Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Questions = Learning

What do these words mean in the context of education, in the context of preparing our students to head into their lives with the tools and mindsets they need to be successful regardless of what path they take? I've always believed you can have too little of these things in education, but can you have too much? Can there be too much choice? Too much, empowerment? 

Perhaps the bigger question I have is “How?” How do we empower a 7 year old, a 17 year old, with their learning experience? How do we help students become self-directed so they take charge of their learning, their lives?

Moreover, I wonder about my own teaching philosophy, the things I hold closest to my heart, my core beliefs of what education, schools, classrooms should and could be. I think about all the schools I’ve walked into and immediately felt like it was a beautiful place to be - enjoying the amazing culture and atmosphere that has been built. I can viscerally feel the incredible things that are happening in the building. I can’t help but walk away inspired, excited by the things I have been a part of, even if for just a few fleeting moments in the hallways or a classroom. I’ve come to realize that the schools I hold in highest regard are the ones where I can’t help but smile as I watch kids learning. I can’t stop myself from wanting to talk to students, to experience their classroom with them. They are the kinds of schools I would feel honored to send my own (hypothetical) children to, and the ones I really want to attend as a student myself. But what are the things that make me feel this way? What is it about these schools that gets me thinking so deeply and examining what education could and should be? When I walk into a classroom, what do I want to see?
  • Laughter, Joy, Smiles
  • Student collaboration (digitally and face to face)
  • Students as experts; Teacher as facilitator
  • Shared ownership of learning among students and staff
  • Relationships
  • Trust, Respect, Kindness
  • ...
Yesterday I was really forced to ask myself WHY? Why do I believe so wholeheartedly that these are elements of effective classrooms, of amazing schools? Why do I believe this is better for students in the long-run? What rationale do I have that makes me think this is what’s best for students, that these elements of classrooms and schools will lead to higher levels of success in their lives? I've just always known these things to be true, taken them as givens that I know I believe in. I suppose that is not entirely true, since I have spent many beautiful days in amazing classrooms where kids were laughing, smiling, collaborating, learning. But being in a position where those beliefs were not taken as givens and needing to provide rationale for my values was really thought-provoking. I know these are my beliefs, and I still believe them wholeheartedly, but I am definitely still working on the WHY.

In addition, I am left asking related questions about the models and structures that are cropping up as blended, personalized, highly differentiated, individualized…
  • What percentage of class time should students be quiet or silent? 
  • Conversely, how much student talk and peer work time should be present?
  • How often should students be collaborating compared to independent work?
  • How should class time be divided? Instruction, practice, re-teach, assessment, reflection...
How do all these pieces impact a student’s learning experience? Do these elements positively impact a student’s learning? How?

I am really happy with this learning trip because I am walking away with far more questions than answers. Regardless of what questions I have or whether I've figured out the complete rationale, all the "whys", I know in my heart and mind that questions = learning. So, yes, it has been a trip full of learning..because it has been a trip full of thought-provoking questions.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Real Power of Student Voice & Choice

If we're being honest, I haven't been following the events in Colorado's Jeffco school district incredibly closely. Perhaps I should be, and maybe after what transpired last night I will, but this post really has nothing to do with the issues brought before the Jeffco School Board last night or on which side of things I stand. For me, this is really about how powerful it is when students step up and share their voice with the world.

I was losing steam scrolling through Twitter for something worth staying awake for last night when this caught my attention:

As I headed over to the #standup4kids live stream and looked back through the Tweets I found that a group of students had been escorted out of the building. Not being one to believe everything I read on social media or the internet, I watched intently to see what other information I could gather from the situation without being there myself. Minutes later, Tweets like this:

I followed the stream for a while longer and checked back in when I got up this morning. This is where Ashlyn comes in:

Watching this video gave me chills. Not because of the issue she is fighting for, but the way in which she is sharing her voice with the world. She wasn't provided the opportunity to speak her truth, so she found a different way to put it into the world. She created her own opportunity. 

I felt so encouraged as I watched this young woman advocate for herself, her beliefs, and what she thinks is best for her classmates present and future. "This is it!" I thought. "THIS is what I want every single child to learn in school." As an educator I think about my students, the children who I had the great fortunate to teach and learn from, and how proud I am of them when they advocate for their needs and take ownership of their experiences. It is brave and creative students like Ashlyn, her classmates in Jeffco Students for Change, and other young people around the world who give me great hope about the future. They remind me that nothing is impossible, that when you truly believe in something you've got to go after it, and above all they remind me that the dream education system I so desperately want for every child and teacher is worth fighting for. Because if these students can step up and advocate for themselves and others, I certainly can step up and advocate for them. 

For more information on the Jeffco School Board Meeting and to see video of the students being escorted out: