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Education Empower Learning featured

Empowering Learning Through Science Exploration

This study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn Initiative, led by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. It was conducted by EDC and SRI International, long-standing evaluation partners for the Ready To Learn Initiative.

Empowering Learning Through Science Exploration: Educators Inspire Families to Develop Science Skills in Young Children

Whether it was observing the sway of leaves and branches due to the wind or mixing paint to create new colors, my two sons were deeply curious about the world around them, particularly when they were young. At age 4, I recall my son Julian asking, “When we drive through fog, are we driving through a cloud?” Young children persistently ask questions. In response to this question from my son, I responded, “What do you think?” I wanted him to continue thinking, questioning and articulating his thoughts. Parents play a pivotal role in their child’s education from early bonding interactions in infancy through helping them navigate the waters of growing into adulthood.

A study conducted by EDC/SRI and funded by the Ready To Learn Initiative found that 99% of parents want to be involved in their children’s education. The first-of-its-kind study entitled What Parents Talk About When They Talk About Learning: A National Survey About Young Children and Science claims that ‘the early years in a child’s life are the most transformative and essential to laying the groundwork for later success in life.”

Spark Curiosity

Parents care deeply about their children and want to play an active role in their child’s education. Considering that the early years are critical to later success, we have to explore how we can ensure all parents feel supported in providing their children with rich learning experiences. As a parent and educator, it has always been a priority to spark curiosity and foster creative and critical thinking in my children and students. Fortunately, every child is naturally curious! However, curiosity decreases the older they become if they’re not encouraged to continue asking questions or exploring natural phenomena. The problem is that our children are growing up in a world that is continually shifting, and we need to consider the success skills our children require today and in the future.

Consider the jobs and businesses today that didn’t exist in the past. Companies such as Uber, Netflix, Amazon, and Airbnb have disrupted how we travel, shop, and engage with entertainment. The entrepreneurs who launched these businesses were curious about how they could re-think existing product offerings and embrace innovative, outside-the-box thinking to stand out and be successful. Our world will continue to evolve, primarily due to the advancement of technologies. We need to fan the flame to keep curiosity alive in our children and support them to be adaptable to our ever-changing world by fostering the development of critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills. Science is an excellent avenue to empower learning from a young age and foster divergent thinking.

Tapping into curiosity by empowering children to ask questions about the world around them supports the development of essential success skills. The research study further explains, “When parents support their children’s science exploration, they are helping children develop language, literacy, and critical thinking skills necessary for them to become adults who can reason logically and problem-solve creatively.” While we can create meaningful learning opportunities through science in school,  parents should understand why science exploration at home is critical and encourage families to feel confident in engaging their children in science enhances their growth.

Addressing the Learning at Home Science Gap

According to the study, parents have greater confidence in supporting their children’s skill development in reading and writing, math, and behavioral, social, and emotional needs. Only 54% of parents responded that they felt confident supporting the development of their child’s science skills. Interestingly, 7 out of 10 parents reported that having ideas to engage children in science using everyday materials would help them to facilitate science more often at home.

Family and Teacher Partnerships

Educators can help bridge this gap by empowering parents to take an active role in immersing their children in science exploration through a variety of ways. For starters, many schools host STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) nights which encourage families to explore interconnected science topics together. When families actively engage in learning science alongside their children, they recognize that science is all around us. From talking about solids, liquids, and gases to the life cycle of animals, science doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The goal is to inspire wonder and awe since sparking curiosity leads to children asking questions that foster critical and divergent thinking.

Additionally, engaging in conversations strengthens communication and language skills in children. Both parents and educators may feel intimidated not knowing the answers to some of our children’s questions. However, I assure you that it’s okay to say, “I’m not sure, let’s think about it or explore more.” Fortunately, with all the advancements in technology, we can use a laptop or smartphone to research answers to complex questions once thinking and exploration have been exhausted – or to confirm our ideas.

Engage, Interact, and Share

PBS KIDS is my go-to source considering they offer an expansive variety of resources to support both educators and families! With my children and students, we use Design Squad Global to promote creative and critical thinking through engineering, a component of science. When my children were younger, they enjoyed learning science concepts with Sid The Science KidPBS KIDS For Parents offers ideas for hands-on activities using materials found around the home, games that foster critical thinking skills and deepen the understanding of science-related skills and topics, apps and videos! Visit PBS LearningMedia for classroom-ready resources that further enhance learning.

As educators, we can easily share these resources with families through newsletters. However, face-to-face interactions are always more meaningful. In addition to STEAM nights, educators also may invite families in to explore science during the school day to support parents in developing a better understanding of how they can facilitate science learning at home. Sending home follow-up activities and resources that connect to the science exploration in school, help encourage parents to build on their child’s learning of science.

Lead by Communicating WHY Science

Most importantly, families need to understand why exploring science alongside their child is critical to their success. Returning to the Ready to Learn-funded research, science exploration helps children to develop more than an understanding of science. It enhances the development of language, literacy, and critical thinking skills that lead to the ability to reason logically and problem-solve creatively. Science also sparks curiosity, and our world needs individuals who ask questions that lead to creative problem-solving, for individuals to take on new challenges and create unique, innovative solutions. Together, educators and families can elevate education by working together to empower learning through science and crafting endless possibilities for learners to imagine, inquire, discover, and create!

Looking to empower families to feel confident learning science alongside their child? Check out the wide variety of PBS KIDS resources for families and educators:

Resources from THE RUFF RUFFMAN SHOW

Family Activities

  • Build a Better Birdhouse
  • Ruff Plushie & Game
  • Ruff and Smooth Scavenger Hunt
  • Ruffet Recipe Card

Games

  • Ruff’s Cookie Creator
  • Fish Force
  • Hamster Run
  • Dress That Rhino
Computer Science (Coding For Children): ScratchJr. Family Activities
Apps
  • Play & Learn Science!
  • Cat in the Hat Builds That! (coming in soon)
Digital Content: What’s Good videos
Shows Featuring New Science and Literacy Content

Explore more resources available on PBS KIDS and PBS LearningMedia

Elisabeth Bostwick is proud to drive the “maker movement” at her school and has worked diligently to bring project-based learning and coding opportunities to students. She is an elementary school teacher and the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator from New York.  Follow Elisabeth on Twitter and Instagram, @ElisaBostwick.

This study was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn Initiative, led by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS. It was conducted by EDC and SRI International, long-standing evaluation partners for the Ready To Learn Initiative.

Education Empower Learning Inspiration

Catalyze Empowerment Through Problem Seeking

Empower Learners as Problem Seekers

In talking with one of my best friends, Beth Gibson, who is the Worldwide Product Engineering Director of Corning Incorporated, she shared that reverse innovation is shifting the way companies approach and view innovative solutions. The term reverse innovation stirred curiosity in me. I’ve always considered innovation as the process of building or improving upon something to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of individuals. Reverse innovation, on the other hand, is the practice of taking a current product and making necessary adjustments that make it more marketable to developing economies that cannot afford the models designed for the western world. I never gave it much thought before, but numerous products we utilize don’t necessarily meet the needs of those in other parts of the world. To reverse innovations, individuals have engaged as problem seekers to succeed as a multinational company.

So, you may wonder, why is this of importance to us as educators?

The concept of reverse innovation is vital to us because it shifts how we approach facilitating learning experiences with kids. Even though the word ‘reverse’ is included, it still requires us to employ the process of innovative design thinking. With the focus on fostering divergent thinking as Empower co-author John Spencer’s recent post highlights in 7 Ways Foster Divergent Thinking in the Classroom (also discussed here) and the process of innovation, learners can be empowered as problem seekers. Our brains are naturally curious! When we envelop learning within problems or scenarios, it catalyzes empowerment that leads to the deepest form of learning. Intrinsic motivation and synergy develop amongst learners. One activity I use that embodies this is when learners are tasked to create a new kind of wearable technology. Through inquiry, students explore the progression of wearable technology over the course of time. Learners assume the role of engineer designers with the goal being to consider current problems that exist in our everyday life, and how wearable technology can either alleviate the problem or meet the needs of individuals. By leveraging a variety of texts, videos, and engaging in in-depth conversations that support understanding, students use the design process to craft either a new or improved version of the wearable technology. Learners then participate in the process of redesigning when constrained by limited materials. This is when creative, divergent thinking takes flight!

Challenging Traditions

While learners are empowered through problem seeking, in reflection, I’m not sure that the problems we are identifying are often genuine “problems,” but rather inconveniences that are being made more convenient based on our western world perspective. However, this serves as a means to unleash innovative thinking that pushes our creative limits by inventing new or improved ideas for products. While this concept certainly cultivates divergent thinking skills, catalyzes empowerment and is an excellent approach to developing success skills, I challenge us to incorporate the notion of reverse innovation.

In Learner Centered Innovation, Dr. Katie Martin challenges us to rethink traditions. Traditionally speaking, we engage in STEM challenges or exploring problem and project-based learning that focuses on topics that are relevant to our learners. Now, I’m not saying that we move away from these as they’re incredibly valuable approaches to learning, which I embrace. I’m fortunate to have been coached to teach project-based learning through the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), and PBL in particular, provides our learners with extremely significant and purposeful learning opportunities that foster learner agency. What I am suggesting is that we broaden our approach to include the concept of reverse innovation. Not only does reverse innovation foster the skill of identifying problems and creating innovative solutions, but it promotes empathy by exposing learners to the unique needs of individuals living in developing countries. Our learners benefit from gaining the perspective of those who face vastly different challenges than what we are accustomed to hearing or experiencing.

Reverse Innovation Promotes Problem Seeking Through a New Lens

Let’s explore the concept of reverse innovation to develop a better understanding. One example involves a team of designers from MIT. Individuals from MIT were charged with the task to create a wheelchair that would perform well on rough terrain in East Africa. The wheelchairs that we are familiar with weren’t a viable option for individuals in East Africa. While MIT successfully designed a prototype to conquer the rough terrain, they had to retool their design as the wheelchair was unable to be maneuvered through a doorway. Designers stressed the importance of not merely creating a model that solved one existing problem but considering all of the possible issues that may exist with each redesign. MIT approached this by testing the product in the field with individuals who may potentially use the product. By doing this, it allowed them to look at the effectiveness of their design and continually seek potential problems that influenced their final design. In the classroom, we need to support learners to embrace the understanding that, “design is iterative; you can’t get it right the first time, so be prepared to test many prototypes.”

Learning experiences within STEAM challenges or problem and project-based learning, often provide students with constraints to work within. Constraints can lead to more significant creative thinking, as learners are encouraged to identify ways to innovate inside the box as George Couros has discussed in his blog and book, Innovator’s Mindset. Considering that design is meant to be iterative, we want our learners to be exposed to multiple problems in addition to constraints to create a vibrant learning process leading to testing and retooling a variety of prototypes. I employ each of these throughout the school year to expose learners to a wide range of learning experiences. To catalyze empowerment through problem seeking, we can blend in the practice of reverse innovation, too.

Sample questions we can pose to foster divergent thinking and catalyze empowerment:

  • What are you wondering?
  • What more do we need to know?
  • How will we locate the information?
  • What materials do we require?
  • How can we best improve our designs?
  • How do you want to monitor, track, and demonstrate your learning journey?
  • What does success look like to you?

In our classrooms, scenarios can be created to empower learners to examine specific products that they’re accustomed to seeing, and explore if they would be of value in a third world country. Within learning, we can layer new information about the product, clients, or the environment in which they live. The idea that one product may be conducive with the terrain (as in the example from MIT), but now won’t suffice in the home, encourages learners to look at a design from all angles and gather more information to drive the learning process. Furthermore, learners would have to consider if the product would even be affordable, and if not, they would have to contemplate how we could market the product through reversing the innovation to decrease the cost.

Brief Detour

Let me pause here, and go off track for a moment. In my experiences working with educators, and as a classroom teacher myself, I know that we agonize over the amount of time we have and how we will possibly cover all of the standards and content we’re expected to teach. I validate your feelings when it comes to these pressures. As educators, these constraints will always exist. While we cannot create more time in our day, I am confident that by embedding learning standards into the experience we facilitate, we will create the time needed while also catalyzing empowerment. Learning must be meaningful and impactful. When we craft learning experiences that are interdisciplinary, we can incorporate numerous standards. In the sample I provided above, we could easily integrate english language arts, science, technology, engineering, math, social studies, and art. It’s essential that we carve out time to foster future success skills by creating opportunities for learners to develop the ability to seek problems and create unique solutions while embedding standards to ensure optimum learning for all.

Tips and Takeaways

  • Empower learners to ask questions and write down as many wonderings as they can.
  • Encourage learners to consider all the possibilities by facilitating inquiry-based learning.
  • Provide opportunities for learners to think innovatively about how we can seek problems in the western world and developing countries.
  • Create authentic, meaningful experiences by incorporating interdisciplinary learning that integrates multiple learning standards and fosters success skills.
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!

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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

 

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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.

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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. 
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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.