This summer, my family and I have been watching a nightly movie. We take a moment to write our choices down, put them in a bowl, and… drum roll! We pick! Our movies have ranged from Red Dawn and Descendants to Get Smart and Gladiator to name a few. Most recently, we watched The Breakfast Club. Yes, you can bet that was my choice! This iconic movie really rocked my world as a kid. I loved how all of the characters began as acquaintances and eight hours later, we find they have bonded so deeply that nothing can break it. This was my parental duty to give my kids a move-i-facation.
While watching, I could not help but look at all of the kids in the story and think about our modern-day students and how they are still dealing with the SAME old stuff as the characters from the 1980s hit. All of the characters have problems. They feel downtrodden because of a variety of circumstances. They need to be heard but never want to break their social constructs. They are all committed to the roles that they are playing because it's all they know. They hide behind … you name it.
One of the most poignant quotations comes from a gal in the film. She says, "We're all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it."
How might you be able to reach ALL students in your classroom? Even those who are good at hiding?
For many students staying in the comfort zone is easier than putting themselves out there for further judgment. It is far easier to be miserable; at least being miserable is familiar. What really caught my attention was that each student represented a different social demographic. When forced to interact, they all could relate to problems and pressures from parents, friends, etc. The main thing that got to me was they are all yearning for new experiences and acceptance, to not be ignored; to be seen and heard.
What will you do to ensure that all students will be seen AND heard in your classroom this year?
So in a good Breakfast Club ending I will leave you with one last quotation, “It just happens... when you grow up, your heart dies.”
Why does it have to? What can we do as EDU-leaders to ensure that kids DO turn into adults with thriving and passionate hearts?
What’s up with reality talent shows? I know I like them. In fact, I will watch pretty frequently. Now, I love theatre and the arts so I have to ask myself, what’s the draw? Just recently, I was watching America’s Got Talent. I like watching the amazing talent, hearing the heartwarming stories, and feeling and seeing the unexpected - being wowed! A grown man doing the splits, yes, please. Kids on ukuleles, um, YEAH! Magic acts that make my head say, “OMtotheG!” sign me up! I love waiting for the unimaginable.
What motivates others to get up, lay it all out there, and share their talent?
I wonder is it the validation from strangers? Is money or fifteen minutes of fame the motivation? Maybe it’s hope for the unexpected and the chance to inspire others. Heck, no! It’s all about being willing to be the risk-takers! When watching those shows we’ve got a front row seat to watch these risk-takers do something amazing or completely crash and burn. No matter the results, one thing sticks with me, the fact that they tried. Good, bad, or otherwise all of these people are willing to get up, put themselves out there, and try while we stand by waiting for something epic.
Either way, after watching I feel motivated and reevaluate my goals asking myself what I really want to try, what I want to experience, and what I want to share with the world. So wouldn’t it do us right by our students to set the stage and give them that front row opportunity to see something amazing? If you could teach anything in the world, one lesson to change your life and the lives of students, what would that be?
Taking the biggest risk you can think of, what is your “Golden Buzzer” lesson or moment be that will change the EDU-world?
When you model risk-taking for your students, they will be more likely to create those "Golden Buzzer" moments on their own. And guess what, we get a front row seat to that show too.
Teaching and parenting are two similar worlds. Both are filled with children whom you care for deeply and want to see grow into wonderful humans. You hope the kids learn life and academic lessons, avoid too much trouble, and leave with new skills to use in the future to go out and change the world. Now that summer is here, it is a great time to sit back, relax, and take a moment (or many moments) to reflect.
I was recently chatting with one of my Twitter PLN EDU-Heroes when I had one of those reflective “mom” moments. I felt, and to some degree still feel, like I have failed my students. I have been asking myself all of those questions: What could I have done differently? How could I change that lesson? What would I change at the beginning of the year to build stronger relationships? The list in my head goes on and on. And you know what, I feel awful. SO many moments were missed because of my lack of knowledge, because of my old “habits,” because of...
I was implementing what I was comfortable using. My students still learned and grew; so did I. Does it do me any good to “beat myself up” about last year? No. But it is important to be aware, taking new ideas and skills and making a point to implement them. Okay, so I must be aware of when social/emotional situations pop up - How will I respond instead of react? Be aware of an opportunity for A-MAZ-ING learning opportunities - How might I implement one idea at a time and create fun and meaning learning opportunities for students? Be aware of building up and empowering others - How can I encourage students and teachers to grow and reach new heights?
Time for action. Time to take these “failures” and move forward. Time to plan, prepare, and approach the new school year with a humble and responsive heart and a creative and innovative mindset. So here I am, failing forward for the win.
This blog is not only dedicated to Mr. Hooker, but to all of my amazing PLN peeps from iPadpalooza 2017. I thought long and hard what to name this blog and I had to go with my gut. After a long, 13-hour road trip down to Austin, I thought there really was only one option to reference though it is definitely not as well know. So I’ve adapted the title of this blog from an old Patrick Swayze movie, I couldn’t resist; no, not Roadhouse...
Having just returned from the welcoming state of Texas and now that the dust has settled, I can reflect back on my experience at iPadPalooza. If I had to describe it in three words they would be: Oh-My-Gosh! In all of my years of education, I have never experienced professional development like this before. It was like being a kid in a candy store, but instead of candy, there were fabulous, innovative educational ideas to be sampled.
There were three HUGE takeaways from my experience at iPadPalooza.
I have always experienced a great sense of community at my local schools and districts where I have worked. Often there are pockets of educators who I call friends and even become family. When I joined Twitter this last summer, I found many people who were passionate about education. Their tiny little pictures were barely visible, but their ideas were unforgettable. This conference gave me the opportunity to meet some of the most amazing educators face-to-face. The common question was, “Are we following each other on Twitter?” Most often followed by a, “Yes!” My brothers and sisters in arms are some of the kindest, innovative, and REAL people I have ever met in the EDU-sphere. The friendships that were gained in one week, across continents and time-zones, will last a lifetime. I can now call my Twitter colleagues or PLN, my friends, and EDU-family!
Talk about mind blown! The keynote speakers every day were amazing, including Jason Silva. Every single session had passionate educators from around the globe who shared their knowledge and joy of learning. I learned about different Apps to use in the classroom that takes learning to a whole new level. I learned how to implement fun and interactive professional development ideas. The creative ideas for students to share a Six-Word Story in Six Unique Shots, by Don Goble, was another level of storytelling that is near and dear to my heart. Not to mention tapping into #Sketchnotes and combining it with #BookSnaps has been taking my own learning to a whole new level. This much out of the box thinking was and continues to be invigorating. I tried to pick just three new ideas to share with my district staff and honestly this fall, there are so many ideas that I will have to keep sharing. Innovation is contagious!
3. “Go Change the World”
The last night, I was fortunate enough to join my EDU-family on the most EPIC boat trip on Lake Austin. We were able to chat and become even more connected if that was possible. We shared pictures. I was razzed for having an Android. I know, right? Don’t worry, I’m working on an upgrade. We really just had fun; an EDU-family reunion with stories, laughs, and dancing; “I’m on a BOAT!” At the end of the evening we all wished each other well, hugged, said goodbye, planned when we would meet again, and so on. The icing on the cake came from our “Godfather,” Carl Hooker. After a hug and high five, Carl tells me, “Now, go change the world.” A simple phrase, but weighted with responsibility and possibility - the sky's the limit! So will all of us heed this advice? Will we go and change the world? The answer should be, “YES!” How we go and change the world is up to us, but the point is to do it. We must do it for teachers, educators, and most of all, students.
Pictured: The Godfather himself, @MrHooker
This whole experience would not have been possible if not for my colleague and friend, Tara Martin. Without her invitation, I would just be sitting at home trolling all of the #iplza17 Tweets. Being there to experience the “Learning on the Go” first hand is unforgettable! It was a true model of what the learning experience should be like for any learner, young or old. If you have never been to an iPadPalooza conference, you NEED to go! Find one near you as soon as possible, save your pennies, get a group together - DO It! It has been life changing!
So this blog or letter really is meant for all of you at iPadPalooza who are truly a part of my EDU-fam, but I must say: To Carl Hooker, Thanks for everything! ~ Mena Hill
Twenty-five. That is a very important number. There are only twenty-five days left in the school year, give or take depending on your school calendar. In my world, that equals 200 hours. Just 200 hours. My mind races with my teacher checklist. How much have my students grown? What do they still need to learn? Have they had enough time to explore their own passions and enjoy wonderment? If you are like me, your head is reeling with a little anxiety. Maybe those twenty-five days just cannot go by fast enough. But before you start to panic or create a countdown paper chain, let’s take a moment to just be.
Focus on your student success stories.
Over the course of the year students have been reading, solving math problems, navigating technology, participating in design thinking projects, etc. They have explored new concepts, failed forward, understood information quickly, and have learned so much academically AND socially. When my students came into my room they were “big fourth graders” who were already so knowledgeable. There has also been so many goals accomplished this year. I am constantly blown away by their maturity, poise, and ability to practice empathy daily. I am also so proud of the great strides they have made in their writing, math, and speaking and listening skills. They are almost, not quite yet, but almost middle school ready.
What has been your favorite moment with your students individually or as a group?
Celebrate your professional growth and success.
Every single school year there are oodles of professional development opportunities. I love being able to choose strategies or ideas that will positively impact my classroom. Learning for teachers can happen by watching other teachers, participating in social media, reading educational books, and through district opportunities. Personally, I started blogging and participating in the edu-Twitter sphere - WOW! What I have gleaned from participating feels like more than a school-year’s worth of ideas and innovation. Not only do I get to personally learn and absorb so much awesomeness, but my students also get to experience new ideas implemented in the classroom.
What impact has your professional growth had on you and your classroom?
Preparing for the next school year.
Having one foot in this year and one in the next can sometimes make it hard to finish strong. Often teachers will start thinking about tweaking lesson plans, making lists of supplies, start searching for new ideas to make the school experience better and more exciting for next year’s lot. Improvement for the classroom and students is necessary. Maybe pick up a book. There are more than a few that may blow your mind. Try joining a Twitter chat; so fun, fast, and rewarding. There are a lot of opportunities at your fingertips, so start exploring.
What goals do you want to accomplish over the summer?
Keep going! You are almost to the finish line.
There is so much that has been accomplished this year. Way to go! Know in your heart-of-hearts that you are doing great things. BUT don’t forget that the next twenty-five days need just as much focus, energy, and passion as the other days in the school year. Do not be weary. Trust me, I am running this race too. Be invigorated at the sight of the finish line and finish strong. Finish strong for yourself and especially for your students.
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.
“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?
Picture this: you are walking down a long hallway. Dark mahogany wood floors and white walls make the hallway almost seem like a tunnel that lead to an open room. This room is large. High vaulted ceilings are lined with exposed wooden beams. There is a beautiful Persian rug on the floor, in the center of the room where an L-shaped couch is posted. It looks comfortable and inviting. Burnt-orange and teal colored pillows accent the couch. The space is just right for an afternoon of reading that may lead to a nap. It has two large French doors standing opposite of one another. The doors are open allowing beautiful sheer curtains to flow in the gentle breeze. You listen and find a tiny, magical wind chime making music and bringing a calming feeling to the space.
Why is this space so inviting? Why do you want to stay there?
Let’s apply this to the classroom environment. Teachers try to create a space that is full of comfort, functionality, and happiness. We all want our students to feel comfortable as they spend the majority of their day at school – their home away from home. The space should be a place to work as well as a comfortable space to learn and grow heads and hearts. We want students to want to come to school. We want them to get a fire in their bellies that burns with a desire to learn, an excitement about their education.
Of course the classroom is not limited to that room. No, in fact, it is the very beginning. Think back to those beautiful French doors. They are open with the breeze coming into the room. If the radio were on, music would go out beyond the walls. The mindset of the classroom is quite literal. Yes, learning happens within the four walls, but there is so much more beyond those walls. Teachers, we are called to let the breeze in and send the music out. We get the privilege of embarking on a school year that can involve the community, the whole district, the world.
Let me ask you one last question.
What do you hope to happen inside your room? What might happen if we open those doors?
Picture this. You are on a huge ship, a pirate ship if you will. The boat sways to and fro with the movement of the ocean. Back and forth, the rocking from the waves used to make you sick, but now you have your sea legs. On all four sides of your ship you can see ocean for days. The map you hold in your hand shows where you are in the water, where you’ve been, and your final boating destination. As you chart the course for your journey, adjustments are made to ensure you and your shipmates arrive unscathed.
Thinking back to the beginning of the journey, it is hard to believe you have been at sea since August. Where has the school year gone? I don’t know about you, but I remember jumping onto this crazy ship at the beginning of the year thinking, “We have SO much to learn! I can’t wait….” The year starts out unknown, with so many possibilities. Teachers attend professional development, read books, take some much needed “me-time” in order to prep for the year. You knew the this year would be different than others because there is ALWAYS something new to try with your students. Possibility and the unknown were before you, all that existed was the open ocean.
Let’s fast forward to right now, the end of November. It is hard to believe that in only four-ish weeks students and teachers will be rolling into Winter Break. Four weeks! Gah! There is so much to teach, to learn, to glean. The kids would benefit from some lessons on empathy, the joy of encouragement, helping others, and more, to say nothing of what we need to learn in our core academic subjects. BUT there are only four weeks!
This time of year is a great time to re-evaluate and examine, “What am I doing and what can I do better?” As the captain of my classroom, I am tasked with charting the course of learning. I have the honor, privilege, and responsibility of figuring out where my students are, where they need to be by the end of the year, and how in the world we’ll get there. The adventure will be a wild ride through language arts, history, math, science, writing, and character development.
Do not be afraid to make adjustments. They are needed for you and for your students. Doing what is best, right, and needed to get to the final destination is key. What that looks like is up to you. Chat within your personal learning network, talk to your administration or learning coach, give your students a survey, try something new – it’s not too late! Course adjustments SHOULD happen. With four weeks until break, do it! Why wait until January? Change can lead to greatness. I don’t want to be cliche, but I have learned a TON from my students and hope they have learned as much from me. Good luck to all of you classroom captains out there. Your journey will be AMAZING. Chart the course that is best for students and have fun along the way.
Most of our students ride the bus into school. They have a fifteen-ish minute drive in where they can get caught up with friends, play Pokemon with their pals, sit quietly, or just enjoy the ride. Students hop off the bus, are greeted by staff, and walk into a building where they spend more time than they do at home each day. But they come with a lot of “home” piled into their backpacks; baggage that student and teacher sort through together. When a student enters the classroom, they cross the threshold with a variety of expectations, attitudes, feelings… you name it. They come to school, leaving the joy of the weekend in the rearview mirror. School can serve as a refuge from the expectations of the street. Sometimes kids come to school just to see their friends. Often they can’t wait to see the staff and teachers.
The students have to enter your room knowing that it is a SAFE space. They have to know that regardless of their ethnicity, socio-economic background, their sexual identity, political points of view, the list goes on and on, they have to know that they are valued. They are special. Their thoughts and ideas are validated. They can share highs, lows, and everything in-between. They can dream. They can cry. They can grow. They can dance. They can fall. They can come to a place to give and receive compassion. All along the way you, you the teacher, mother, father, friend, honorary grown-up, will be there to cheer them on. You will be there to encourage them. You will be there to hold them accountable. You will be there to teach them. You will walk the walk, talk the talk, and get moving with them every day.
Create a space where dialogue can happen, where it is okay to get off topic and “bunny trail” when the kids NEED the space to be curious. When a safe space is created and honored, kids learn how to communicate, how to be respectful, how to be inquisitive, how to process life… So create a safe space. School is a second home. Build this “house” on a rock of peace, compassion, grace, and kindness.
Mena T. Hill
Educator, Wife, Mother, Colorado Native