“Have you ever thought about blogging?” My initial thought was, “What good ideas do I even have to share?” NOT a thing, right? I come from a family of teachers: grandmother, mom, dad, sister, and brother - what can I say we love education. The pressure to be a great educator runs deep within our veins. It’s like the royal bloodline of education.
I have read plenty of some educational blogs up to this point but I was mostly consuming and not contributing to the edu-sphere. But hey, I have ideas. After chatting with my friend and edu-mentor, or my ‘friend-u-mentor’, I took the leap. A literal leap of faith and blogged. Not only did I blog BUT I also launched my thoughts into the world for whomever to consume. Terrifying!
Here’s the thing, I started receiving feedback from my Twitter colleagues. Wait, what? Others read my post? It completely affirmed my thinking and encouraged me to keep on blogging. When writing, I only post on educationally related information from things I’ve read, experienced, or am just thinking about. This filter helps me to stay focused when writing. The biggest take away for me has been the ability to reflect on my practice, my craft. This has made me aware of what I am doing. I am even more intentional as a teacher because I am sharing what my class is doing. Truly, I feel I have become a better educator overall because of blogging.
Why wait to share until tomorrow? Launch your site. Blog your ideas. Who cares who reads them… maybe it’s just one, but that’s the one that matters.
I recently completed an eight week screenwriting class at our local arts center. I was super intimidated as I have never embarked on such a journey - ever! I actually wanted to take a different creative writing class but of course it did not work with my personal schedule so I signed up for the only one that worked. Throughout this whole experience I was challenged to think differently. I had to write a synopsis for my original screenplay, build character descriptions, and learn formatting - oh, the formatting.
Here’s the deal, once I started, I could not stop. My creative juices were flowing like lava. I was in the writing zone, my characters were coming to life, and I LOVED every stinkin’ minute! The feedback I received was so positive and constructive that it built my confidence and kept the fire alive to continue working, meeting my writing goals for the following week.
The biggest challenge I faced was for a group project. My classmates and I, ten of us total, were tasked to create a choose your adventure screenplay. I had five pages to write the ending to a story, adding on to the work of two of my classmates - AMAZING! It was such a blast and I felt alive! I felt like what I was doing was so different and it was ALL mine! The collaboration, the creativity, and the innovation was electrifying! The whole experience was so good for my soul.
Just imagine the experiences we can be a part of as educators. The sky's the limit when it comes to opportunities for our students to be creative, innovative learners. And the plus side is that we can still experience it LONG after we leave the classroom!
Here is an excerpt from my original screenplay group project Valentine’s Day:
INT. ABANDONED RESTAURANT - DAY
Restaurant empty, dirty except for a few old tables and chairs. Light seeps in through boarded windows. Joey and Cece sit in wooden folding chairs, hands bound with old cloth napkins.
Camera and guns sit on a table in front of them. Chris points his gun back and forth at Joey and Cece as he talks.
Chris: Really thought you two were clever, huh? Were you working together? I knew you had your secrets, Joe, but Cece...that's a surprise.
JOEY: I've know this was your shtick for a while now.
CECE: The surprise is that you thought you were clever. I knew what you were doing before you even saw me coming.
Chris paces between the two of them. Ruffles his hair. Points his gun at them both. Cece works on loosening her hands as Chris monologues.
CHRIS: You both have some nerve. You don't even know what Sebastian is capable of. You're just another bug to squash on his way to greatness.
An arrogant SEBASTIAN enters from the back room in an almost too-tight suit and tie. Unfortunate combover indicates his desire to stay young. He is the big boss, the only boss.
SEBASTIAN: I see Christopher that you have yet again created a mess I have to clean up. Julie and Pete...two of my most reliable allies. All you had to do was to make the deal with Russia... What a mess.
CHRIS: I am dealing with this. I told you the meeting with the Russians was a go tonight. I've got this.
(Thanks for reading my creation!)
“If we are going to empower our students, we must help them find what they love and create learning experiences that encourage them to develop their strengths.” ~ George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset
When I was a kid, I loved watching The Wizard of Oz. One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Dorothy lands in Oz and the screen magically transforms from black and white to a sea of vivid colors. Over the course of Dorothy’s journey she encounters many characters who feel they are lacking or missing something in their lives. They all seek the Wizard’s great help to further develop their “weaknesses.” After many wild and challenging experiences the main characters had the those strengths all along.
I have an amazing mentor who has challenged me to “play to my strengths” and do what I do best. I have found that while I may be doing what I do well, I am also developing other areas that I might have considered a weakness. For example, I have never been challenged to use technology to share my ideas or developed my own website/digital portfolio.
I have background experience in journalism and layout from when I was in college, so the tech piece was a “next step.” After launching my website, I have shared my knowledge with colleagues and now feel that the opportunity to advance my journalism and layout knowledge has empowered me to add digital portfolios as a new strength. WooHoo!
Not only do I want to challenge my own thinking, but also the thinking of colleagues and my students. If a person is successful in a certain area and wants to explore more, why not? Isn’t that the point of learning and growing? “Bringing people’s strengths to life” challenges us all to engage in a conversation. Throughout The Wizard of Oz Dorothy asks questions of her friends to not only find out “what” makes them tick, but also “why” they want to grow. When the main characters discovered their true strengths, they are filled with confidence. So start with asking yourself what are your strengths and do your colleagues and students a favor, ask them too.
“What if everyone in our organization, not just our students, was encouraged to pursue his or her dreams?” ~ George Couros, The Innovator’s Mindset
This quotation could not come at a more perfect time in my educational career and personal life. Rockin’ my mid-thirties has been an exciting journey to say the least. I have been prompted by my circle of trust peeps, including fellow #IMMOOCer, Tara Martin, and I have been asking myself a version of that question: What are my dreams?
I love writing, so I enrolled in a screenwriting class offered at our local arts center. I am so glad I did. I absolutely love the experience and will continue to work on my original screenplay. I want to learn an instrument, so I bought a ukulele and called up a colleague to schedule music lessons. P.S. I CAN’T wait to start next week! I want to continue to learn and fine-tune my craft and continue to inspire kids and fellow teachers, so I am learning as much as I can from my Twitter PLN and sharing, sharing, sharing!
It has taken me a long time to find these dreams and interests but I am glad someone asked me, “What are your dreams?” So often we focus on our students, their dreams, and exposing them to new and amazing things so they can form their own “what ifs,” that we then forget about what makes us tick. It is imperative to inspire students BUT we get to also get to be the recipient of inspiration and shoot for the stars.
So what are your dreams?
I love the song Going the Distance by Cake. Just the first few riffs of the base and guitar and my competitive juices are pumping. MO-TI-VATION! I want to start my workout, project, lesson plans, blog etc. I am ready to be a “do-er.” It’s time to dig deep.
How do we get students to dig deep and find their motivation?
Just this week, with the guidance of our school counselor, my students were asked to think about their strengths, weaknesses, interests, and hobbies. I prompted the kids into a discussion about what their weakness are and how they can turn those into a strength. They were encouraged to come up with an action plan to turn those grows into glows. They were then asked how all of those strengths can then be funneled into their passion and be released into the world. I watched as students began to take ownership of their ideas, their actions, and themselves -- AMAZING!
Their talent, like the giant kraken, is unleashed! Students’ talents grow through relationships. Fostering those relationships further builds a trusting environment that allows students to make mistakes and learn from them. It sparks innovation. Those ideas can and will “blow” minds. This not only goes for students but for us as well! Once talents, ideas, passions are tapped into, the world is theirs and ours for the taking. So will you go the distance? Will you unleash your inner kraken? Do it.
My very first experience as a classroom teacher, was filled with so many different emotions and thoughts. I remember walking into my classroom of twenty-eight first graders, looking into their sweet little faces, and my head began to whirl. I was SO pumped to be their teacher, but terrified of the responsibilities I had for each student, for their academic and social-emotional growth.
I have been teaching for almost ten years. Over the course of those years there have been ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and sorrows. These moments are often shared with colleagues who become close confidants, whose relationships evolve into a friendship that spans time and even continents. Relationships are the key to surviving the teacher’s life. Often those close friends are the ones we run to when sharing the human experience through the eyes of a teacher.
According to George Couros, relationships are the foundation of learning and innovation. That is one serious truth nugget! That goes for ALL relationships. Without relationships, we would be up a creek and in trouble. Those relationships help us to process strange and new ideas. They help us find encouragement and build self-confidence that will help us when we are taking a risk and venturing out into uncharted waters. Relationships are key because when facing problems, successes, or innovative thinking that takes your breath away, your person is right beside you rooting you on! That friendly face is what we need in the human and teaching experience and it’s what our students need too in order to open the door, heart and mind to innovation.
If my life were a musical it would be some variation of Into the Woods. The characters face some pretty challenging situations and have to sing and dance their way through life to find their solutions. That takes musicality and the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. As a spectator, I just LOVE it! Plus, I have no problem breaking into song at the drop of a hat, just ask my kids or husband, “You’ve changed! You’re daring, you’re different in the woods….”🎶🎶
“Never mind anyway,” 🎶 we follow the characters from famous fairy tales through the ups and downs of the “Once upon a time…” kingdom. Cinderella falls in love and loses her glass slipper. The Big Bad Wolf, hustles Red Riding Hood and her crazy Granny. Two princes fight over who has it worse. A witch steals a baby. Jack promptly gets in trouble with a giant. The Baker and his Wife must break the curse… You know how the stories go. I can totally imagine my friends, family, colleagues, and students cast in these roles.
Which of these eight characteristics do you rock on a daily basis?
I feel I relate to being a Problem Finder the most. I am always looking to see what I could have done more effectively; what could have been taught or said with a different approach. I truly benefit from having conversations with students and teachers, brainstorming ideas, getting feedback, or even being inspired to pull out a tool that has long since been forgotten. These conversations could not and do not happen without a strong relationship foundation. Any problem that students, teachers, you name it, face can be solved individually or collectively through the cultivation of relationships.
Just recently, I was speaking with a colleague about a student who has been struggling behaviorally. She shared with me that this kiddo was doing everything in his power to get in trouble and stay in trouble. I asked a few questions about the student’s background and what interventions had been done previously and with what success. In this instance, I supported my colleague by listening, offering some advice and possible tools to use, and also asked some questions to see what she felt in her opinion was the best “next step.” My colleague came up with a great plan for tomorrow. This problem finding/solving moment could not have happened without a strong relationship and without two different skillsets rockin’ it together.
Every single character from Sondheim and Lapine's amazing work displays one of the eight characteristics from the Innovator’s Mindset. The Baker’s Wife is resilient for she never gives up on her dream to become a mother. Jack starts with problems and quickly finds a solution, and another problem. The Baker is a risk-taker, venturing off into the woods to break the Witch's spell. BUT they all need each other to be successful. Each person brings a different set of skills to the table that makes the whole team able to work together, solve multiple problems, and find their happy ending.
That’s what’s so great about those amazing characteristics. You don’t have to worry. Someone will bring balance to the team. That camaraderie is so important because through that teamwork and effort, our students will experience the Innovator’s Mindset. Teachers and students are enlightened and ideas just pour out from within developing leaders, friends, and cheerleaders. Who wouldn’t want to cultivate just one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset? And why not sing about it?
It is the beginning of March and in balmy Kansas it is starting to feel like spring is upon us. The days are getting longer, there is definitely more sun, and I am loving the opportunity to enjoy more porch time to just soak it all in. I don’t know about you, but I love the fact that I can start whipping out my favorite spring wardrobe and feel as if I have an extra hop in my step.
These changes that happen every year are a welcomed change from the monotony of winter; the constant cold, blustery days filled with clouds, rain, sleet, and snow are almost a distant memory. People come out in force on those beautiful days. Bike riders line the streets. All of the sudden running clubs emerge from their winter slumber. We humans need the change. In this case the changing of the seasons is something we either look forward to or merely adapt to every year. But, I ask you, what is stopping fellow educators from pulling our bikes out of the garage and going on adventure?
As a teacher I have seen first hand how many handle change in education. There are a couple options when it comes to change: “Oh, no you didn’t!” or “Go on and get it!” mentalities. Change can be a scary thing. Educators are often get set in their ways. They like things they way they are. Students are doing well, so why change it, right? Those with that mindset are not ready to embrace a new challenge and often fight the process. They will stick to what they know and not venture outside of the box.
Meanwhile, there are those educators who just love to meet the challenge head on. They hear or see something that sounds like it could be great for kids and give it a whirl. Often times those new ideas don’t work well the first time. But those teachers pick up their bootstraps, strap on their big boy belts and try it again.
We can all have that Innovator’s Mindset. Sometimes those who resist change just need to see it in action. They need a brave soul to go out there, try it, and like we heard in last night’s podcast, have that teacher invite others into the classroom of innovation to say, “Hey, what do you think?”
Innovation is having the freedom to do something incredible. George Couros describes innovation “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better.” I don’t know about you, but I want it. I just gotta have it! An Innovator’s Mindset is what has been missing from my teaching career. By embracing the mindset, I feel as though I have a new fire burning in my belly. This fire that just can’t be contained. I have a need to learn, try, and share, repeat.
So, why not embrace the Innovator’s Mindset? Innovation starts with one spark. Be the spark.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native