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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.

Inspiration Luminous Culture

Limitless: #OneWord 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

limitless-dream

Empower Learning Luminous Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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