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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 featured Inspiration Leadership Luminous Culture

Embrace Your Inner Leader

 

Countless educators aim to inspire, be the change and exude positivity. I’m grateful for my connection to educators who exhibit this as it’s what encourages others to persevere in the face of adversity. As someone who has always embraced this concept myself, I tend to find it challenging to know how to share my voice on wrongdoings best. Afterall, positive people stick to positive messages, right? However, we cannot stand to glaze over apparent dysfunction or bow in fear to hierarchical models of leadership when we know something is blatantly wrong and ultimately hurting individuals. I believe that we can discuss semi-controversial topics while identifying creative ways to address them. Exuding positivity, as well as demonstrating professionalism is essential to me as an educator. Due to my deep sense of integrity, I’m also driven to be an agent of change, and my integrity makes it nearly impossible to ignore that there’s an enormous elephant in the room that exists for many educators.

Blogging and being connected as an educator has provided an avenue for us all to share our voice. Too many opt to talk behind closed doors while keeping their heads down instead of stepping out and addressing the elephant. Together we can creatively seek solutions to move forward or ways to change the course of our ship when we realize the time has come.

For countless years I have identified numerous avenues to reach all kids and foster curiosity, creativity, critical thinking and joy in learning. I believe in this wholeheartedly, and my commitment is unwavering. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the support of many administrators, teammates, colleagues, and my professional learning network. These individuals have carried me through difficult times without necessarily realizing that they have. We’ve celebrated highlights and encouraged one another more times than I can count.

To be transparent, I’ve also experienced my fair share of mistrust. As someone who always seeks to give the benefit of the doubt and aspires to see the good in every situation, truth be told, some individuals allow their ego or personal agendas to dictate the course our ship sails. Egos and personal agendas cause the ride to feel rough and unsettling. In turn, it leaves others scrambling to figure out how to guide the ship best. Historically, I’m a ‘sail adjuster.’ When the wind blows in an unexpected direction or hits without warning, I merely adapt and move on, without missing a beat to provide students with the best learning opportunities. If by chance the wind batters the sail causing rips and tears, I not only adjust but make necessary repairs to remain on course. I’ve repaired my sail more times than I can count, and each time it seems to become stronger and more vibrant than before. After all, each gust is an opportunity to learn that encourages growth.

Situations exist where educators have exhausted every option to continue moving forward even in the most challenging situations. If the damaging effects of the wind grow so strong that the sail is irreparable, it may be time to either navigate a different course by joining another crew or even sailing on your own. Whether you’re adjusting, repairing, or replacing your sail, I hope you employ strategies that act as flint to ignite passion and exuberance to sail further than you ever have before.

Anyone of us can step up and lead to cultivate a healthy culture. Perhaps we don’t have complete control over every decision we’d like, but that’s not to say that we lack impact. Leadership is a title that can be held by anyone who has influence. Being a leader is not solely meant for those with an administration degree. Jimmy Casas, author of Culturize, writes,

“You don’t have to have a leadership title to be a leader. You just have to lead. When you have a disposition about you that others immediately recognize and sometimes want to emulate, you are a leader. When you draw people in and make them want to be around you, you are a leader. Maybe you have a unique skill set that people quickly notice and appreciate, or maybe it’s your words or tendency to notice the best in others that inspires the people around you to want to be better.”

While some individuals seek to foster leadership skills to develop capacity in others, I tend to think that there are instances where some people are threatened by those who demonstrate leadership without the ranks of title or degree. In some cases, it appears more comfortable to hold individuals at arm’s length to silence their efforts and even attempt to belittle through comments spewn to foster a sense of insecurity. Fortunately, we own our emotions, and while mistrust may develop, how we choose to feel is ultimately up to us. Some may think it’s crazy, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand staring in the eyes of the elephant in the room while the wind tears at my sail. Both have taught me countless lessons that serve as real-life experience. From these experiences, I’ve developed more profound empathy and compassion for others. While there are numerous leadership books out there such as Culturize, Lead Like a Pirate, and Start Right Now that provide phenomenal tips and in-depth strategies, here are just a handful of the leadership tips I’ve learned firsthand.

Embrace your inner leader by:

  • Committing to relationships first, next, and always
  • Nurturing a culture of yes
  • Adding-value to those you work alongside by frequently recognizing their efforts
  • Seeking ways to give back in an effort to show appreciation for the contributions made by individuals
  • Celebrating! Celebrate accomplishments, persevering through failures, risk-taking, awards or recognitions as a school and district to demonstrate appreciation
  • Spending time in classrooms with learners (as an administrator) serving alongside teachers when possible
  • Employing the use of Pineapple Charts so that teachers can visit and learn from colleagues
  • Tearing down fortress walls to allow for open conversations between teachers, administrators and the Board of Education
  • Trusting that individuals have the best intentions, this fosters deeper levels of trust
  • Empowering teacher voice… Scratch that… Developing shared OWNERSHIP amongst all stakeholders
  • Being transparent and authentic by walking the talk
  • Simply apologizing for wrongdoings even if unintentional

I know this list could continue and I’m happy to add on over time. In closing, it’s vital that we ALL embrace our inner leader. Every person is facing some kind of battle; you may be the difference maker that rekindles passion within an individual who has lost their why, or eases the feeling of pressure when the going gets tough. With teacher shortages in addition to fewer students enrolling in teacher preparatory programs, collectively we need to cultivate a school culture that retains quality teachers. As leaders, let’s respectfully address elephants and create sustainable change. Together we can collaboratively navigate the waters to support one another along the journey.

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 featured Inspiration

Imagine the Possibilities

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

 

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

 

I continue to explore these questions:

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Empower Learning featured Luminous Culture

Transformational Teaching Catalyzes the Classroom

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

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

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

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

Transformational Teaching Methods:

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

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

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

Transformational Teachers Support Students To Thrive By:

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

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

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

wings

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

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

featured Luminous Culture Uncategorized

Foster a Culture of Rich Relationships

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

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

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

Relationships and trust are pivotal components in any successful classroom.

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

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

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

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

This is the point where teachers either:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unconditional Acceptance Transforms Relationships

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

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

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

Foster relationships by:

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

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

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

-Teddy Roosevelt

Empower Learning featured

Cultivating a Maker Mindset

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

Launching MakerSpace 

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

Growth Mindset

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

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

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

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

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

Connect with Real World Experts

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

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

Reflection

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

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

Retooling

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

Sharing with an Authentic Audience

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

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

Ignite passion and empowervoice. (3)

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

Worlds of Learning by Laura Fleming

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

Renovated Learning by Diana Rendina

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

 

Empower Learning 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.