Chapter 12 Question 3 Which elements of the "8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom" do you already see in your professional learning opportunities? What elements are lacking?

Better late than never!

After reviewing the graphic and the question, I will break this down into two parts. The first part is what of the 8 aspects that I am providing or not, and the second part will be what I feel is offered for the Byron school district.

In my teaching, I certainly do some things well. I am also lacking in others however. I certainly give students choice. I have been a believe of strength based learning (although maybe just not by the name) since I started my student teaching. I pride myself on giving choices for students and letting them decide their direction of learning. I also foster critical thinking. The subjects I teach are very subjective to opinion and circumstance, so I often give them conflicting subjects or ideals to let them make inferences for themselves. For example, when I teach nutrition, I ask them more questions than I give information. I often ask them to find the answers to mine and their own questions. I also cover some uncomfortable topics, and allow students the chance to think about topics deeply. As of last year, I have also started having students self assess themselves, much like we do in our cohort. I really like to incorporate self assessment first, prior to giving a grade out of the blue. Lastly, I feel that I have start transitioning to connected learning. I have had good experiences with allowing students to connect with the world around them to complete projects and use real sources.

I certainly need to improve on giving time for reflection. My personality naturally falls into the classroom, and more often than not I am rushed to complete everything on time. I know this is a hindrance for students, and I need to allow students to reflect. Does the cohort have any suggestions? I also need to improve on giving students voice. I have started improving this, and it isn't for lack of trying. I just feel that because of the environment, students do not share with the class enough.

I think the Byron ISD does 2 of the 8 extraordinarily. Byron really gives students respect and does not lower expectations. I think this makes it possible for them to allow students to become critical thinkers and solve problems. By the time I interact with the seniors, most of them are high achievers. I almost think this is disproportionate to other schools. The students are highly motivated, and strive for high grades and learning. The one aspect that I think we could improve on is the opportunities for innovation. We seem to keep tradition sacred, and I feel that we are slow to innovate in areas other than classroom models and technology. We have those down. What we don't have down yet is the problem solving aspects of the community. (Not the classroom- again we have that). I think there are two main areas that need innovation and for students to raise their voice over. For one, Byron does not recycle. We are horrible at it. Every other school I have been to views it as common sense and takes responsibility for it. We do not. I have handed out countless comments to students and staff about this. The other area is the lack of clubs. There is no GSA, HOSA, or student interest clubs. National Honor Society, Student Council, and FFA are very common, but we need more clubs like the Art Team. These allow students to really advocate for their interests and I feel like the staff is very un-innovative to support such activities. I hope that myself and the district can move forward towards being more proficient in all 8 areas!

Chapter 8 Q3: mentoring vs micro-managing
I think this is a key question as the HS site team thinks about how to begin implementing changes from our FIRST conference experience. We don't want to "mandate" a change because we have no authority to do that and nothing kills a great idea like being forced on someone. Reflecting on grading practice and reporting are going to be very emotional topics and making sure that everyone is supported and comfortable taking a risk to make such a significant change has to be part of our implementation discussion.
I think one step is to be sure everyone's voice is heard. I think people need to be able express their concerns and fears, and even negativity. This is a basic element of persuasion-leadership has to acknowledge where people are at before they begin to move them in a new direction. However, then the time comes for action because we can't get stuck or held up because of resistance.
The next step is that teacher leaders then have to lead by example. This is where the mentoring-managing line is. If I am advocating for others to try what I am already doing, I have a stronger voice than just telling them to do something without actually walking the walk.
Creating that culture of mentoring each other is a key element of being able to tranform your school. If we can't learn from each other (and feel safe doing so), we can't move our building forward.

Chapter 12 Question 3: Which elements of the "8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom" do you already see in your professional learning learning opportunities? What elements are lacking? Of the 8 elements, I see reflection as being my strongest point. It seems I am constantly reflecting on all my lessons, both coming up and past lessons. I not only do that professionally but personally too. I think that is what helps to make those "lifes lessons" more concrete. Couros tells us "that reflection is ppwerful in both learning and professional growth "(p. 188). I don't have a specific process for this. Rather, my reflection is in my thoughts. Oh sure, I may at times write down some notes of things I have reflected on and ideas I have come up with in my reflection to improve a lesson or self improvement.

Although I feel I am good at giving my students choices, I need to work on giving them an opportunity to have their voices heard. I cannot assume because they are younger students that they don't have their own thoughts or ideas that they wish to express. Everyone has a voice and I have to get better at allowing my students voices to be heard. Sometimes they may come up with a thought or idea that may or may not work but I need to try their ideas so they know they have been heard. An idea may fail but that is part of the learning process. I also have to not be so picky in allowing them to try things when we do a lesson as a group. What they are doing does not have to be perfect (ex. poor handwriting because of their age, or spelling errors.) By allowing them to do what they want and not being so nit picky I am allowing them to express themselves, show who they are and allowing their work to be authentic.

Chapter 11 Q1: actively sharing my learning
I think this is my biggest area of weakness. I have not been one to "advertise" what I do in my room, and I really struggle with how to do this and be comfortable with it. I happily share with my (like-minded) colleagues, but I am not reaching out to others. The next question in this chapter asks about moving from pockets of innovation to a culture of innovation, and I think this idea of sharing is a big part of that. The pocket innovators have to be loud and proud about what they are doing, why they are doing it, and the results (successes and failures). This means actively sharing-at the lunch table, on Twitter, at PLC, at PD opportunities. This is also tied in with leadership and mentoring vs. managing. Teacher leaders must practice what they preach, and they have to practice publically.
One key element that I think will help me work towards more comfort in sharing is to do more with the "why". Too often I see the end product or the fancy lesson, but I don't hear much about why the change or lesson was done or what need it met. As we heard at the FIRST conference, we have to start with the why with our staff, and in this case, I have to start with the why for myself. I have to understand why being more public and transparent is a good thing for myself professionally and for others. If I come to terms with that, then I can move to figuring out an appropriate how.

Chp 10 Q3: Moving forward, how could you lessen the “plate” of your staff and organization? What needs to stay and what needs to go?

This chapter I felt was very powerful. The elephant in the room within education is certainly that it can be overbearing and convoluted for both the students and the staff. We are always hearing about more implementations and types of PD, and new learning methods. All the while we feel uncertain about what to use and what not to. This results with confusion and misdirection. I have heard about the scores of teachers leaving the profession, and the endless debates and politics. I empathize with this as I often feel overwhelmed in this profession. I can also completely understand how students could feel similar as well.
This chapter discussed this issues, and also how to lessen them and make our jobs less encompassing, and more enjoyable. A good indicator of this is on page 154. It states "the less is more rule is a good one for leaders to follow. If we aren't intentional we may promote confusion and burnout, instead of inspiring innovation and deep learning. Before you add a new initiative, ask yourself: Is this adding or subtracting to the already full plates of the educators (or students I serve?"

It gives the following tips to follow the less is more rule.
1) Limit choices. This seems paradoxical, but in actuality choices can override or thinking process. Creativity isn't necessarily limited when choices are. Keep things simple and reliable by setting some caps and options when providing structure.
2) Focus on creativity. By limiting choices and spending more time on something strength based, or learning something new in depth, students are more likely to be successful.
3) Select only a few tools. There is no reason to have a class using 10 learning tools in a 45 day quarter unless they are extremely easy to use, and have purpose. Keep the class structure simplistic and do not let educational tools dilute education.
4) Simplify. No explanation needed.

To answer the original question, I think we can and should lessen the plate of our staff and organization. (Note- I am not bashing Byron ISD nor making claim about problems) I feel that we do not always embrace the less is more rule. I think we need to eliminate some of the long staff work days and replace them with staff bonding. I think this would increase communication and identity. I also would like to make PLC work bi-weekly to allow for more time to work on our extra curricular like coaching prep and club work. I do believe Byron ISD does a good job of stating and recognizing how much work its educators do, and is cognoscente of the amount of initiatives we are involved with.

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Chapter 12 Question 3 Which elements of the "8 Things to Look for in Today's Classroom" do you already see in your professional learning opportunities? What elements are lacking?

Being new to my position last year, both in content area and as a specialist versus a classroom teacher I am still figuring out how to incorporate all 8 elements into my classroom. I am at the shallow end of the pool when it comes to all of these and definitely want to have more depth with them when it comes to my students. I do think this will evolve over the next couple of years due to the fact that this upcoming year my content will be new yet once again, as well as I will be figuring out the logistics of being in two buildings during the day.

Of course, I feel I have incorporated making the learning connected for my students. (#8) Both locally and globally. Having the Trinity Insight volunteers come every month to work with the 4th graders was so awesome. Not only did the students learn from them, but I learned from them as well. The video I am sharing shows 2 of the volunteers that came in during the week of code. After this each month they worked with small groups of students while they explored using Ozobots. As George says on page 196, connected learning "accelerates and amplifies powerful learning opportunities." Of course I love connecting my students globally, but it's these face to face connections right from their own Byron community that make me the proudest.

Chapter 8 Question 1 What are the current strengths of your organization and how do you continue to move them forward?

Being new to this district, and having taught in quite a few districts I can say very confidently that I have found Byron to have many strengths as a school district. While reading the book I found it very easy to say, "we are already doing this," or "I've seen examples of this in our building."

One of the things I think Byron does very well is making plans for the long term. On page 124 George talks about "whack-a-mole," focusing on only one problem at a time, just waiting for issues to arise. Thankfully, I have not seen this at Byron. What I have seen are well-thought out plans for many of the issues, and addressing these issues for more than just tomorrow. I think one of the first things I saw when hired at Byron was a plan that had steps laid out for something like the next 5-8 years. For me this is so important in a school district-we can't just be putting band-aid on top of band-aid.

I think a good way for me to make sure that Byron continues to move in this positive direction is by letting those in leadership positions know how much I appreciate that kind of forward thinking I see. I have tried to let my principals know how much I appreciate it, I could do a better job of letting our superintendent and school board know this as well. I would have to think that the more our leaders can hear what their teachers value and appreciate the more they will try to continue in that direction.

Chapter 12 Q3 - Which elements of the “8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” do you already see in your professional learning opportunities? What elements are lacking?

Professional learning opportunities has become something that we can do at any time, any place, and at any pace (184). The eight things to look for in today’s classroom was a great way to condense what we should be trying to achieve as educators. I think many teachers understand that classrooms need to be learner focused, but seeing this list makes it easier to see what should be done to make that happen. Voice, choice, opportunities for innovation, and time for reflection are all seen in professional learning opportunities.

There are many opportunities for voice, especially this past school year with our district chat. Many teachers were able to share the different projects they had their students completing and have conversations with everyone across the district. I see choice in a lot of professional learning opportunities. There are many different examples of this from EdCamp (mentioned in the chapter) to PGA, to how simple the process is of requesting professional development at an individual level. Opportunities for innovation are, I feel, very present within our district. Our cohort is example of that. As a new teacher, I also feel that I am able to try out new ideas in my class and am not afraid of something not working, because of the supportive atmosphere. Finally, I believe there is a lot of time for reflection, if teachers which to have it.

The elements that I feel could be seen more often would be critical thinking, connected learning, and self-assessment. None of these ideas are completely absent from my professional learning opportunities. However, I feel I could use some more time and practice with each. One thing that I am going to work on next year is looking at how I can shape my activities and projects in an inquiry-based style. I can apply this very same thinking to my professional learning. The definition of “inquiry-based learning is a complex process where learners formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others to create real solutions to improve learning and the environment of the classrooms and school” (193). Questioning things like the class environment to grading techniques and then coming up with a real solution to improve learning is something that I know is possible and I should focus some of my time doing so.

Connected learning and self-assessment is something I am also working on. After our last class, I now see and value the use of twitter and blogging for more than just sharing work. I need to continue to push myself to use both mediums if I want it to become a habit. I also need to think about really creating a PLN and participating in more chats! Self-assessment is difficult, but again, I see the value in it. If I want my students to do this, I should also model it. Like reflection time, it can help make me see what changes I can make in teaching to improve how my students learn.

Chapter 9 Question 3: How do you move from "standardized" to "personalized" learning opportunities for your students and staff? This question had me reflecting on my own experiences this past year. As I reflect, I think about my passion for teaching and my excitement when I provide opportunity for students to use technology in their learning. I have discovered that I am trying to force students to use technology in an effort to keep them engaged. Working with students with disabilities, technology can be difficult and at times I may be giving them added stress because they have to learn one more thing. Although MOST students enjoy using the iPad and various apps, not ALL students feel the same excitement. Some may be more comfortable with the traditional way of teaching and learning without the technology. Couros talks about the child who experienced the joy of sound when he was given his first hearing aid (p.141). Not all individuals need the assistance of a hearing aid. Just because this child gained a benefit from the hearing aid does not mean that all kids should be given a hearing aid. I think that technology is much the same way. Just because one student is able to understand a concept being taught using technology does not mean that all students will have that same experience. Personalized means to be individualized. I need to take into consideration the students learning style, interests and skill. I can't put too much on them. I agree with Couros when he says that technology is more than just a tool. It is a very valuable resource in the classroom and its use needs to be carefully thought through. One thing that I must consider is that teaching does include some sort of standardized instruction but it is important that I keep learning styles and interests in mind in an effort to make that learning individualized so students are able to reach their highest potential.

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Ch. 12 Q. 2: How do you create connections to the learning that we do as educators to the opportunities that are created for students in your school? Are you creating what you experience?

This past year was my second year of using Genus Hour in my classroom. My first year in using this framework was amazing and the students really did some amazing things with the time they had. Year 2 was not going as well. I had students completing projects but it was the same thing over and over and over again. (You can only see so many Google Slide presentations about sharks and lions before things need to change!)

One of the grad schools classes I was enrolled in at WSU was about the role of public education in educating the masses. It was a interesting course that dissected the history of schooling in our country and looked at what our role currently is and what it will be in the future. This whole experience made me begin to think about what my students thought about school. I decided that to inspire my students, I was going to share what I was learning in my class that I found so interesting and get my students involved in some of the work I was doing in class.

For the first time ever, I game an assignment during our Genius Hour time. Students were going to work together in teams to create the school of their dreams. They would design the building, the curriculum, everything. Once they were completed, the teams were to share their schools with the rest of the class and give a full presentation highlighting what made their school great and why they chose to do things the way they did.

I hatched the assignment, organized teams and waited for the creativity to start to flow. It didn't. Team after team gave presentations that looked exactly like our school and copied everything we do almost verbatim. Baffled, I challenged my students. I asked how many of them actually like school the way it was. About half of them raised their hands. I then asked if they did not really like school the way it was, why not change it? I realized that they had no idea of how learning can happen anywhere and not just in school.

In reading "Innovator's Mindset" at about this same time, there was a part of chapter 12 that really stood out to me that connected with what I wanted for my students. On p. 183 the question is posed, "How many of us stand in front of kids and say, 'This is what I'm learning right now. I'm not any good at the moment, but this is the process I'm following, and this is what my plan is for achieving success." I decided to start to share my own learning with students. I shared video of myself golfing and how awful I was and how I improved by watching instructional videos online, taping myself, watching the footage and analyzing what I was seeing with what I had watched before, and trying to correct my swing. I shared about game planning for football games and how we, as coaches, watch film to learn about the other team and then try to find our strengths against our opponent.

In sharing what I was doing, I began to notice student projects changing. The content of student presentations began to be less superficial and more deep in understanding of a topic. This is something that I would love to see implemented more into our PLC time at our building. How great would it be if once a month, every teacher shared out a project their were working on or some new learning they had done? (Maybe people do this already, but our's do not.) Our focus is on student learning, but as this book suggests, the focus should be on the learner and not the learning. I feel that if we could implement that philosophy into our talks, our culture could change. How cool would that be?

I feel that without our sharing of our learning, we are not doing our diligence in empowering students to learn and grow. In doing my experiment of having students design their own schools, I found that creativity wasn't there. Once I started sharing my own learning outside of school time, the creativity started to come. The TEDx that I have linked to this post I think does a pretty good job of talking about how we, as an educational system, limit student creativity but pushing students to conform to a certain model. If we truly want to change education and move students forward, we need to change this practice and allow students to be themselves.
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