I was always the kid in class who got giddy with excitement for those book-of-the-month club type assignments. To have the opportunity to read a collective book and ask questions, discuss, learn and grow was to me the high schooler’s equivalent of a kid in the candy store. Having had the opportunity to take part in the weekly #IMMOOC experience was the first time I’ve felt that collaborative joy in a long time. All of these amazing educators around the globe, all reading, blogging, sharing and Tweeting out in a unified voice, with what is best for kids at the forefront of it all, was truly a priceless experience. I found myself, as the weeks went on, referring to people by their names, like I knew them personally and I saw them on my way through the school office in the morning. I would tell my husband, “You know George said something really powerful this weekend,” or “You know what Katie said that reminds me of this situation?” I must say that in and of itself was an incredible feeling. My professional learning network grew by leaps and bounds and the connections I made over the course of the MOOC were astounding.I feel like I’ve been given a new set of wings. Wings that I now need to use to continue to take flight and see where the winds of change take me, knowing that I have a supportive network of people behind me to catch me if I fall.
In an effort to gather my final thoughts and keep them in a way that I can come back to later reference them, I will just bullet those big ideas I want to make sure to hold on to. I know with good intentions comes grand plans for the future, but I believe that we need to revisit those ideas over and over in order to keep them at the forefront of our minds and allow the planted seeds to take root and grow. As George Couros mentioned in the final MOOC, this should not be the end, but rather the beginning. That’s the way learning works. You never truly arrive, but that’s the beauty of change.
My take aways:
Take away #1: Meet people where they are: I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am a definite newbie to the world of technology. In fact, I remember on our first days of this cohort, I was the one who couldn’t get my computer to “let” me type in the Blackboard Collaborate screen. People were popping back and forth between YouTube clips and Google Docs, and I was just trying to figure out how to manage all the screens and not inadvertently log myself out of class in the chaos. I was opening windows and stressing out, thinking, “Am I the only one?” This pretty much sums up my technological background as a student and young adult in college:
We all come from different levels and places, and the truth is, to be a good leader (and teacher) we need to meet people at their Point A and help them move to their Point B.That needs to be done with positivity and acknowledgement of strengths before ever commenting on what’s not working. Let people arrive at that through their desire to want to learn and grow and better themselves. This same premise works with students too. The old saying has had it right all along, “You can lead a horse to water…” There are so many exciting new advancements out there, but we all come from our own starting place and that’s where the nurturing, supportive environments of collaboration come in to play.
With that understanding, not everyone is willing to change as readily. And that can’t hold us back. I work with an amazing teacher who is nearing retirement. This teacher refuses to use any technology, and I mean any (an ELMO is considered tech to him) and every time he rolls out his overhead projector I try to tell him what a world of opportunity that could present itself to him if he just takes that leap out of the comfort zone. Our team is working with him to make some changes. My guess is he will love it once he gives it a try. But yes, we all have these teachers. And all we can do is get on board and encourage them along for the ride.
Take away #2: Make connections, Expand your Professional Networks and “Break down walls”
It’s amazing to think that we live in an era where we no longer need to even live on the same continent as that of our supportive network of colleagues. Teaching can truly be an isolating career if you let it, but gone are those days. No longer is it just your department head or teammate that you run to for guidance and ideas. Heck, you can go straight to the Pirate himself and get advice and feedback if you’re implementing ideas from “Teach Like a Pirate”- how crazy and amazing is that? If I told myself just 18 years ago, when I first starting teaching that that would be a reality, I would have never believed it. Remember, I still used the microfiche to look up newspaper articles for research in my early years of teaching. With Twitter and Facebook and Skype and blogs, and the list goes on and on, you have myriad supports right in your living room. By “breaking down those walls” as was stated in our last MOOC episode, the collaborative power we have as teachers, students and learners is immense. It takes a village, but we have a global village to draw power and energy from.
Take away #3- The Power of Reflection
This one is key. We must really be reflective practitioners. What is working? What is not? How can I make the learning opportunity better by implementing some tweaks and adjustments? What is best for the learners in my classroom? To take the time to really think about what we are doing and why we are doing it is imperative in our ability to grow and truly embody an Innovator’s Mindset. As stated in our book and in our MOOCs, the real world is always looking toward the next new thing and that comes with sitting back and really thinking about it. In one chapter of the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros mentions an airline company that took out all of the beds in hotel rooms during a conference and forced their employees to “sleep” in the plane chair all night. By doing so, they were more apt to come to the planning table having had done a lot of reflection. My guess, is they reflected all night, because who can sleep at a 90 degree angle? Deep and powerful reflection creates change and allows us to really step back from the hustle and bustle of the day and ask ourselves what we can do better and what we can try in an effort to achieve that.
Take away #4- Take risks and face your fears
This is a huge one for me. I’m not a natural risk taker, by nature. I like safe, comfortable and planned. But the more I read in the Innovator’s Mindset and the more I read blogs and watched people really put themselves out there, I realize we only grow from those risks. And that’s a good thing! Kids need to see us taking risks and even falling flat on our faces but then rising up and trying it all again. I am a firm believer in the Growth Mindset, but I contradict myself when I say it’s about growth but am not willing to really spread my wings and see where they take me. Resiliency, or grit, means taking risks. “Fall down seven times stand up eight,” as the Japanese Proverb suggests. It’s amazing, once you start taking risks and giving it a try, it’s not as scary. I try to tell myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” and unless it’s a matter of life and death, which trying a new app or changing a lesson using new technology rarely is, then GO for it! I have yet, in the sprit of a Pirate burned any bras for class lately, but you never know. “Face your fears and they will disappear” as my mom used to say.
Take away #5- Give kids voice and choice to follow their passions
Through not only our #IMMOOC episodes, but also through our 25 Hour Learning Challenge, this one really came to life for me. We must allow students to follow their hearts and passions. What’s in the heart should be allowed to drive the mind, and the more we connect the two, the more students will not only enjoy school, but actually learn more while there too. Learning should be authentic and honor the voice, choice, strengths and passions of our students. Teachers can adopt the Innovator’s Mindset “Less is More” theory and instead of spending hours at a copy machine or dictating a learning experience from a set of worksheets, aka “learning packets” or text book assignments, figure out ways to let students explore and discover with their own interests in mind. This should be the norm and not the exception.
We did not become teachers to test kids incessantly.
And although it is a reality of the life and times we live in, it is our job to move beyond the shackles of bureaucracy in the name of learning. That doesn’t mean we don’t want our students to do well on these said tests, but we cannot let them dictate our existence. We must innovate “inside the box” as George Couros says, and always look toward what is best for kids. To take those constraints and build something better within their walls.
Take away #6- New and Better
The bottom line remains is what we are doing new and better for kids? Are we providing them with learning opportunities consistent with 21st century advantages or are we doing things the same old way we used to? And if that is the case, how can we make that learning experience new and better? I used to think to be innovative, you HAD to use technology. But I’ve come to learn that technology, like everything else, is a tool to enhance the learning experience. All of the other factors need to come into play as well in order to create a learning opportunity that is collaborative, inquisitive, experiential and connects the mind and the heart. I had to laugh, because the other day, I was wearing a dress that I had pulled from the deep dark depths of my closet. I put it on, and couldn’t figure out why I was so annoyed with it all day. Come to find out, the tag, yes the tag, was bothering me. I realized, I’m used to tag-less clothing! Talk about an innovation that wasn’t really one I bothered to think about, until I was forced to. All. Day. Long. Thank goodness for innovation in its many realms.
Innovation and having an Innovator’s Mindset is key in growing and stretching our wings beyond what we even knew possible. It is with that faith, trust, (and maybe even a little Pixie Dust) that we move in the direction of new and better for kids, one step at a time. Thank you #IMMOOC community, George Couros and Dr. Katie Martin for giving me wings on which to soar toward new great adventures in my teaching and learning.