The sun rises, casting a purple shadow on the mountains. The cool air reminds teachers and students fall is in full swing. Crisp leaves crunch under students’ feet as they walk past the community garden that is ready for harvesting. Rows of pumpkins, squash, and other veggies wait to be picked and prepared for fresh daily lunches and snacks.
Friendly faces greet those who cross through the threshold of the school grounds. Outside of the classrooms, there lies fresh green grass, lingering flowers, and tall shady trees where frequent outdoor lesson convene. Teachers stand outside in the fresh morning air, waiting to high-five, hug, and tell each child, “I am glad you’re here today. We are going to have an amazing day.” All are welcome.
Learning is a must. Kindness is key. Innovation -- you bet. Technology to enhance instruction. Community is essential. Flexibility in our schedule -- for SURE! Teachers, students, administrators, and all support staff take moment at the beginning and end of the day to reflect, set goals, and express gratitude for the opportunity to become better humans.
“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not only one. I hope some day you'll join us. And the world will be as one.” - John Lennon
It is a place where learning, creating, and becoming world-changers is expected. All have an opportunity to learn in a different way. Students work in groups that interest them, not bound by grade-levels. There is student choice, a personalized learning experience, and an old “one-room schoolhouse” feel that allows a student to move fluidly throughout the building and classrooms. It is a place where “old” and “new” collide, where getting our hands dirty is the name of the game, and thinking outside of the box is expected and encouraged.
Maybe I’m a little “hippie-dippie” and maybe this would never work, but wouldn’t it be nice?
There is a wide open road. Take a spin, and all around me is a high-plains desert with Yucca plants, tumbleweeds, and red colored clay dirt. It’s so hot, my shoes start to stick to the black tar. Off in the distance, I can see the heat rising off of the pavement in sizzling waves. Something catches my eye. There is a small speck. It looks like a person walking toward me, friend or foe, I am not sure. I walk toward her. As we approach one another, she becomes familiar. It is a friend. I start running toward her. I am so hot, so thirsty, in need of relief from the heat. Running, running, all I can think about is the comfort the familiar face will bring. My gaze shifts to the ground in front of me, watching the yellow lines pass in the middle of the road. I hear her voice, look up and BAM!
The bus hits me without warning. No horn, no squealing of tires or burning smell of rubber. There I lie, under the bus.
That’s what it felt like when a close colleague, whom I believed was a confidant, used my vulnerability for personal gain and threw me under the bus. That feeling of helplessness, surprise, and being dumbfounded is one that I never wish to experience ever again.
Choose your people wisely.
Being young, new in the EDU-world, I was very willing to trust any and everyone, willing to share ALL of me, and clearly unaware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Since this particular situation, I have learned a lot. Choose your people wisely. It is more than appropriate to be friendly with your colleagues, but you do not and should not feel that you have to be friends with your colleagues. My circle of confidants is small now -- seriously four people and only one of them works in the same district as me. These amazing people have proven time and time again that they are trustworthy and support me. They offer advice, are a sounding board, and are, well, my people; I am theirs in return.
So next time I am on that deserted road, I may take a look around. I may start to run toward that speck down the road, but I will be aware if a bus is heading my direction.
Bam! It hits you all of the sudden… an idea! Should you keep it to yourself or share? What good does it do us as educators to keep ideas, inspiration, and even struggles to ourselves. By having an open culture of collaboration, our ideas can be validated, challenged, and even become an inspiration for someone else to take the idea and run with it for the greater good, right?
I (Mena) have had the pleasure of being a classroom teacher for nine years. During that time I have been in many schools where collaboration is expected but it is limited to the grade level and sometimes the whole school. The things I have learned during those time are great, but often limited. Since I have joined Twitter, #IMMOOC, #tlap, and #satchatwc chats, I have learned SO much. The culture of sharing amazing! Just the fact that two educators from different countries can collaborate because of technology is like nothing I have ever done before.
The open ideas of collaboration is for sure a great one. The world is now flat and gives us the chance to chat with other educators from around the world for the greater good of education around the world. I do believe that while sharing, our impact and knowledge accelerates up to a point that you cannot even imagine.
I (Francois) have had the pleasure of being a classroom teacher for more than nine years along with 4 years on the international level and 4 years as an public school administrator. During that time, collaboration has changed greatly. At the beginning of my career, everyone stayed into their own classroom, even pro-d was not something in which people had a lot of interest in. Mid-way to my career things have change to the new paradigm of thinking. I went as far as China and New-York to stay in touch with innovative ideas in education. I have learned lots with coursera, twitter and facebook in which I have created more than 20 pages of collaboration. I have more than 300 followers in Australia on a site that I have created just to share some ideas on 21st century learning. I created a Pinterest site in which I should reach my 1K pretty soon, I put teaching ideas and share mine with the world. I am greatly interested in Open collaboration around the world. I am a lifelong learner and I have great interest in the field of education.
What an amazing opportunity we have as educators to share, learn, and grow in a professional learning network with amazing educators and students from around the world. Open culture and collaboration can mean chatting with a teacher in another grade level. It can mean sharing ideas at a school meeting. Open culture means that your ideas are good enough and essential to community and global growth of students and teachers. Without collaboration and sharing we make a smaller impact, but once we share, our impact is bigger, stronger, and better!
I adore the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The protagonist is such a gentle dreamer who the audience roots for, all the while hoping he will get enough confidence to follow his dreams. Throughout the film, Walter has these fantasies play out that are rudely interrupted by reality. Finally he has to make a decision to change his mindset and go on his adventure.
I feel using#BookSnaps helps illustrate what I have gained from reading The Innovator’s Mindset and learned throughout this whole #IMMOOC experience as an educator. I have learned a lot, enjoyed the process, and have truly begun my transformation.
Thank goodness, Walter gets up and goes on his journey. He finds his “mojo” and becomes the new and improved version of himself. Walter realizes that he has been the leader, hero all along, but he had to have something push him outside of his comfort zone so that he could find his passion and voice. That is exactly what this whole #IMMOOC experience has done for me.
“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.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native