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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!

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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.

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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.

 

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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. 
Empower Learning Luminous Culture

How to Empower Student Voice: Enhance Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking

As educators, we envision a collaborative team of students who interact with one another to problem solve, create, communicate, and think critically. We thirst for students who advocate for their beliefs and vocalize their ideas with the encouragement of peers. The reality is that in today’s classroom, this is fundamental for students as they prepare for college and career readiness. Students ought to be promoted to be creators instead of consumers of information. We need to deliberately nurture the development of classroom culture that enhances the opportunity for collaboration and student facilitated inquiry that ignites student voice and sparks innovative thinking. Web 2.0 applications provide further opportunities to enhance the assimilation of content, diversify the channels of creativity to lead to innovation, and empower student voice.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset Culture to Lay the Foundation
As teachers we need to cultivate and continually nurture a growth mindset culture where students are challenged and supported to take responsible risks. Experiential community building activities should be structured and facilitated to encourage the development of a growth mindset. When students have the sense that their ideas are valued, they’re increasingly likely to contribute to their team.

In our learning space, students are encouraged to share their mistakes so that others can learn from them and as a class we celebrate when team members share. This is empowering to students, and within a culture that has a foundation of respect, it promotes diverse thinking. Developing a growth mindset culture is not an end to a means, but rather a process that enriches future endeavors. In regard to growth mindset, we need to be cognizant to zoom in on soft skills including the habits of mind.

Using Edmettle, teachers are able to provide feedback to students on their soft skills that promote their ability to develop a growth mindset. Edmettle is a social network and feedback management tool that encourages and highlights students’ grit, resilience, persistence and additional traits that are desirable for career readiness. Read more about this topic: Empowering Student Voice Through Classroom Culture at Edutopia.

Questioning Strategies Promote Metacognition and Confidence to Amplify Student Voice
To empower student voice we need to promote inquiry-based learning and the use of questioning strategies embedded within all content to strengthen learning. Valuing student voice increases student investment in discussions. Creating an anchor chart for student reference to strategy and question stems fosters student-to-student interaction, too. I typically focus on two sections at a time with learners, model the usage, and allow students to practice with intentionality. Over time, students develop the capacity to harmonize a variety within learning sessions. This process fostersmetacognition and empowers students to communicate with clarity. Using Padlet as a form of social media, we also develop questions with our peers and practice responding to one another. As students engage in discussion and questioning stems, they create stronger neural pathways that become the catalyst of student-facilitated inquiry that fuels learning. This process fosters the empowerment of student voice as students gain confidence.

Empower Students Through Self-Directed Learning; Teacher as Coach
Children are curious, yet come to us often awaiting direction from the teacher. Traditional education has left children expecting that information comes from the adult in the room. Authentic learning derives from student questions, predictions, and claims and evidence from hands-on experiences. Empowering student voice means that the teacher relinquishes control and transitions to the role of a coach to allow students to hone in on their understandings, and thoughts. Supporting students to pursue passion projects empowers students to dig deeply into what they want to know more about and puts them in the driver’s seat. As students become experts in their focus of learning, their confidence is strengthened. Opportunities such as makerspace, genius hour and problem-based learning provide students with the framework and space to collaborate, create, communicate and think critically about relevant learning topics where they can steer the direction in which their learning takes them.

Integrate EdTech to Enhance the Four C’s and Empower Student Voice
EdTech that enhances learning by having students focus on the process of creation and standards of focus, rather than exclusively the final product (which may lack substance), is what we, as educators, need to evaluate. When educators and learners are cognizant of the desired outcome, it allows us to maintain focus. Collaborative conversations and creation of self-directed learning needs to stretch beyond the four walls of a classroom. My students have flourished with Edmodo when used to continue and elaborate on classroom conversations around topics and content. Encouraging the continuous flow of conversation outside of the classroom elevates student learning. In our class we use Kidblog to reflect, share opinions, and write from a variety of perspectives to share our voice with other kids globally. Students enjoy creating with Prezi, Thinglink, and Tellagami to inform others about their learning. Within both Prezi and Thinglink students are able to embed images, videos from YouTube or that they’ve created in iMovie, as well as links to articles to elaborate and drive home their objective. Both allow students to express themselves, which further empowers their voice. Learners are able to post their creations on Edmodo or to their Kidblog page to further enhance their creation.

Most importantly each of these opportunities have the potential to amplify student voice. Learners can engage a global audience to share their voice and receive feedback. This process brings learning full circle and develops the opportunity to engage an authentic audience, and receive feedback. As educators we need to provide the opportunity for students to have access to a variety of avenues that support the advancement of learning through questioning, personal interactions and thus strengthen and ignite student voice. We need to empower each and every one to unleash student potential for maximum impact.

Empower Learning Leadership

Entering a New Frontier

Envision learners jubilantly returning from winter break who are eager to connect with peers, staff, and to be empowered as learners. Excitedly they re-enter the learning space while having conversations and greeting others. It’s possible that many learners were still connected with one another, and their teacher through platforms such as Edmodo over break. Remaining connected maintains that sense of family, and keeps conversations flowing so that when reunited as a team they can readily begin to synergize.

How are you setting the stage for the new year with your students? What are your students anticipating returning to? As we enter the new year, consider one shift that you’ll make to ignite students’ passion to learn. Learning is a natural desire, yet when forced or if not engaging, students can shut down and lose their drive to learn. We need to be creating a sense of wonder within our students to foster deeper questioning which promotes innovative thinking. Who are we to teach today’s students, yesterday’s information? What’s comfortable for both teachers and students isn’t necessarily what’s best. In fact, I find that when I am in a place of struggle or discomfort that it’s a blessing because it signals that I’m in a place of growth. When we enter a new frontier it isn’t meant to feel convenient or safe. However, that’s where we need to be for continual improvement. As I consider the shifts I’ve made, I recognize that they’re some of the main reasons my students eagerly anticipate returning to school.
Project Based Learning
I’m wholeheartedly committed to flipping education to move beyond mandated programs. My goal is to immerse students into authentic, relevant, real-world problem solving, and empower students to own the direction of their learning. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been trained and to be provided with ongoing training in PBL by the Buck Institute for Education. Through my journey I’ve noticed that when students develop their own driving questions it propels their research, and they begin to crave learning including the next steps of their project. What I observed this fall exceeded my expectations. In all transparency, our class also hit rough patches. There were times when my students looked to me in search of direction or answers. Similarly, as educators we experienced moments where we had to go back to our training notes as we collaborated to reconsider our process. As a team we hit several moments of discomfort because it was so different than our classic ELA block. While we always utilize best instructional strategies and structures for learning, PBL definitely took us in a whole new direction. For me, it was refreshing. As for the students, it’s evident that they’re more cognitively engaged within PBL. During this winter break they’ve continued researching and posting links for their peers to respond to around their PBL focus on our Edmodo page. The depth of knowledge, success skills, and vocabulary that they have developed is incredible.
Makerspace
When we started, students required reassurance that what they chose to design was their choice. They had to solve problems that arose along the way, but they knew that I was there to support them. Using inquiry as a driving force students worked through many issues. They’re constantly learning how to appropriately interact and converse with peers during challenging times. As our makerspace grows I am devoted to carving out time for students to wonder, explore, and create. Makerspaces provide opportunities for students to create, build prototypes, explore questions, fail and retry, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, bounce ideas off one another and collaborate on building together. Innovative thinking blossoms in makerspaces.
Innovation Time
Last school year students had opportunities to explore their passions, and share their projects with peers through a variety of presentation methods. This school year I’ll be integrating innovation time more purposefully within the second half of the school year. Sure, students have a lot of choices in class. Within PBL students have ownership over their driving questions, method of presentation, and community contacts. However, I want to extend learning to be increasingly student centered. During the second half of this school year learners will have opportunities to identify and explore their passions with purpose. As I reflect on the first half of the year I feel that beginning with PBL and makerspace has set the stage for students to continue forward into innovation time. They all share a similar philosophy and compliment one another well.
Culture of a Growth Mindset Embedded in Relationships
Fostering and continuously nurturing a culture of a growth mindset embedded in relationships has been one of the biggest factors in allowing PBL, makerspace, and learning in general to be extremely successful. Growth mindset along with relationships is one of the pivotal components that serves as the foundation for all that I work towards. In our learning space you can visibly see and hear that we have a culture of a growth mindset. It’s developed through experiential learning, debriefing, and modeling as well as practicing how to emote through a variety of structures. We also consciously utilize the Habits of Mind and The Leader in Me. During math class students openly share when they’ve made a mistake in order to help their peers learn from what they’ve done. Their peers celebrate them by clapping and making genuine comments. This practice has encouraged students to share out often. Students also use a variety of talk moves to demonstrate that they were either thinking something similar, have something to add on, or new to contribute. All of these simple strategies not only maintain engagement, but also allow students to receive immediate feedback that others are truly listening to them and making connections. Student conversations have developed to be so purposeful that students clarify by asking their team members, “What do you mean by____?” or rephrase by saying, “In other words what you’re saying is_____.” The freedom to make mistakes, question one another, and clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment promotes deeper student learning as they become unguarded and open to risk taking to explore all areas of learning.
Tech as a Tool
Using tech as a tool to foster the four C’s is new for the students who enter my classroom each year, therefore it takes some time to integrate it. This school year students have been exposed to many different types of tech to enhance learning. The tech we’ve utilized has been scaffolded intentionally. We began using tech as formative assessment. Kahoot, Plickers, and Nearpod have been excellent to engage students while also providing quick and accurate feedback for reflection. At the beginning of the year it was messy. Students were unfamiliar with knowing how to login to websites and how to use basic functions on a keyboard. The experience provided me with a wealth of information, and I realized that I needed to back up the instruction more than I had expected. Taking the time to demonstrate, and allowing students opportunities to explore and ask questions made a difference. After working with formative assessment tools, we then picked up Edmodo as a communication and collaboration platform that also allows me to blend learning. Students are now creating and demonstrating their learning using Explain Everything, Prezi, and ThingLink. Once learners grasp how to use tech as a tool, they quickly find ways to integrate it independently and are prepared to choose the appropriate tool when necessary.Coding
While all students participated in the Hour of Code, we as educators cannot just expose students to an hour of code. We need to examine what the needs are of today’s learners. Today’s learners are required to be literate in different ways than yesterday’s learners were expected to be.  Dr. Ryan B. Jackson proposes that coding is the new literacy. I, too, believe that all schools ought to address coding as a significant need in today’s schools.  It’s inspiring to listen to students problem solve as they code, communicate effectively with peers when they hit an obstacle, and the excitement they experience when they overcome barriers.  If you’re tempted to say that this is just one more thing being added in, we need to step back and look at the current job market and contemplate the fact that we don’t know which direction our future will head. Our students are going into a future where many jobs will be newly developed. As educators we need to reevaluate what the greatest needs in our students are, and how we can reshape schools with flexible scheduling and interdisciplinary learning to promote innovative practices.

Enter a New Frontier
As we move forward into the new year we need to support one another as educators, and be fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to take on new initiatives, but it’s exhilarating too. By crafting a clear vision with a focus that is student centered, you will surely find your footing. Consider how you will enter this new frontier as an advocate for learners. We are the change, together we make the difference.

Empower Learning Inspiration Leadership

Ignite a Movement, Be a Trailblazer

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to attend a ropes course, it’s likely that you felt intrigued while observing the varying levels of ability.  From novice to expert every individual moves at his or her own pace.  Others prefer to stand to the side and watch the action take place.

Following a recent experience at a ropes course with my sons, I was struck with how schools are comparable.  While some teachers avidly advance forward as innovators who motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities in order to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action.  We need to be in tune with the needs of the individuals in our organization, decipher what drives them, and how we can support them to move forward.  In our field, we need to aspire to empower every educator to be a significant agent of change regardless of their starting point.

Educators have the capacity to be the fire starters to ignite a movement when the culture and climate are robust enough to support it.  By movement, I mean a complete transformation in the way we envision and do school.  Individually we are making varying differences daily, but collectively we can produce a significant impact and provoke immense change.  In today’s world we desperately need committed educators who spark awe and wonder within students, while encouraging the spark to spread contagiously as students continue to inquire, seek answers, and develop new questions around relevant topics.  Leaders alike need to do the same amongst their staff and colleagues shifting to foster a culture where educators feel supported to take responsible risks.  The culture of schools, with trust as the cornerstone, should be one that stirs up a crusade where teachers eagerly identify their passions and feel supported to take risks, grow, and challenge one another.

 

Foundation First

On the ropes course I had to feel assured that my sons and I were completely safe in our harnesses in order to proceed through the challenges.  Guides were in the vicinity checking in and also demonstrating safety, which promoted confidence in those of us on the course.

In any organization, relationships and trust are the pillars to a strong culture.  Educators and administrators alike need to feel supported.  If our goal is to increase innovative practices and opportunities for our students and teachers, we need to take a step back and analyze how we’re nurturing the culture.  Fear can cripple a person and lead to avoiding risk-taking behavior and therefore stifle innovation.

In our organizations we need to know our people, understand and be empathetic to their needs, as well as listen to and value their ideas.   Our schools need to cultivate a culture of innovation so strong that it carries itself beyond any change in staff or leadership in order to continue to do what’s best for students as our world changes minute-to-minute.

Connect With Thought Leaders
Coming together through connections with like-minded educators enhances the power to be trailblazers in education as we are able to support one another and share ideas.  Joining together through shared beliefs and dreams drives passion within individuals enabling synergy to develop.  Connect through Twitter or use an app such as Voxer that will provide you with flexibility to communicate.  This enables interdependence between educators to support and collaboratively move one another forward.  The more often we connect with a team of like-minded thought leaders we develop confidence.  Confidence is critical in order to make pedagogical shifts and face challenges head on.  We need to know who is by our side to support us without judging our alternative ideas and who will provide authentic feedback for reflection and growth.

Encourage Educators to be “Non-Compliant.”
Compliance doesn’t lead to change.  Compliance leads to complacency, which jeopardizes growth and success.  At the ropes course, I was tempted to call out to my sons to hold the rope, or to slow down.  I had to refrain because if I didn’t want to suppress their growth.  My sons are both risk takers, and I had to trust the fact that they were using all of their senses to appropriately travel through the challenges in a supportive environment.

In thinking about the diversity that fills our schools, we need to examine what makes each individual most confident in order for them to join the movement.  Cultivating and sustaining a culture of innovation requires delicate balance.

When we recognize risk-taking educators who are ready to soar, we need to clear the runway and provide encouragement along with the space to take off; but the key is that we also need to have them on our teams collaborating to provoke deep thinking, which can elicit others to join the movement.  Initiate conversations around how their ideas support the shared vision, what action steps they’re taking, and see how others could gain from what they have to offer.  When we bring a diverse team of thought leaders together to collaborate we can promote growth from all angles and develop thorough plans.  Within every organization there are educators who are comfortable diving-in and just going for it, while others take time to adjust.  Honoring and celebrating individual qualities creates a no-judgment zone where educators know they’re supported when they feel it’s their time to fly.

Likewise, when we sense educators are uncomfortable about change, we need to be cognizant of the environment they’re in, who are they connected with, and nurture the culture to support their individual growth.  Educators who require all of the nuts and bolts of a plan, or to see the big picture before moving forward, benefit from clarity of the vision.  When we engage in active listening practices and are genuinely empathetic, others are able to trust that they’re supported.  As educators we can all highlight the strengths that shine within each individual.  Our role as educators is to empower, whether it’s empowering students, colleagues, families, or ourselves.

In terms of non-compliance, educators need to have the autonomy to do what they know is best for students.  We need to motivate educators to make every decision with students at the forefront.  Educators benefit from developing a shared vision with coherence by examining the world students are living in and stretching our means to support them to be successful and future ready.

As an educator,  I know I need to utilize the standards as the foundation of student learning, but traditional education as we know it is hindering our students’ growth.  Is learning in silos effective and is it how we apply information to life outside of the classroom?  Educators in all positions need to challenge themselves by reflecting on why they’re doing, what they’re doing.  Being a continuous learner enables us to develop confidence in our endeavor.  As trailblazers who are shifting paradigms of education, I urge all to join in and be an influencer who walks the talk.

Inspire Others
Through relationships we need to tap into each individual’s passions and fuel their desire by celebrating unique strengths, contributions and involving them in a movement for the greater good.  Demonstrating our commitment towards the vision, leading by example and clearly articulating why and how we’re shifting our pedagogy can influence others by inspiring them to take action.  I believe every teacher desires a successful team of students who are eager to arrive at school and demonstrate grit through rigorous and relevant learning.  Educators need to see the vast amounts of possibilities despite perceived barriers.  When a barrier presents itself we inspire others by relentlessly pursuing all options without defeat.
Educators in all positions of the field have the ability to ignite a movement.  Some of us go big while others prefer to start small.  Despite your preference I challenge you to consider what you believe needs to revolutionized and connect with like minded professionals, develop your vision, and craft your plan so that others gain clarity and feel supported to take action alongside you.  Our children deserve our very best.  They benefit from flexible learning environments that arouse creativity, innovation, honor divergent thinkers and provide appropriate challenges around relevant and engaging topics from educators who authentically value the child’s personality, and foster genuine relationships.  As committed educators we’re in it together to ignite this movement, we just need step forward.
ropesblog
Empower Learning Inspiration Luminous Culture

Unlocking the True Potential Within Every Child: Be Their Champion

You have the power to make a phenomenal impact in the lives of children.

I believe educators are astoundingly fortunate to have the honor of engaging in the approach of unlocking the true potential within every child.  Regardless of their background or circumstances, by pursuing all avenues to reach and inspire each individual child, we can all make a difference in our students’ lives.  It’s phenomenal that educators have the opportunity to be a champion to not just one child, but hundreds of children over the course of their career.  I believe that when we work collaboratively for a cause that’s greater than ourselves, the impact will cause ripples that travel further than our minds can fathom.

Our profession is all about kids.  They’re our future, and it’s an enormous responsibility because our interactions will either inspire or discourage. A lot of conversations have been had around risk taking and failing forward in education.  While these words are tossed around and contemplated, each person has a different image of what this actually looks like.  

Developed progressively, every year my vision has shifted and evolved with each diverse and unique team of students I’ve had the privilege to work alongside.  I’ve gained a deeper understanding of why culture is critical and how to harmoniously refine the development within each new team.  In a community where culture is authentic and strong, students flourish and truly begin to seek risk taking, than simply being “open” to it. 

A considerable amount of time needs to be devoted to cultivating relationships with individual students in order to assist in developing their ability to take risks.  And this means daily, as it’s an ongoing pursuit.  Sit beside the child, allow them to guide the conversation, seek information about who they are and what their passions and dreams consist of.  When we demonstrate that we genuinely care, students connect with us.  When we connect by sharing our commonalities and continue to ask about their individual interests, students know we’re invested and truly care about their best interest.  

Our students need to feel a safety net around them from us as well as their peers.  Peer acceptance is a piece of their sense of belonging.  Tailoring experiences where students develop empathy for their peers is essential.  If we truly want students to develop the ability to take risks, they need to feel their basic needs are met and that others have their back.  Making the assumption that students come to school and feel safe, or that they belong, is risky.  We need to be intentional about how we craft our classroom culture by providing opportunities to build trust between students and teachers, as well as students and students.  Teachers gauge the level of trust within the room by observing, taking the temperature of the climate, and continuing to learn the idiosyncrasies of each individual student.  In looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, we see that if we want students to become risk takers, it’s pertinent that all of their basic needs are met. 

Recently at the 2015 Model Schools conference one speaker focused on fairness in the eyes of a child.  Fairness is a child’s perception, and perception is real to the beholder.  Will students develop the mindset to be a risk taker if the playing field doesn’t feel level?  We need to communicate clearly, consistently, and remain cognizant of cultivating authentic relationships with each and every student.  Furthermore, students benefit from a level of comfort/safety where they’re empowered to provide us honest feedback as their coach (teacher), and that is only possible in a classroom where students feel completely supported to take risks without repercussions. After all, in order to understand our students’ perceptions we need to listen and validate their feedback.  When students provide us with feedback, we can then stretch ourselves to learn and grow from their input. Students thrive when they’re embraced unconditionally.  Every child deserves a champion who will rally around them and validate their feelings while continually improve for their sake.

This past year I continually repeated “mistakes are proof that you are trying” as students collaborated on relevant and complex problem solving.  I hung this poster on the wall to be visible to all students.  By midyear all I had to say, “mistakes…” and the students would complete my sentence.  Rather than scolding them for giggling when I made a mistake, students grasped the fact that I too will make mistakes and they’d say, “It’s okay Mrs. Bostwick, it’s proof you’re trying!”  It was liberating for them to identify that their coach is not the beholder of all knowledge, but rather the individual that was there to facilitate, guide, and encourage.

Life is filled with adversity.  How we choose to handle it is embedded in our mindset.  Fortunately mindset is malleable, and I believe every teacher has the ability to empower students to learn to fail forward, seek risks, and pursue their passions.  Setbacks are part of growth, and we need to provide experiences within a supportive environment to stimulate this understanding in order for students to develop flexibility in thinking.  Cultivating and nurturing the culture of a classroom provides the fertile environment for students to thrive and seek risk taking which leads to innovative problem solving and creations.

Repeated failures can lead to success when students are inspired to aspire toward their goal.  The key is to foster their ability to identify their passions in an environment that richly supports risk taking through supportive and trusting relationships.

This summer my 10 year old son, Julian, who has always been a tinkerer and maker, was further inspired by the idea of makerspace as it’s been a hot topic in our house.  Energized, he worked tenaciously to develop an obstacle course that would allow a ping-pong ball to travel from one point to another using random materials found around our home.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, he used an iPad to document his trials which demonstrate failure after failure that led to his success.  In watching his iMovie you’ll recognize his efforts of making slight alterations in order to reach the intended goal as well as the sound of success at the end.

See Julian’s iMovie: Trial and Error by Julian

Imagine the impact that would transpire if all students were empowered to continue to persevere in the face of challenge, and yearned for the sheer joy of the process of overcoming obstacles.  We can make this happen, and kids deserve the culture and environment that supports this.

Intrinsic motivation catapults students’ determination and outcome of success.  As educators we have the collective capacity to share in the movement to empower students to be innovative problem solvers, who develop the prowess to examine situations from all angles.  Every child deserves a champion who will tailor and foster a learning environment for them to bloom.  Be the change you wish to see in education because #kidsdeserveit.

Empower Learning Luminous Culture

Empowering Student Voice Through Classroom Culture

Empowering student voice transforms a learner from being an observer to an initiator. We’ve all seen students who walk in the door on the first day of school with a fixed mindset. Their previous educational experience has led them to believe they may be great in math, but struggle in reading. These students come to us expecting to experience the same struggles and emotions they have in past years. Students may lack confidence, and be unwilling to take risks. As educators, how can we support the development of a growth mindset that will lead to empowerment of student voice? After all, the most valuable voice in the classroom is the student’s.

Ongoing Community Building to Support Growth Mindset
Educators grasp the importance of team building, but to take it further in order to shift the culture, I utilize Laurie S. Frank’s “Journey Toward the Caring and Collaborative Classroom 2nd Edition: Using Adventure to Create Community.” The structures are designed intentionally to support the development of students into responsible risk takers within the framework of experiential learning. Students participate in collaborative activities that work through the stages of cooperation, trust, problem solving and challenge. The debriefing period at the end of each activity is where students make growth in their ability to process, reflect, and emote. This is the foundation of student voice in the classroom as they progress through stages of growth.

HOMHabits of Mind
Each month I focus on one trait from the Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind. These soft skills are the skills and attitudes support success in school, work, and life. Students use rubrics to monitor and reflect on their growth. Together we practice perspective taking and I structure activities that provide students with the opportunity to remain open minded. You can select traits to focus on that best support your learning environment.

Empowering Student Voice
Strategically establishing a culture that promotes responsible risk-taking opens the gates for the empowerment of student voice. Those who never envisioned themselves sharing perspective, advocating for a cause, or respectfully disagreeing with another’s perspective develop the ability to do so. As educators we need to put all the structures in place to support the empowerment of student voice. Integrating community building and the Habits of Mind promotes a growth mindset. In my classroom, when we make mistakes we fail forward together because our classroom environment is supportive and non-threatening.

Classroom Tip
Create an anchor chart on the art of collaborative conversation. Model it, have students practice, reflect, and integrate it as a part of daily instruction in math, ELA, STEM, and SS. Have students peer assess each other on the Habits of Mind using a rubric. Students can assess themselves and compare rubrics – then reflect for growth. Personal reflection is the core of growth mindset, which in turn creates a positive culture where empowered student voices echo throughout the classroom.

collaborative

Empower Learning Luminous Culture

The Why Behind Community Building

communityA classroom community is not just a cohesive, cooperative, and collaborative group of students; it is also a trusting environment that encourages positive risk taking, which stimulates social, behavioral, and academic growth.  As educators we are accustomed to teaching core subjects daily.  We can all agree that when students are continually cognitively engaged in learning they make greater gains.  Do we only math once per month, and expect students to apply concepts? When they struggle should we punish them for not having the concepts mastered?  Over the years I’ve been on a journey to cultivate community in my classroom to empower students to shine true to themselves, and collaborative authentically.

Why Community?

As educators we envision a community where students learn harmoniously alongside one another, challenge their peers, think flexibly, and consider the perspective of others.  In such a classroom students are empowered to respectfully question each other’s thinking, as well as their teacher’s, and feel supported to take responsible risks.  Students take ownership of classroom procedures and demonstrate leadership by taking care of classroom duties without being asked.
Within our well crafted classroom community I can truly step back and facilitate, as well as ignite the flame in my students to do the same with their teams.  I recall the day I stepped back and recognized that each team was independently facilitating their own learning by creating their own STEM focus question and investigation plan within the topic of matter and energy.  Students were using inquiry with one another, everyone participated by having a role, and they were holding each other accountable in a respectful manner.  This was the result of cultivating a classroom community continually throughout the school year, and I was thrilled! 

Ongoing Community Building to Support Growth Mindset

Educators grasp the importance of team building, but to take it further in order to shift the culture, I utilize Laurie S. Frank’s “Journey Toward the Caring and Collaborative Classroom 2nd Edition: Using Adventure to Create Community.”  The structures are designed intentionally to support the development of students into responsible risk takers within the framework of experiential learning and choice theory.
Students participate in collaborative activities that work through the stages of cooperation, trust, problem solving and challenge.  The debriefing period at the end of each activity is where students make growth in their ability to process, reflect, and emote.  This, along with the integration of Habits of Mind, is the foundation of developing a growth mindset. Strategically establishing a culture that promotes a growth mindset also opens the gates for the empowerment of student voice.  Those who never envisioned themselves sharing perspective, advocating for a cause, or respectfully disagreeing with another’s perspective develop the ability to do so.  As educators we need to put all the structures in place to support growth mindset.  In my classroom, when we make mistakes we fail forward together because our classroom environment is supportive and non-threatening.

What Brain Research Says 

Community building that provides the opportunity to emote increases the student’s ability to reflect.  Brain research shows that emotions influence learning.  What we as teachers see/feel may be completely different than that of our students.  We need to consider our classroom environment from all angles since stress is often perception.  Some stress is necessary for growth though.  For example, learning occurs with eustress, which is the perfect amount of hormones to overcome challenges.  However, on the opposite end is distress which is defined by too many hormones (cortisol) that block the ability to think, memory capacity, and can trigger an overreaction to stimulus.  In school there are numerous causes of stress including, but not limited to, fear of being wrong, physical and language differences, cliques and bullying, frustration with difficult material and boredom from lack of stimulation.  As Dr. Judy Willis explains, when the brain is in distress it goes into reactive mode and triggers a fight, flight, or freeze response.  In contrast, when the brain is in a positive emotional state, information passes through the amygdala and into memory.  It’s critical that we nurture the development of a supportive classroom community to counteract distress and provide opportunity to learn with eustress.

Additionally, Eric Jensen states that the brain needs three things for “meaning making.”  These include relevance to the individual, context in which it is taught, and emotions.  As educators, it’s crucial that we try to regulate the emotions of our students through the culture of the classroom community as it affects their learning.  The key here is that by creating a positive emotion that is associated with learning, there will be increased retention.
We need to consider our approach to cultivating a collaborative community and the impact it can have on the whole child.  When the culture of a classroom supports community, the team develops common characteristics, goals, and shared values.  Everyone feels a sense of belonging and all within the community support one another in reaching individual and groups goals.

Benefits of Intentional Community Building

When classrooms implement community building with intention, culture is impacted and it spills out into the larger school community.  Academic skills, cooperation, collaboration, and problem solving soar.  Peer interactions enhance classroom management and also decrease student conflict due to the fact that community building fosters social and communication skills.  In my classroom I’ve recognized that there is increased trust between students and myself.  Students are also likely to embrace their unique differences and allow their personalities to shine.  Community has enhanced personal character, compassion, tolerance, and empathy.  By engaging students in community building we are providing them a gift that can carry with them for a lifetime.

Let’s foster an environment where anything is possible when a supportive team is involved!