindsets from feeling that one-dimensional approaches are best?

With grading practices reflecting an “average” or even a standards-based grade, how can we possibly be getting an accurate read on the growth of the whole child as learners?

 

I recently read The End of Average, by Todd Rose. According to Rose, there is no such thing as an average student. He argues that the longstanding practice of drawing conclusions about individuals using statistical averages is flawed and damaging, especially in education. Our schools often operate on the premise that ignores the complexity and potential of individual students. Evidence of this lies in our one-dimensional assessments and scripted curriculums that schools often employ.

 

Teachers across our country examine data that connects to standardized assessments that supposedly demonstrate student growth. As a teacher, I see that my students have made excellent gains each year, but what exactly does it mean? Yes, they grew within that standard or even as critical thinkers who can discern correct answers. I embrace impactful instructional strategies and value the foundations of learning, and they’re a must. But after reading, The End of Average, I just can’t help but wonder what we’re missing with our students when we don’t explore innovative approaches that ignite curiosity or draw on our student’s strengths. Personally, I could write a full-narrative for each of my students, and that narrative wouldn’t necessarily be backed by their grades or standardized assessments.

 

It’s fascinating to me that my youngest child can solve math problems off the top of his head that most people would have to write down to answer. He’s an avid reader, who is labeled “above average” on screenings, yet his state assessments don’t necessarily match up. As teachers, do we know who our kids really are beyond the data points? Based on his state test data he could be identified as requiring support, but he apparently doesn’t need it. Knowing my child for who he is, he just doesn’t care to take the time on a long standardized test. Despite encouragement and prompting from teachers, he cannot identify value in the assessment. In my classroom, I’ve seen kids who are incredibly conscientious about pleasing myself and their parents. Without the constraint of time on our standardized assessments, some students will work the length of the school day to complete it. Unlike my son who would prefer to buck the system, these kids are genuinely intent on achieving what they feel is perfect.

 

My youngest is an avid LEGO creator, reader, and an idea creator, but has been described to me as “bossy” and “overly busy.” Respectfully, I prefer to define him as an individual who is creative, tenacious, personable, charismatic, and has natural leadership ability. These are strengths for him to harness as he develops. From the parent perspective, I see that when teachers support him by navigating his strengths, he flourishes.

 

I’ve seen the beauty of infusing authentic and dynamic experiences that integrate students’ strengths and passions to elevate learning opportunities and invigorate a true love of learning within students. My goal is to support students to be invested in their unique learning journey, and grasp they can never accurately compare their journey to someone else’s. By cultivating ownership over learning, students develop a sense of empowerment and begin to truly soar. Someday our students will need to make a living, and I hope that the learners who I touch will identify their passions and create a path that leads them to their calling, not just another job.

 

I’m curious how the concept of school would shift if we embraced the idea that “average” doesn’t really exist. How would the role of learners change? As continuous learners, let’s embrace that our journey in education is ongoing and continually evolving. For many of us, our goal is to leave a lasting legacy on one another, our school community, and ultimately our most precious commodity, our students. I hope that you’ll join me in this conversation and share your ideas. In my opinion, no idea is too big or too crazy. Let’s imagine all the possibilities of school!

 

Empower Learning featured Luminous Culture

Transformational Teaching Catalyzes the Classroom

The little blond girl, with her heart pounding, worked at a rapid pace to complete the double digit addition problems. She had been absent for the past two days, and didn’t grasp how to add double digits and suppressed the feeling to ask for help as she didn’t trust how her teacher would respond. Prior to being absent, her teacher had only taught how to add single digits. Upon her return to school, her teacher didn’t seize the opportunity to review or catch her up to pace.

As she furiously worked, the little girl felt her teacher move beside her. She hunched over her work, fearful that others would see that she didn’t grasp the concept. The teacher briskly picked up the little girl’s worksheet, and scrutinized the work with eyebrows raised. She circled the completed, yet incorrect problems in her bright red pen and then in an exasperated tone said, “you need to work harder to figure this out.” Work harder? Her stomach felt like it was in knots. She was just 6 years old and this was the beginning of many years to come of struggling with math due to not grasping the why behind the process.

That little girl was me. I share this story with you because I vividly remember how irrelevant school felt at times and how much anxiety it caused me, even in first grade, especially as I struggled to grasp math concepts. There’s a huge difference between allowing students to struggle to the point of frustration compared to engaging them in the process of a productive struggle. What I really needed was a transformational teacher who understood my needs.

Transformational teachers are strategic at providing students with opportunities to grapple with problems in a productive struggle. They ensure tools are accessible to students, and they intentionally scaffold skills to allow learners to construct meaning and develop deep conceptual understanding. Personally, it’s important for me today, just as it was when I was younger, to understand why we are doing what we were doing. Transformational teachers place an emphasis on fostering a culture that prioritizes the process of learning and developing critical thinking skills in students as opposed to merely memorizing facts. In reflecting on my memory from first grade I recognize that my learning situation would have been vastly different if my teacher had embraced the transformational teaching methods listed below.

Transformational Teaching Methods:

  • Provide students with access to manipulatives and other tools to support their learning.
  • Serve as a coach to students as you engage them in inquiry based teaching.
  • Strategically scaffold collaborative conversation strategies with students so that they can  dissect the process with their peers rather than solely partnering up to complete work.
  • Demonstrate empathy for students and listen with understanding when working with students.
  • Foster rich relationships with students to establish trust and serve as a catalyst for risk taking.
  • Craft hands-on learning experiences for students.

While I’ve been blessed to have numerous teachers positively impact who I am today, one stands out in particular. My seventh grade social studies teacher, Mr. Merritt, demonstrated the behaviors of a transformational teacher. He made the curriculum come to life when it came to the way he taught and how he facilitated our interactions with peers. Mr. Merritt embraced a constructivist approach. Constructivist pedagogy consists of teachers facilitating hands-on learning where students construct understanding and meaning from their experiences. Mr. Merrit immersed us in a culture that valued meaningful conversations around thought provoking topics and events. Rather than simply transmitting information to us to regurgitate later, he was an artist when it came to how he cognitively engaged us to analyze, synthesize, defend alternative perspectives and reference background knowledge. As students, we were provided choice to demonstrate our understanding of the content.

Being a transformational teacher means supporting students to take ownership over their learning and becoming invested in the process. As educators, how do we teach the skills that lead students to seek ways to further their learning without constantly holding a carrot out in front of them?

Transformational Teachers Support Students To Thrive By:

  • Fostering a collaborative classroom community through experiential community building protocols and debriefing the process, interactions between peers and emotions.
  • Developing a candescent culture of Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® where students learn to embrace one another’s strengths and support each other using strategies modeled by their teacher when their peers struggle.
  • Empowering student voice and providing choice in how students learn as well as demonstrate their understanding.
  • Collaborating with colleagues to create dynamic learning experiences using backwards design such as the Understanding by Design Framework.
  • Scaffolding learning of developing skill sets to engage in productive struggle.
  • Involving students in understanding the content standards and learning outcomes in addition to involving them in goal setting and reflection.
  • Infusing technology in a purposeful way to deepen the learning experience and amplify student voice along with enhancing the 4Cs of learning (creation, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking).
  • Embedding the Habits of Mind to support learners to listen with understanding and empathy and take responsible risks, to name a few.
  • Utilizing the feedback loop as it allows learners to grow uniquely based on their specific needs and continuously refine their learning and work.
  • Incorporating the Visible Learning Research by John Hattie daily to maximize student growth.

As an educator, I didn’t start out as a transformational teacher. Each year I layered new strategies by immersing myself in reading educational articles and books to grow. I’m also fortunate to work with a phenomenal team in my elementary school as we share best practices with one another and collaboratively plan. Connecting on Twitter and developing a professional learning network with educators around the world continues to challenge my thinking and provides me with new resources and ideas. I’m deeply passionate about teaching and learning, and learning alongside others fuels me! Transformational teachers exemplify the qualities of what we desire for our students; they continually learn in effort to grow and they embrace change.

It may surprise you that when I was in college I never imagined that I’d become a teacher. While I had some outstanding teachers, I left school thinking that teaching was not for me based on some of my negative experiences. I couldn’t see myself standing and delivering content. My passions included anything that I could integrate creativity, imagination, wonder and awe into. I’ve always been fascinated by psychology and how the brain works too. One day, as I attended a child psychology class, I had an epiphany. While I can’t recall exactly what triggered it, it was at that moment I realized that I could be the change. I could go into education and be the difference by bringing wonder and awe to the forefront. I wanted to shake things up by channeling Mr. Merrit’s transformational teaching methods, and invigorate a true love of learning within students. I yearned to go into education because teachers have the potential to change the world. Sure, that may sound idealistic, but I think we need people who believe it with all their heart. In the end, we can!

wings

Transformational teachers grasp that they have immense impact when they provide students with the tools to be successful and become invested in their own learning, with trust and relationships as the cornerstone of classroom culture. As a teacher myself, I want every kid to leave my class knowing they are loved and respected. My goal is to support them in feeling confident that they can apply their skill sets to new situations. That’s different than purely wanting students to have content under their belt to be prepared for the next grade level. Transformational teaching is all about teachers being masterful in their planning, delivery and facilitation of learning within a culture where students engage in metacognition and create, imagine and innovate. Furthermore, transformational teachers infuse opportunities for students to explore their passions whether it’s through integrating coding, robotics, makerspace or passion projects. I find that when we make learning relevant along with blending students’ interests into what we do in the classroom, they begin to make the connection that learning is beyond just the core subjects. Additionally, it triggers true comprehension of how individuals vary in their strengths, and promotes every student to feel increased confidence.

Being able to observe the whole child grow, drives me to continually reflect and retool my practice. There’s no finality to teaching. I believe that in being a transformational teacher it means that we continuously adjust to the needs of our students, while engaging them in learning that leaves them thirsting for more. Each of us has the potential to be a transformational teacher. Make the commitment to create small shifts in your practice for maximum impact on learners, that will last a lifetime.

featured Luminous Culture Uncategorized

Foster a Culture of Rich Relationships

To invigorate a true love of learning, relationships are critical! They’re the cornerstone to any successful classroom. However, I’ve witnessed educators placing relationships in the back seat for different reasons. Relationships require commitment and genuine interactions, they can’t be forced. Some students are easier to cultivate relationships with than others.

Oddly enough, the romantic comedy How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, causes me to think about interactions with students who push back on us and how we go about fostering meaningful relationships with them. In the movie, Andie Anderson (played by Kate Hudson) works as a resident writer for the “How To” section for Composure magazine. She decides to write an article on How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Her idea is to start dating a guy and then doing everything in her power to drive him away. Ironically, Benjamin Berry, (played by Matthew McConaughey), was simultaneously dared to prove that he could make a girl fall in love with him. Andie and Benjamin cross paths and become the victims of each other’s plans. Audiences are humored as Andie does everything possible to push Benjamin away while he demonstrates unconditional admiration to her face. Behind the scenes he’s completely flabbergasted by her, but refuses to give up the challenge of making her fall in love with him. Ironically the scenario is similar to those we face with children who lack trust.

Each year I head into the new school year having already heard the rumors about “those” kids. No matter how much we attempt to avoid this, it happens somewhere along the way. It may be in a conversation in the hallway or out at the playground. I’m grateful for fellow teachers who want each year to be a fresh start. As a teacher, I’m bound and determined to cultivate an authentic relationship with each child and am driven to ensure that it’s successful.

Relationships and trust are pivotal components in any successful classroom.

If our goal is for students to excel, we need to put a spotlight on relationships in addition to engagement and instructional strategies. Relationships foster the connections that allow students to be ripe for learning. From experience, I understand that educators may feel as though they’re constantly being tried by certain students. I’ve been there myself! As educators we have students who run the gamut from requiring multiple strategies to grasp content, need support to self-regulate, or those who demonstrate a spectrum of challenging behaviors. We also bear the weight of understanding their home lives and the undeniable challenges they face outside of school.

While educators tirelessly strive to meet and exceed the needs of all students, we also devote time to connecting with parents to cultivate relationships, and work collaboratively to provide the support the child deserves. In the meantime we attend meetings to ensure that we’re doing everything possible to support students to be successful. The work we do is vast and intricate. The teaching profession is not easy. It requires us to demonstrate strength, compassion, empathy and maintain the energy to continuously give our best day-after-day. It’s no wonder that teachers fall back on the ease of doing what they’ve always done! It’s less taxing and requires little planning.

The demands and mandates may leave us feeling less patient or distracted from fostering authentic relationships with students and their families. The feeling may be more pronounced if we have students who really push back at us. As a teacher myself, I understand how much we need to be on our toes each day. Together we can overcome this because I promise you, it’s worth every ounce of effort! 

Unlike the situation in the movie, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Children do not arrive at our door with a predetermined agenda to sabotage the relationship that has yet to exist between themselves and their teachers. However, I know some of you feel this to be true. Together we’re going to examine how to shift this. The reality is that while we go above and beyond to connect with kids, some will continue to push us away. The harder we try, the more they push.

This is the point where teachers either:

  1. Throw their hands up and walk away with frustration (and some hasty comments under their breath).
  2. Get in a power struggle with the child (children will always win this, cut your losses!)
  3. Send the child to the principal’s office with a follow up email or phone call that they’ve already tried everything.
  4. Accept the challenge with open arms because they enjoy the process of breaking down the walls and understand that it takes time and unconditional love.

Our students deserve adults who will demonstrate compassion and unconditional love for even the most challenging behaviors.

Children who lack trust push harder on adults to test their love limits. As their teacher, are you going to surrender and prove that once again no one can love the child? Or, will you be the one to be there for them with unwavering support? This tests us as humans, but teachers who are committed to shifting classroom culture grasp the power of being available for students unconditionally. I wholeheartedly believe in you as a change agent!

As my own children transition to different teachers throughout the years, my biggest hope isn’t necessarily for the most innovative teacher, but one who is going to form an authentic relationship with them and appreciate them for who they are. If they are placed with a teacher who fosters relationships and is innovative, we’ve hit the jackpot!

Every child deserves adults who will relentlessly foster relationships with them.

In the fall of 2014, I encountered one of the most difficult situations regarding cultivating a relationship with a child in all my years of teaching. On the first day of school I greeted a girl (I’ll call Nora) just as I did all the others. With my knees bent to be at eye level with her, I looked in her eyes. I held out my hand to shake hers and greeted her by name. Here Nora was, just 9 years old. She looked me dead straight in my eyes. With slightly lowered eyelids and dark circles under her eyes, she appeared to be less than impressed with me. Nora let out a deep sigh, slumped her shoulders and refused to shake my hand. Her eyes drifted to the floor and she walked past me in an apathetic manner. Of course, I had already heard her story, but I was determined that this school year would be a blank canvas for her to paint her masterpiece.

Nora entered our classroom and gradually looked around at the other kids. She selected a spot on her own at one of our tables. My initial thought that was that due to past experiences she knew she’d be excluded by others. However, I quickly learned that since she lacked social skills, she had no desire to be with other kids and preferred to be alone. You may be thinking that deep down she wanted others to include her, but after forming a relationship with Nora I’m certain she could have cared less at this point given her situation. All school year Nora pushed my love limits to test when I would give up on her. She employed a variety of tactics from doing the opposite of what was requested, to behaviors that completely sabotaged collaborative team work. She made gradual progress in all areas, but would often regress following breaks as kids often do. Never once did I show her anything but fairness and understanding.

Unconditional Acceptance Transforms Relationships

On the last day of school, the same girl who wouldn’t shake my hand on the first day, hugged me so hard prior to stepping on her bus. After she let go, she looked up at me with tears in her eyes, and lunged back into me with an even tighter hug. I could feel her body deeply sobbing as she inhaled trying to control her breath. Prior to this moment, I already had tears streaming down my face as I let go of all my kids on the last day. However, seeing this reaction out of Nora caused me break down. This beautiful child, who had such a negative reputation, made an enormous breakthrough at this moment by letting out these emotions. My thoughts swirled, had I done enough for this child? What would her summer be like? How will she do next school year? Would her teacher love her and be there for her unconditionally? How would this year have ended differently if I had given up on her? It pained me to watch her go.

A month, week or even a day prior to this moment I wouldn’t have predicted it. While Nora made progress throughout the year, she maintained a tough front. We can never underestimate the impact we have on individuals. I share this story with you because we’ve all had a “Nora” or will have one at some point. Our impact is far reaching and it’s our choice on how we will effect each child.

Quite honestly, throughout the school year I often felt like Benjamin, from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. However, I knew it wasn’t really the case. Relationships don’t just happen. If we head into class each day and engage our students in learning without authentic relationships, we’re missing the boat. Educators need to be intentional about fostering connections and employ every strategy that exists. It’s simply that important.

Foster relationships by:

  • greeting kids each and every day
  • Knowing when their sports and activities are and attending or following up with them to see how they went
  • Sitting by their side through difficult times
  • Listening
  • Calling home to share with their families how amazing they are or share their accomplishments
  • Be silly, have FUN with them
  • Providing clear, supportive feedback
  • Working with them one-on-one on work they want or need support in
  • Having a flexible schedule to adjust to unpredictable needs (inviting them to have lunch with you, or allowing them choice time with you and a friend that they select)
  • Connecting with families on sites such as SeeSaw to share pictures of their child, their work, and positive comments
  • Being responsive to when they need to decompress
  • Engaging them in learning that best meets their needs and incorporates their passions

There are endless ways to foster authentic relationships with kids. As we head into this new school year, I challenge YOU to be the ONE who makes a difference. When you feel overwhelmed by mandates, take a deep breath, look into the eyes of your kids and remember that you may be the one person who they carry with them through life. The words you say, the compassion you show, the patience you have for them doesn’t go unnoticed. Make this school year phenomenal, and kick it off with transformational relationships!

Children do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.

-Teddy Roosevelt

Leadership Luminous Culture

Cultivating Teacher Leadership: a 3 Part Series by #LeadUpTeach

As an ongoing conversation about Teacher Leadership, Elisabeth Bostwick, Laura Gilchrist, and Heidi Veal, were compelled to put pen to paper to attempt to share their respective reflections, perspectives, and insights about Teacher Leadership with the hope of inspiring a conversation that will spark a movement of empowered Teacher Leaders everywhere! They hope you are encouraged and challenged by this three part series with a new post published each week. Join the important conversation about Teacher Leadership by sharing your reflections, ideas, and wonderings in the comments section below and using #LeadUpTeach on Twitter.

Teacher Leadership is for ALL

By Heidi Veal

Teacher leadership is such an elegant thing when witnessed, but it must not be relegated to the few who innately take the initiative to lead! A teacher who has positive influence with their peers can accomplish a tremendous amount of good for the benefit of students, not only the ones they teach. Their reach can extend throughout their school and beyond. They earn influence because of their proven effectiveness, passion, and success with students. Peers enthusiastically look to them as mentors, trusted colleagues, and friends.

My perspectives on teacher leadership come from my years of having served as a teacher leader, an instructional coach, and now as a campus assistant principal. It is a topic near and dear to my heart. One of my greatest wishes for all teachers is for them to see themselves as and serve as empowered leaders in the classroom, on their campus, and beyond.

It is important to recognize that no two teachers lead in the same way. They lead uniquely and in multiple ways too. There is no cookie cutter “Teacher Leadership Definition” because teacher leadership is entirely too multifaceted. For additional perspectives on various ways teachers lead, you can read Ten Roles for Teacher Leaders written by Cindy Harrison and Joellen Killion in an article for ASCD (Sep. 2007).

The thing is, teacher leaders do not have to be an isolated few or a rare, unique occurrence. I would like to assert that teacher leaders should exist on all campuses and actually, in every classroom! Consider what leadership means. Simply put, Leadership is Influence! Teachers influence students by inspiring action, facilitating change, and empowering others to accomplish defined goals. A teacher does this with students and can/should do this with their peers too.

In my current role as an assistant principal, I desire for all teachers at my school see themselves as leaders. I do not expect, nor do I want, all teachers to be cookie cutter replicas from one mold. Heidi-Quote-2-600x300Each teacher comes with individual strengths, gifts, passions, and talents. I strive to empower them to lead with their strengths and grow their leadership identity based on the things that make them uniquely themselves in the classroom.  The diverse talents and passions of individual teachers are what make their leadership so powerful and should be shared.

One simple yet powerful way I seek to empower teachers is by carefully listening to them share their passions and ideas, observing them in action in the classroom, and taking note of their unique strengths. Inevitably, the opportunity presents itself to do what Bethany Hill calls “The Nudge”. Like her, I nudge teachers to share their practices, ideas, and passions with others, the staff or their team, whenever possible. Teachers have an important voice and deserve a platform by which to share their genius, thus growing their leadership. The keys here are listening, collaborating, and empowering teachers to own their growth.

I am reminded of a powerful piece of advice my mother gave to me at the start of my middle school years. She encouraged me to think about a content I am interested in and to work hard towards that content with my efforts and passion. Her intent was to see me sharpen that saw, as Covey would say, in order to create a specialty that was uniquely mine. I did this by pursuing choral arts and my interests in science. I would assert that this is great advice for educators too. No doubt, it is difficult to be a master at everything. We have all heard the phrase, ‘Jack of all trades and master of none.’ As teachers zero in on their unique talents, strengths, and passions in the classroom they inevitably experience growth and increased influence. 

As a campus administrator, my goal is to remove barriers, inspire all teachers to sharpen their talents, lead from their strengths, and be empowered to exercise leadership in every setting and way possible. In other words my heart is that teachers:

  • -Know their Strengths
  • -Play to their Strengths
  • -Leverage their Strengths 

Heidi-Quote-2-1-600x300

Teacher leadership is not for a few, but for all teachers!  Imagine the leadership capacity in a school if every teacher on a campus were in tune with their unique strengths and leveraging them in their classroom, with their teams, on their campus, and beyond.

Do you also believe every teacher should be and is a leader? What are your unique talents and passions? How do you leverage your strengths and the strengths of others to lead and influence on your campus and beyond?

Teacher Leadership Through a Coach’s Lens

By Laura Gilchrist

I smile every time I walk into a school. I can’t help myself. It’s not any normal smile–it’s a big goofy grin. There is magic in the hallways, classrooms, and outdoor spaces. It’s in the belief, love, and energy flowing between teachers and students, who see themselves as  learners, makers, and doers. Some schools have more of that magic than others, but all schools can create it via teacher leadership.

I see a teacher, several students, and a principal, smiling as they look over a student compost project that will help the entire school reduce waste to the landfill by over 80%. I see kids working excitedly in the hall on big project presentations all parents are invited to see on student exhibition night. I see a principal smiling and talking informally with teachers, sharing feedback and permission to innovate–a principal who believes teachers and students are the true leaders of the school.

Is this school culture the norm or the outlier? Is this the type of school culture you’d want your kids to be part of?  If the answer is yes, why aren’t we channeling all our efforts into making our schools like this–focusing on leadership and power distribution?

When looking at schools where learners are thriving, I like to look at the school or district’s “power profile”–the way administrators use the ‘power’ or authority that comes with that position. Simply put, do they keep it or share it?  Speaking from a school level, when principals keep and wield power at teachers, a compliance culture of avoiding negative consequences is created. Fixed mindset and status quo are the norm. Inside the box thinking. When principals share power with teachers and students, encouraging them to help craft and guide mission, vision, and innovation, schools will shine from the inside out. Growth mindset is widespread as is curiosity and teacher and student agency.

Laura Quote2 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

I believe teacher learning and leadership are key to shifting school culture. I also believe teacher learning and leadership are just as important as student learning and leadership.  Over the past twenty years, the talk about teachers was often negative and tied to test scores. It’s time to change this and create a positive language that will elevate teachers, students, and entire schools. Fewer of our youth are going into teaching due to salary, respect, and image problems.  Over the past twenty years, teachers had to learn by ‘sit and git’ presentations done at them, not for and with them–a waste of time, talent, and  leadership. It’s time to let teachers lead their own learning and innovate!

We must focus specifically on teacher leadership until it is commonplace. Then we can drop it and talk ‘leadership.’ Lis Quote2

My perspectives on teacher leadership come from my twenty years as a teacher and teacher leader, four years as an Edcamp organizer and facilitator, and my current role as Instructional Coach at Turner High School in Kansas City, Kansas. I am beginning my second year with seventy-five amazing teachers and four growth mindset principals who regard teachers as leaders. I strive to be a champion for my teachers and my teachers are champions for their kids. I tell my teachers they are leaders who can and should dream big for kids. They don’t always identify with the word leader, but they will one day. I won’t stop saying it. They need to hear it.

I focused on relationships last year and building capacity through active teacher learning, including teacher PBL teams tackling self-identified school issues. I launched an EdCamp during work week and it shifted climate that day (An EdCamp is a teacher-led, conversation-based learning format based on choice and voice). I introduced Twitter at one of the optional sessions and now 60% our the teachers at my school are on Twitter. Read how I started an EdCamp at school here and here. Teachers in my building and district who are on Twitter organize and go to meet-ups in our city and have, in many cases, experienced not just incremental growth, but exponential growth in regards to instructional innovation. I know social media has been vital to them seeing the astounding world of resources, people, and ideas beyond that are easily found outside the walls of their school.

The Collaborative Leadership and Vision that is embraced by administrators holds the key to activating potential in all teachers and students. The leadership beliefs and practices at the top deeply impact the culture of learning at all levels. I believe all administrative teams should analyze their power profile and work to include all voices and all genius.

The Five Leadership Principles from Kansas Leadership Center can powerfully unite an entire school/district in action and language, if they are adopted and agreed to by the entire staff:

  • Leadership is an activity, not a position
  • Anyone can lead anytime, anywhere
  • It starts with you, and must include others
  • Your purpose must be clear
  • It’s risky

Read Laura’s complete LeadUpNow blog “Jumpstart Teacher Leadership and Create District-Wide Leadership Principals” to learn more about these 5 Leadership Principles from the Kansas Leadership Center.

Shift Leadership and Power Profiles in Schools so they shine!

  • Collaborative Leadership and Vision are true game changers.
  • Learning, passions, and leadership should be commonly talked about at school.
  • Learners are leaders. We’re all learners. So we’re all leaders.
  • How administrators manage ‘power’–keeping it or sharing it–will determine if teachers and students are compliance robots or empowered leaders.
  • Power is shared in the school or district ecosystem in a two-way energy flow between all learners and all voices are heard.
  • If a superintendent’s main job is modeling, coaching, and holding principals (all district administrators) to collaborative leadership principles, he or she will impact student growth and school culture significantly.
  • Collaborative and Connected Ecosystems support innovation and growth.

Empower your teachers and students as avid learners and leaders and watch them make the school shine from the inside out!

Laura Gilchrist is a Teaching/Learning coach at a high school in Kansas City, Kansas who spent 20 vibrant years as a middle school science & social studies teacher, doing PBL and storytelling from her room. She is also an #EdCamp organizer and #LeadUpTeach co-host and partner. Read more by Laura here.

Spark Your Inner Leader

By Elisabeth Bostwick

As a teacher, I witness the varying manners in which colleagues lead daily. Through my leadership experiences as both a teacher and instructional strategy coach I absolutely believe every teacher is a leader in one way or another. While teachers are modeling leadership in their classrooms, they’re often empowering students as leaders as well. Teachers demonstrate leadership in a multitude of ways. Some examples I’ve seen are when they share strategies and resources with colleagues, lead or participate within committees, facilitate professional learning, and even by contributing as a positive member of a school community to enhance culture. While all of this occurs in our schools, many teachers deny that they are a leader if they are not in a role that has a leadership title.

When we deny ourselves as a leader, we do not demonstrate the same level of initiative as when we accept that we have influence. This diminishes our level of accountability and undermines our integrity. In order to be change agents who continuously transform our schools to improved levels, we must view ourselves as a leader with influence, as well as develop and leverage the leadership capacity within others.

Lis Quote2


As a teacher, I view leadership as an endeavor in which 
any one of us can embark on by choice. However, it’s not necessarily simple to navigate if the path is unclear. Too frequently teachers await to be empowered by their principal, and are uncertain how to go about reaching their desired goals. There are instances where teacher leaders recognize that they are supported by their colleagues, and unfortunately times in which they perceive to be isolated. This is a precarious situation for schools. Feeling isolated triggers uncertainty, and our best teacher leaders may begin to hold back. This is why it’s critical that we foster a culture of collaborative leadership where each individual champions the notion that they too, are a leader. Acknowledging that each individual has a unique gift to bring to the table begins to shift the status quo.

In my experience teacher leadership can be extremely powerful, particularly when the culture supports it. Teacher leadership is powerful and can lead to rapid improvement and innovation in education by influencing schools to do what’s best for learners.  This is due to the fact that teachers are in the classroom daily, and have a distinct awareness of their students’ needs. Additionally, they understand the hopes and dreams parents have for their children. By listening to the voices of students, teachers have the unique opportunity to communicate, as well as craft, authentic learning connected to students’ interests and passions.

Lis-Quote1-600x300

In my experience, some teachers are more intentional about honing in on their leadership skills in order to be a force of positive influence and drive change. Leadership is about being visionary and understanding the direction in which we need to go. Leaders who engage as an active listener and consider all perspectives from everyone involved, encourage a culture of collaboration. Leaders are also intentional about adding value to others in order to leverage individual strengths and build capacity. Teachers are typically closely connected with colleagues and therefore readily grasp their struggles. This provides an opportunity for teacher leaders to provide genuine support through a variety of strategies as they share experiences on a relatable level. Often times teachers do not feel threatened by sharing struggles with one another since their colleagues are not their evaluator. The beauty of this is that the relationship is often reciprocal. Teacher leaders have the potential to collaboratively support the growth of their colleagues which can significantly impact student learning.

Teacher leaders advocate for what’s best for students, and always bring the conversation back to students. Teacher leadership is not about being dominant or in charge, but rather it’s about remaining focused on the whole child, shared vision, and helping to guide conversations in a way that advances current practice and ultimately benefits student success. Teacher leaders inspire and serve colleagues, as well as spread optimism through difficult times while simultaneously providing support in order to move forward as a team. As leaders, teachers often ask question in order to guide reflective conversations that lead to understanding the perspectives of others, and the effects we have on students and our school culture. If balanced properly, teacher leaders influence others to lead, which creates a collaborative culture of learning committed to growth.

In a collaborative leadership model all voices are valued and included in decision making. If our goal is to move our schools forward in the best interest of students, we cannot follow a top down model and need to examine the hierarchical structures that exist in our schools. Current structures may send the message that teachers voices are not as important as those in administration. Developing a culture where all are included in the decision making process is critical if we truly strive to create authentic learning opportunities where students flourish. When our voices come together (including the voice of students) we can collaboratively craft top-notch learning opportunities for students based on the input from all. If you’re interested in reading more, check out: Building A Collaborative Culture for Change: Establishing the Leadership Environment by Neil Gupta and Tricia Ebner.

Teachers who are provided leadership opportunities have the potential to leave a lasting legacy as they deeply care about their school community. As a teacher, how will you demonstrate leadership and take initiative this school year? Consider how you will spark colleagues to lead and believe in themselves too. As an administrator, how will you restructure current leadership in order to share decision making or provide leadership pathways for your teachers? When we embrace our unique talents and abilities, as well as add value to others, we develop as a team where we challenge, encourage, and inspire one another to grow to new heights for the betterment of our students and school community.

Elisabeth Bostwick is a dedicated educator serving students and colleagues daily in Horseheads, NY. She is passionate about empowering students via the Maker Movement and mentoring fellow teachers. She is a model Teacher Leader! She co-founded #LeadUpTeach, is a speaker for Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. and also supports educators as a Maker Ed Mentor on yearinthemaking.com.  She authors her own blog too.

 

Inspiration Luminous Culture

Limitless: #OneWord 2017

You. Are. LIMITLESS. You have more potential than you give yourself credit for. With hard work and perseverance anything can be made possible. I can say this because I’ve lived and experienced it.

Very few individuals know that the beginning of 2016 was one of the toughest times in my life. For several reasons my #oneword for 2016 was courage. I needed this word to be my central focus. Focusing on the word courage allowed me to take a challenging time and flip it for an all out incredible year filled with new opportunities and growth. I have so much to be grateful for that happened in 2016, but it wasn’t by chance. Rather, it was by choice. In life we choose how to react to situations or move forward toward goals. This takes strength, courage and the ability to be resilient. 

Throughout 2016 I called upon courage often in all aspects of life, and the way I started with the word courage isn’t the way I ended the year using it. The word courage evolved over the course of 2016. A few examples of how I focused on courage professionally was as #LeadUpTeach developed and went live on several social media platforms. I called upon it again as I began having more opportunities to speak and present beyond my district level professional development that I facilitate. Through these experiences I learned to adjust my thinking. Instead of feeling nervous, I convinced myself that it was actually excitement that I felt. As humans we have the profound ability to reframe our thoughts and emotions. I learned this wisdom from a Podcast by Christina Canters and also an interview with Simon Sinek. People often avoid doing what they love because fear, doubt or nervousness holds them back. I’m truly invested in all I do, and I’ve developed great joy from it all. Deep within we all have courage and it’s a choice if we want to ignite it or allow it to remain inside us.

This past fall I was honored to become an ambassador for Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® (developed by @LaVonna Roth) and also have my students be the first group of student ambassadors. This has been transformational for both myself, my students, and the culture of our classroom. Together we’re exploring who we are as individuals through each section of S.H.I.N.E.: Self, Heart, Inspire, Navigate, and Exceptional.

Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E.® not only amplified my courage, but it inspired me to feel fearless and view life as limitless. Courage goes hand-in-hand with being limitless. I began to focus more deeply on how I could navigate my passions to inspire others. One of the most impactful ways that I employed this was when I began sharing my ambitious dreams with others. It was a risk to take because I wondered, what if my dreams don’t materialize? What if this person doesn’t believe in me or ridicules me? Nevertheless, I believe that sharing my aspirations aloud has a different level of accountability. I compare it to throwing a mountaineering axe into the side of a mountain. To achieve our goals we benefit from envisioning our path and maintaining a firm mental grip to move toward them. Today, I no longer have the same worries that I once had. I know that I’ll face challenges, they’re a natural part of life. Fortunately, I also have the tenacity to learn from and overcome them.

While 2016 kicked off with such uncertainty, it was my choice to demonstrate courage. Through this I learned how life itself is limitless.

fearlessA year ago I was told by someone in the field of education that without an administrative degree or experience as a building principal, I couldn’t do some of the things I’m currently doing such as speaking and supporting teachers outside our district. I recall mulling this comment over and how it affected me in the moment. Today, I’m actually thankful that this event occurred because I have used it as fuel to demonstrate what I’m capable of. While there’s a lot of benefit to having an administrative degree, and it may be something I pursue at some point, I also find immense value in speaking on behalf of what’s occurring in the classroom and how to maneuver through all of the expectations. Many teachers strive to integrate PBL, passion projects, edcamps, technology and making. At the same time, they feel the pressure to maintain all of the mandated programs and initiatives that come along with education. While it’s an epic time to be in education, it can also be overwhelming. My goal is to support teachers in seeing that the possibilities are limitless and provide inspiration as they move forward toward their goals. Following the day that comment was made to me, my mindset was charged to proceed forward and my determination has only grown stronger since then.

In addition to supporting fellow educators, my objective is for every child to realize that they themselves are limitless. They are NOT a score, a reading level, or what someone else thinks they’ll become. They have capabilities and passions that have yet to be discovered. As educators it’s our obligation to support students in learning how to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. and to inspire them to identify their passions in order for them to be limitless in life. We can do this through helping others to learn how to navigate their strengths and refine other areas for growth. When students learn to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. and the S.H.I.N.E. within others, greater growth occurs within each individual. Living a limitless life isn’t happenstance, but rather an intentional way to approach life with fortitude.

As individuals we decide how limitless we want to live. We control this through our daily choices. However, we often put limits on ourselves or allow others to put limits upon us. What’s stopping you from being limitless? Together we benefit from connecting, challenging, inspiring and supporting one another to pursue our highest potential. I believe in living life to the fullest and leaving a footprint as a part of a legacy. Join me in embracing a limitless life, and helping others around you to ignite their S.H.I.N.E. to make a lasting impact on our world, one day at a time.

limitless-dream

Empower Learning featured

Cultivating a Maker Mindset

Hearing the excitement of students as they question, design, create and make is one of my absolute favorite aspects of teaching. Every child is engaged in an activity of their choice, and collaboration skyrockets. As a classroom teacher I’ve been able to see how learning in makerspace transfers to learning in the classroom. Teachers often ask me how to launch makerspace with their students, and it’s all about cultivating a maker mindset from the beginning.

Launching MakerSpace 

Prior to launching makerspace with my class I begin to develop the culture by reading books of exploration with my students. One of my favorites is What Do You Do With An Idea, by Kobi Yamada. Following the reading we brainstorm and prepare to share big ideas that we’ve had, or imagine new ideas. We discuss them, draw to envision and describe. Then when ready, we write about them. Students are invited to post their big idea in our classroom. There’s no idea that’s too big. In fact, I encourage them to dream big. Interestingly, even 9 and 10 year old children can be hesitant at first to share their big ideas. In some instances they’re concerned that someone will think their idea is ridiculous or impossible. When we read If I Built a Car, by Chris Van Dusen students grasp that no idea is too crazy. Through the brainstorming process where students engage in collaborative communication, their creativity begins to flow and students synergize!

Growth Mindset

The makerspace culture is all about failing forward and learning from mistakes. Students learn to see mistakes as proof that they are trying, and that mistakes lead to improvement. Growth mindset is a critical component students benefit from in all areas of life. In our class we read the book The Most Magnificent Thing, by Ashley Spires. This book is all about failures, how we handle them, and that sometimes we need to reexamine our work to recognize the beauty it beholds.

Additionally, in class we also engage in team building activities such as Cross a Chocolate River where we learn to be effective communicators and then debrief in order to grow from the process and improve our collaboration. Students benefit from being placed in situations where they experience a non-threatening struggle (such as the community building activity mentioned above).  We cannot simply talk about growth mindset to our students. Using a combination of reading stories and discussing the characteristics of characters, as well as through experiential learning, growth mindset begins to develop authentically. In fact, it’s ideal to embed growth mindset into all areas when possible. Growth mindset doesn’t just to support makerspace, but it’s what nurtures the development of resiliency in children.

Opportunity to Play, Dream, Inquire, and Create to Innovate

While it’s critical for teachers to zero in on content and curriculum that aligns to the standards, we also need to be cognizant that we are fostering the 4c’s in our schools. Critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creation is what sparks innovative thinking. As students go through the school system the opportunity to play and dream often lessens. Our students benefit from having access to materials and resources that inspire them to make something. We can support the development of maker design thinking through the engineer design cycle where students are guided to ask, imagine, plan, create and improve.

  • Allow students time to dream and imagine
  • Promote collaborative conversation around what students wonder.
  • Empower students to inquire and research.
  • Inspire students to create, make, and redesign.

Connect with Real World Experts

When teachers foster the opportunity for students to inquire, wonder, and dream they often come up with more questions. Often times students design and then create what they envisioned making, only to learn that it doesn’t all come together the way that they had planned. This is the perfect opportunity to connect with community members or Skype with experts in the field to learn from their expertise. The process of making fluctuates with successes as well as opportunities for learning and growth. Connecting with experts supports student learning and reinforces the relevance of their work. They can collaborate with students to troubleshoot and retool their design.

It’s also beneficial to connect with experts outside of the school building prior to students making, if applicable to their project. For example, students may have questions about engineering that would support the development of what their idea. Connecting with outside experts promotes multiple skills such as communication, ability to ask questions to apply to problem solving, networking, and the understanding that collaboration is critical to all fields.

Reflection

Reflection is critical to learning and is best when done intentionally. Educators often wait until the end of each session to reflect. However, I have found it beneficial to pause mid-way and allow time for students to consider what is going well, and what needs to be improved upon. This fosters metacognition and the opportunity to immediately retool their design before the end of class. If reflection is always at the end of makerspace it can make it challenging for a child to resume their next session based on their reflections from the previous session.

In the reflection process we begin by engaging in collaborative reflective peer conversations. Through this process students take turns asking each other what’s working and what isn’t working for them. They have the opportunity to share and show what they’re working on and also to offer suggestions to one another. Following the reflective peer conversations they then take the time to further reflect on their glows and grows for me to review. In my classroom I typically have students write them on Post-It notes and then place them on chart paper. This provides an excellent opportunity for me to hear their thinking, see their personal thoughts, and then rotate to students to work alongside them and use inquire to learn more about their thought process.  

Retooling

Using the engineer design cycle students are guided to ask, imagine, plan, create and improve. Retooling following reflection deepens student learning as they engage in critical thinking and problem solving. I’ve seen students become incredibly inspired and excited through this process, it’s what learning is all about! When students enjoy what they’re doing they are driven to learn more and take more of an initiative in owning their learning.

Sharing with an Authentic Audience

In today’s world we can connect our students to classrooms of other makers around the world. By connecting with other students they’re able to get new ideas, further develop their own thoughts, and problem solve by sharing and receiving unique perspectives. Skype or Google Hangouts are excellent ways to connect students. Blogging to an authentic audience empowers student voice. It’s a way in which they can elaborate on their thinking and ideas while receiving feedback from others takes learning to a new level.

Makerspace is a place in which students can have autonomy over their learning and flourish as thinkers and innovators. How will you enhance learning for your students and provide authentic experiences where they can wonder, inquire, explore and create?

Ignite passion and empowervoice. (3)

Resources that have inspired and supported me through my maker journey:  

Worlds of Learning by Laura Fleming

Worlds of Making: Best Practices for Establishing a Makerspace for Your School by Laura Fleming

Renovated Learning by Diana Rendina

The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros

 

Empower Learning Luminous Culture

Embracing our Unique Differences

“Give it another try!” Shouts my 11 year old to his friend Matthew. Matthew winds up the frisbee for the 10th time, and makes the shot! The boys cheered and erupted into laughter. The frisbee went through the basketball hoop. Honestly, it’s trickier than it sounds. Both my son Julian and his friend Matthew have been spending their summer days developing their YouTube channel featuring their trick shots. Not only am I impressed by their profound growth mindsets, but their tenacity that leads to their success is inspiring.

My son has also been creating other videos using iMovie and posting them to his Instagram page. He’s passionate about the work he’s doing and has been beaming at his creations as he’s embedding graphics and audio, as well as editing them to be unique and eye catching.

Last night Julian became quiet and disclosed to me that he deleted a few of his videos that he was really proud of. The videos he deleted featured him hitting baseballs and demonstrating what he sees as his strengths. Julian was transparent with the world, and while he received numerous likes on his videos, he also received a backlash. Julian explained that a friend shared with him that his videos were stupid. This person was relentless until Julian deleted the videos in front of him. Julian was hurt over the comments and began to question his strengths, as well as the videos he created due to these rumors. While I’m disappointed that anyone would say anything negative, I was equally disappointed that my child gave into peer pressure and the need to conform. This is not typical of him as he is a confident and bright child.

With an authentic teachable moment in front of me, this was the perfect opportunity to help Julian understand that we do not have to conform to the status quo. It is difficult, it can hurt, and there will be times in which standing out makes you feel isolated. When we stand up for what we believe in we are at risk for ridicule. However, I am passionate about standing up for what we believe in and it’s a risk I’m willing to take. As a parent and educator I want to protect our children from feeling discouraged, but at the same time facing adversity is what allows us to dig deep inside and learn to persevere. Our children need to be equipped with how to handle adversity and maneuver through our complex world with confidence and empathy for others.

In school and at home we need to be fostering a culture of acceptance and embrace the unique differences that each of us beholds. Too often I see children begin to conform to what they believe the world wants them to be and stray from who they truly are. How do we cultivate this in our schools and make an impact on our society? If our goal is to ignite innovation in schools, students need to be able to embrace divergent thinking and honor each other’s differences.

 

1 copy 3

10 Classroom Tips:

  1. Develop a culture of responsible risk taking through community building and intentional debriefing to foster empathy and understanding. This allows students to experience emotions and reflect on them. Through debriefing they develop relationships with classmates and a deeper understanding of how they can add to or subtract value from others.
  2. Model empathy each day. As teachers we have students that walk in daily from a variety of backgrounds. We need to always assume the best from our students and remember that their actions have an underlying cause. When we model empathy consistently, it transfers to students.
  3. Own up to mistakes. No one is perfect and we learn from mistakes. This is a critical component of any classroom. When students understand that mistakes are normal, they develop as risk takers and become more empathetic when their peers make mistakes.
  4. Survey students with questions such as: What would you like me to know about you? Or, what do you want to grow in this school year? Simple questions such as these can bring in a broad spectrum of responses from students that allow the teacher to gain a deeper understand of who their students are. This provides teachers with the ability to develop deeper connections and relationships with students.
  5. Utilize social media sites such as Edmodo or Slack where students can safely learn to interact with one another online with the support of their teacher. Prior to launching the site, facilitate learning on demonstrating positive Digital Citizenship with Common Sense Media.
  6. Empower students to find their inner passions and carve out time in class to allow students to work on passion projects. Students don’t always know what they’re passionate about, and by inspiring them to identify their passions we are supporting students to develop a foundation of who they are and what they stand for. This serves as a powerful force in a world where students pressure peers to conform. Angela Maiers states, “you are a genius and the world does need your contribution, you matter.” See Choose2Matter founded by Angela Maiers
  7. Ignite the S.H.I.N.E. within students. Lavonna Roth developed Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E (Self, Heart, Inspire, Navigate, Exceptional) to create a path for students to believe in their gifts, gain confidence and explore how they will contribute to the world. Students not only need to embrace their unique gifts, but learn how to navigate themselves to stay true to their heart and as they face adversity in life.
  8. Morning meetings are a great way to begin each day. Morning meetings allow students to start the day by connecting with their peers and teacher and sets the climate of the classroom.
  9. Provide opportunities for students to blog to an authentic audience. Students will grow confidence as they share their ideas through writing and received feedback from people who are looking to grow alongside them.
  10. Create a post-it wall in your classroom where students can post positive comments or shout-outs to celebrate their classmates. In our classroom this past year students loved recognizing one another and truly embraced each other’s unique gifts.

In our world we want to empower students to be dynamic innovators who have a growth mindset. The culture must be right in order to successfully develop this vision. I believe that we can instill in our students that they can change the world, and that it’s their unique gifts that will make the difference.

Empower Learning featured Inspiration Leadership Luminous Culture

10 Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher

A LeadUp Teacher undoubtedly possesses many characteristics! Innovative, inspiring, and empowering just to name a few. What would you add to these 10 Defining Characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher?

Continually Curious
A LeadUp Teacher is adept at asking questions. What is…, how does it work, is there another way, what about this, why… and so on. This teacher asks these questions of both others and themselves on a regular basis. Never content with answers that take on a, “This is how it has always been done.” flavor. The LeadUp Teacher knows that questioning the status quo is their responsibility and others actually expect them to push the envelope with their questions. -Heidi
Adds Value to Others
LeadUp Teachers recognize how to relate to colleagues in all positions, and they devote quality time to listening with understanding to their needs and concerns. They are cognizant of what others value and are continually learning about those they work with in order to lead effectively. When we identify the strengths of those around us, we can uplift and encourage our team members to step forward. As we add value to individuals, areas of growth further develop and begin to strengthen due to trusting relationships, support, and encouragement. LeadUp Teachers are aware of the impact they have when they intentionally add value to colleagues. -Lis
Empowers & Celebrates Strengths
When teachers feel celebrated they recognize that their strengths contribute to the greater good and are motivated to make more of an impact. LeadUp Teachers understand that it’s not solely the principal’s role to celebrate the accomplishments of others, but grasp that as a collaborative team we share this responsibility.The LeadUp Teacher empowers colleagues by modeling risk-taking, sharing, and being transparent about both successes and failures. By being willing to take the fall and share about experiences, colleagues feel a sense of security which in turn promotes them to take risks as well. Leadup teachers verbalize their belief in their colleagues and act as a support system that provides genuine encouragement. -Lis
Reflective Practitioner
Deliberate reflection turns experiences into an opportunity for growth. Leadup teachers understand that they need to look back to move forward. They reflect by uncovering both their successes and failures in order to retool their practice. Reflection that is transparent promotes the growth of both individuals and teams as teachers share what they learned, and how they will proceed forward in the future. Leadup Teachers embrace a growth mindset and the idea that every opportunity around us, provides an opportunity to learn. -Lis
Habitual Learner
The LeadUp Teacher doesn’t depend on others to grow or challenge them. They view professional development as a lifestyle, not an event and are always on the lookout for opportunities to learn more, do more, and be more because they know their continual growth is a critical factor to their students’ growth over time. Being a lifelong learner is never cliche for the LeadUp Teacher, but rather is their unyielding mindset, the pervasive culture in their classroom, and encompases a passion not quenched by compliance based professional development. George Couros explained, “To truly integrate new learning, it is critical to carve out time for exploration, collaboration, and reflection to allow educators to apply what they are learning.” This is what a LeadUp Teacher does in all areas of their life. -Heidi
Ignites Innovative Practices & Embraces Shifts
The LeadUp Teacher often serves as a catalysts for innovation as they see a variety of possibilities on how to craft diverse and unique learning opportunities that richly benefit students, and their school community. As connected educators who embrace learning from fellow educators in a variety of positions, the LeadUp Teacher is able to gain a unique perspective on shifts taking place in schools globally. LeadUp Teachers are fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students and their school community. With a tendency to be visionary, the LeadUp Teacher identifies how they are a key player in fostering systemic change through cultivating shifts that impact school culture, instructional strategy, and ultimately student learning. -Lis
Demonstrates Courage & Voice
Cultivating change and being a risk taker in education requires boldness. The LeadUp Teacher exhibits courage, finesse, and demonstrates a solid voice when it comes to advocating for improved practices and authentic learning opportunities for students. Before making decisions, a LeadUp Teacher always considers the impact on the whole child. When educators collaborate with an all hands on deck approach, they empower one another to demonstrate courage and share their voice. -Lis
Positive Outlook & Impact
The LeadUp Teacher approaches life and their work with a positive outlook. They throw kindness around like confetti and their impact is one of positivity. They believe and expect the best in others, approaching challenges with positive suppositions. They reframe obstacles as opportunities to innovate rather than seeing setbacks as overwhelming defeat. Or as LaVonna Roth explained it in her Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E. presentation at the What Great Educators Do Differently conference, They know “adversities are opportunities in disguise.” -Heidi
Passionate, Committed, & Purposefully Driven
“Purpose is the reason you journey. Passion is the fire that lights your way.” -Unknown
LeadUp Teachers are “fearless in the pursuit of what sets their soul on fire” -Jennifer Lee. They exude passion for their priorities which always center on PEOPLE first! They are committed to inspiring everyone in their sphere of influence, first and foremost their students, colleagues, and families. They see what they do as  both significant and life altering. Their passion to LeadUp is not accidental or random, but a calling that drives an unwavering, unending commitment to excellence! -Heidi
 
100% Student Focused
Doing what’s best for students is the only way a Lead Up Teacher knows how to work. Their purpose is to make the world a better place one student at a time, one day at a time. Students are at the center of their purpose, passion, decisions, and classroom. They put the needs of their students ahead of their own comfort zones, expectations, and even plans. Students are the focus of the classroom and student learning takes center stage, priority #1.
-Heidi
Each day we’re provided a new opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students and within our school community. Embracing the characteristics of a LeadUp Teacher has the potential to inspire passion to ignite within others, which empowers them to put forth their best. In this movement, how will you be an influencer who embraces the characteristics of a Leadup Teacher and sparks the spirit within others?
Elisabeth Bostwick is an innovative elementary educator in Horseheads,NY; Heidi Veal is a passionate Assistant Principal in McKinney, TX. Both ladies lead #Leadupteach, a movement dedicated to innovation and the empowerment of teacher leaders.