Teaching for the Student

Thinking about my class and students this year, I have been blessed to have worked with these guys for several years. I first met them through teaching them kindergarten gym, taught some of them in grade one and two, and am lucky enough to have several again in their final year at our school in grade four. I would consider this class “the dream team.” They all are incredible students who go out of their way to work together, show kindness, and embrace each others uniqueness. They really are very special!

Throughout this year, I’ve always wondered has this five year relationship with them attributed to their outstanding character? Is it true that building a strong relationship with your students is more important than anything else? I don’t doubt for a second that it isn’t, and this year has proven that to me time and time again. If I didn’t know their favourite sport, that their older siblings annoy them, the snack that they always despise, would we interact the same way? I would say no. I believe that when you truly understand each one of your students, learn who they are as a person, only then will true learning occur. This is the first step for authentic engagement for students.

Having this strong foundation of a relationship being built for the last five years, has allowed me to really understand how my students learn; what works for them and what they struggle with. They are open to communicating, excel for excellence, but support each other when failure occurs. I teach for them. Not for a test. Not for the highest marks, but for the students.

Tonight I participated in a twitter chat, #mnlead, led by a student, whose discussion focused on creating a student centered place for learning. It brought up many ideas and questions about how we get the most out of student’s learning, to be an effective teacher. Below is a brief summary of this chat:

Question #1: How should you record a student’s comprehension of a subject? Essay, test, quiz, or an in class discussion? What works best?

Question #2: How do you instill a mindset in student’s that failure isn’t an option? What motivates students to excel?

Question #3: In a classroom there are several types of learners. How do you make sure you are reaching everyone?

Question #4: Should you encourage students to take a variety of courses or focus on one that they are passionate about?

Question #5: How do you create a positive learning culture for your students where they are wanting to be there each day?

Providing a caring environment, where students can take risks, be challenged, and be supported when they fail is important for every classroom. It all begins with building a relationship. How will you discover each of your students in order to optimize their learning? Get to know them! Teach for the student.

Why Genius Hour?

It has been my own personal goal this year to learn and understand more about the idea of “Genius Hour,” and how and what it would look like in the classroom. It is a constant buzz word that always includes the ideas of passion, engagement, and self-directed learning for students.

Genius hour is a relatively new movement in education based on the idea started by Google, whereby employees are able to spend 20% of their time working on projects they are passionate and excited about. You could refer to it as “free time.” A chance to explore and research something that interests you. The ideas are entirely student generated, and of course will vary as student passions are different.

On paper, the idea sounds great, but in the crazy life of the classroom, where would this fit? How do teachers find the time to implement yet another idea? What program or subject do you ignore? In the end, is it worth it?

Tonight the topic of the twitter chat #mnlead focused entirely on genius hour. The passion, energy, and belief in the benefits were apparent with every participant. It was an incredible chat to be a part of. Here’s a quick summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What do you think of when you hear the term genius hour or 20% time?

Question #2: How do students benefit from a genius hour philosophy in the classroom?

Question #2 Follow Up: How do teachers benefit by allowing students to learn focused on their passions?

Question #3: How can genius hour projects be celebrated within the classroom, school, community?

Question #4: What are some of the challenges facing an implementation of genius hour in the classroom?

Question #5: As a leader, how can you support and promote genius hour?

Question #6: What possibilities does the genius hour concept have for professional development?

The discussion tonight further reinforced my preconceived ideas of the benefits of genius hour. When you give students choice, when you take the time to build relationships with them, when you allow them to be advocates for their passion, and when you embrace their learning (whether it’s successful or a failure) an opportunity for growth and further learning continues. This is exactly what genius hour provides!

Here are further resources on genius hour:
What is Genius Hour?
Genius Hour Resources
Mr. Solarz’ Class Examples
Genius Hour Starter Questions

The Technology Leader in You

Being a leader in any societal realm requires one to stay current, step outside the box, challenge ideas, and learn. Sometimes it seems that people are stuck in their current state, using the same tools or devices, and unable to grow. Technology can be a difficult area to be a leader in, as current ways are quickly outdated, and things are changing constantly. I always want to be in “the know,” and found that twitter helps with this. My PLN has challenged me in ways I never would have thought of and has allowed me to learn and grow in countless ways. Tonight, #mnlead chat focused on technology leaders and tools/devices that individuals use. It was filled with a plethora of information worthy of sharing.

Question #1: Tell us about a technology tool you use each day in your role and could not live without?

Question #2: In what ways has technology changed your job as a leader?

Question #3: How do you learn about new and relevant technologies to remain current as you lead your program/schools?

Question #4: Tech Slam – What’s your go to tool for:
a. general organization?

b. parent and student communication?

c. engaging presentation?

d. curriculum repository?

Question #5: How do you provide support to teachers or staff to share info about tech practices and concerns?

When you look at the technology tools, apps, and devices that we have available it can be overwhelming. Comparing that to five years ago, it’s obvious that things have changed and will continue to grow and expand. It is our jobs as educators to do the same. Is it our job to become masters in every area? I would argue no, but don’t be resistant to it either. Take baby steps, learn as you go, lean on others for support. Everyone has their skills and everyone has areas for improvement. The goal is to discover this, embrace it, and be that leader that’s inside each and every one of us.

Failure: A Starting Point for Greatness

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, failure is defined as “omission of occurrence or performance” and the “lack of success.” Failure happens when you don’t achieve a desired outcome. Failure is associated with negative words and connotations such as defeat, unsuccessful, ineffectiveness, and set backs. Why does failure have these negative views and how can we change this?

Everyone is subjected to failing and struggling, but it’s how you handle it that makes all the difference. Do you reflect upon what has happened to create the outcome? Do you learn from your mistakes? Do you use your set back as an opportunity for growth? Do you get up and try again?

Tonight, I participated in #mnlead chat on twitter, where an incredible group of educators came together to discuss failure. It was an excellent talk, and from it I learned that educators do believe in the power of failure for growth and learning. Below is a summary of our discussion:

Question #1: What is the value of failure?

Question #2: How can we encourage failure as a good thing and a part of the learning process?

Question #3: What role does failure play in furthering mindset shifts in education?

Question #4: How do you encourage that failure is okay?

Question #5: How do failures in society, business and government affect change in your school/district?

Question #6: What does ‘fail forward’ actually mean?

As educators we need to embrace moments of failure, model, and discuss them with our students and colleagues. We need to show people that it is okay to make mistakes, and look at these as opportunities for learning and growth. We need to encourage others to share their failures, reflect on them, and find ways to improve. We have to develop an understanding of the process and how to persevere. How can you change the negative mindset around failure and adapt a positive outlook to encourage your students to use failure as a starting point for greatness?