For this week’s partner blog, I had the opportunity to work with the genius that is Matt Arend. Matt is a principal in a neighboring district and is accomplishing incredible things. While we don’t always agree on everything, we’ve both got a pretty good idea of how to respond to those who are critics on this innovative leadership we want to accomplish.
Last week, George Couros posted an image with the quote, If I had to choose one, I would rather be a CREATOR than a CRITIC. Below we highlight a critic’s comment to the “8 Things to Look for In Today’s Classroom” and a creator’s Innovative Mindset response.
Amber as the critic: Share their learning? I need my students quiet and focused. I’m the expert in the learning and need my students to sit and learn as I teach them.
Matt as the creator: Whoa! The teacher is the expert, huh. Teacher, let yourself off the hook. You do not need to be the expert. Students can learn from teachers and teachers can learn from students, (principles can learn from students too) if we are willing to give students a voice. Student voice can be utilized throughout a school, not just in the classroom. Student tour guides, student panels, student advisory groups and simply asking students for their feedback and opinions regarding what takes place at school are all ways students can be given a voice. It is time to stop doing things to students at school and start doing things with them.
Matt as the critic: We have a curriculum to follow and students need to be doing what I want them to do.
Amber as the creator: Life is about choices. There is always an opportunity to allow students to exercise some form of choice in our classroom! Don’t hear what I am not saying…you still have a curriculum and standards that you’re going to be expected to teach. However, take a look at what/how you’re asking your students to “prove” that they know what you are teaching, or how you are assessing their knowledge. Could they create a video instead of a written summary of a book? Could they recreate a lesson reviewing the days/weeks science concepts? Instead of answering questions, could they come up with their own? There are opportunities everywhere for you to allow student choice…you just have to be OK with giving it to them!
Time for Reflection
Amber as the critic: I teach children, reflection is a skill that is not in my curriculum, I don’t have time to be able to adequately teach my students to do this too!
Matt as the creator: Reflection can look many different ways and yes, I would argue it is in the curriculum. Reflection is thinking. Reflection is learning. We want students to be thinking and learning. ALWAYS. Thinking about how they did on their last project. Thinking about how they can improve for next time. Thinking about what they did to find success. Thinking about what they just read. Thinking about new content that was just introduced. Thinking about what they learned on any given day. It is all reflection. Reflection could be written out on a blog or even on a worksheet, but it doesn’t have to be. Students can reflect on their learning through discussion, question stems, or even through video. As a teacher, how do you know what students are learning, capable of learning or if they are learning at all, if you do not give them time to reflect on their experiences?
Opportunities for Innovation
Matt as the critic: We have to get students prepared to take a test.
Amber as the creator: There is a difference in preparing students to be assessed and teaching to a test. Too often we fall into the trap in thinking that we’re in our classrooms for the sole purpose of seeing how students score at the end of the year. If that’s the environment that you find yourself in, I am so sorry. You are not there to earn an arbitrary score at the end of the year, you are there to GROW learners. By creating a high energy, high performing classroom/campus, where students are challenged and allowed to be creative, where students are able to take risks and learn to LOVE to learn…you will see gains. That is what you as an educator should want…students who love to learn. Now, am I saying you shouldn’t care about a test? Of course not, you are also responsible for ensuring that students know the rules of the game that they are playing. What I am saying that is that there is no need to sacrifice opportunities for innovation, for the sake of a test. You CAN balance both…there are educators doing so all over the country. YOU just have to find that balance. Start small…the benefits you see will give you confidence to try something more.
Amber as the critic: This is the way we do things. As the teacher, I need to know the answers to the questions students may ask me, otherwise I am not going to look like I know what I’m doing.
Matt as the creator: Critical Thinkers ask questions. Recently I read a statistic from John Hattie stating, “Teachers ask 200-300 questions a day, while most students may only ask 2.” In order to establish critical thinking, students must be explicitly taught the act of asking questions and teachers/leaders need to be able to discern the difference between a student asking a question to challenge an adult vs. a question that challenges status quo. Whether you are using Bloom’s Taxonomy or Costa’s Levels of Questions, students need to be generating the questions. Not the teachers. Ready to challenge the status quo? When was the last time you gave a test to students with all the correct answers? Try it. Have students tell you WHY the answers are correct instead of simply finding the correct answers.
Matt as the critic: Problem solving is such a difficult thing for students to figure out. The product of their work in the past has been subpar.
Amber as the creator: There are many initiatives that allow students to develop the skills needed to problem solve at varying levels. EduBreakout and Makerspaces are two that are on the rise. Both are organic, efficient and authentic…spaces that allow students to collaborate, problem solve and work together. They allow students to be up, be moving, communicating in a manner that allows for problem solving at their own pace. You would be amazed at what your students can do, if you get out of their way and let them. The skills needed to be successful in both of those “extras” directly transfer to your academic core as well. It helps children with challenges, and to overcome obstacles. There are moments of success and frustration. Intrinsically, if students are challenged and enjoying being challenged and overcoming that obstacle, you can dial into energy that for your classroom. Struggles in learning occur every day…allowing students to see that that is a natural part of education, and not to be feared, will be an incredible LIFE lesson!
Amber as the critic: When do I have time to allow students to self-assess? It’s already stressful enough getting papers/projects and graded, and entered in the gradebook as it is!
Matt as the creator: Self-assessment does not need to be one more thing. George Couros talks about the importance of developing a digital portfolio to share student work samples over time. The work samples are going to be available already. Students will always have work samples. The question that needs to be asked is, “What happens to the work sample upon completion?” If placed in a digital portfolio students and teachers can reflect on student growth other time and determine what they learned, growth that has been shown and areas that still need to be developed. In using self-assessment, students are determining their path & grade instead of a teacher telling them what they earned. What sounds more powerful to you?
Matt as the critic: Parents in my school/classroom or district prohibit social media and I cannot share their work.
Amber as the creator: There are two kinds of connected learning. While George references bringing in experts, never underestimate your own experiences and the opportunities you being connected can bring to your students. Some of the best and the brightest are on twitter. You will be challenged, inspired, and motivated beyond what you could ever imagine. Now, when it comes to sharing what you are doing in your classroom, you need to start where you are. I am always able to ensure to my parents/families that anything shared will be celebratory and positive. I use these spaces to BRAG and love on our students. I don’t always use their names. I don’t always use their faces. You can find a way to make this work in your room/building…if you want too. I have permission slips/letters/fun “safe” facts…please reach out. Please don’t let your fear of what “could” go wrong be the reason you don’t share you and your student’s genius with the world!
As someone who wants to be an innovative educator, remember that you’re never going to just BE there. It’s hopefully going to be a journey…one that you’re always on. Recognizing that there are always going to be critics allows to get your mind wrapped around a way that you can respond and be true to who you are. None of us have the answers, & all of us will have missteps. That’s ok…those are just minor detours on this journey. You’re allowed to have detours and still get to where you want to be.