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Monday, April 25, 2016

Implementation of Innovation Teams

The 2015-2016 school year was my first year as a Technology Integrator. When I first began, both the position and I were new to the district. My understanding when I started was that some schools had "Tech Teams" and some didn't, and even the ones that did couldn't really tell me what the purpose was. Until I could get a handle on what was happening in the schools in regards to technology and innovation, I decided to hold off on beginning any kind of team.

This year, following in one of our high school's footsteps, I decided to start teams that focused on personalized learning and different innovative s, and I called our teams Innovation Teams. Currently, I am the Technology Integrator at three elementary schools, and each school has teachers and administrators that are a part of the team (one team, three schools). Teachers are on the team on a completely voluntary basis, and they are receiving no additional compensation of any kind for their extra work. Everything they do is to make themselves better for their students and profession, and I am super proud and humbled to be working with such a dedicated group of educators.

We began with a book study on what I knew to be a fantastic read in The Innovator's Mindset by George Couros. I've read the book multiple times, as well as assigned it as a class textbook for my UWO class, and I strongly felt that the mindset that the book describes was exactly what I wanted my Innovation Teams to embrace. We are almost done with the book, and there have been many ahas and that's-what-I-was-thinkings along the way. I think that the idea of being open to new experiences, the characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset, discussing an innovator's mindset versus growth mindset versus fixed mindset versus a false growth mindset has been eye opening and has set the teachers on a self-reflective journey prior to really digging in to what we wanted to accomplish.

Once the book study was underway, we also pulled up articles and research on Flexible Learning Spaces, how to create one, what to expect from students, and the benefits of implementing them. For me, I felt like Flexible Learning Spaces was a fantastic way to create teacher buy-in. Considering I was a former elementary teacher, I knew that I gravitated toward initiatives that I could both see and that would make a difference in my classroom immediately if not sooner. My thoughts were that studying and implementing Flexible Learning Spaces would hit both of these targets. In order to allow for the purchasing of flexible seating options, each principal in my three schools decided to pitch in some funds for purchasing, and each teacher put their classroom up on GoFundMe to get additional monies. There was a variety of success, but all Innovation Team teachers have made modifications to their classroom in various degrees. Some of the teachers who have made the biggest changes have plans to blog on their new classrooms and successes in our new collaborative blog: Teaching, Learning & Innovation.

As teachers began working on their classroom design and figuring out what works for their students, we also began looking at personalized learning and what it means for students to have voice and choice in their learning. We have decided to put pacing on the back-burner for now since set school schedules don't allow for as many pacing options in elementary, not that we can't get there eventually, but voice and choice are easier to implement within the elementary curriculum. Currently, we are implementing the practice of creating a rubric with standards and allowing for choice based on the rubric. Our goal is to create more authentic learning experiences for the students. We are working our way there.

In one school, we implemented our version of a student led edcamp, which we plan on doing again with some tweaks to make it more edcamp-like. We are also looking into Genius Hour and what that looks like in elementary. Each of the Innovation Team's teachers have gravitated toward a different part of what we have studied, but they are all moving forward. What has happened is that we are ending up with teachers who have become "experts" in different areas and it will allow our team to be stronger as everyone brings something different to the table.

I knew when I began the Innovation Teams that there were pockets of innovation and elements of personalized learning already going on in classrooms. I by no means think that I have brought innovative thinking to these teachers, but rather have put them together in order for them to feed off from each other and grow. I just provide them the support they need to move forward and the resources that challenge their thinking. My hope is that once others see what these teachers have accomplished (and in a relatively short period of time!) there will be a shift in thinking and we will be working toward a culture of innovation where innovation and personalized learning aren't the exception or a special occurrence, but happen everyday and will be known instead as simply learning.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Just Met You But I Love You

I often joke and say I "don't keep friends". Really, I mean that I put so much effort into my profession and my family that I often don't have time to really cultivate relationships with others in the way that, in the past, I would have considered someone to be a friend, which really begs the question, what exactly is a friend?

Recently, Julie Smith posed this question in a Tweet: can you be friends with people online? People you've never actually met? Before really diving into Twitter, I might have said no. I mean, how can you be friends with someone you've never even made eye contact with. But, since reexamining what a friend means to me, I'd argue that you can absolutely be friends with people you've never met. Relationships can be formed online. Meaningful ones, even.

All my friends have certain roles. My best friend, Dawn, is the one I call when I need to vent or want to do something crazy (I dragged her with me when I got my first tattoo, for example). My friend, Kristi, is someone that if I ever got into a boxing match, she'd be the one that would let me tap out. She's a tough chick and also one of the smartest people I know. My friend, Anne, is someone that will guaranteed make me laugh until I spit out all my green tea to the point where I struggle sitting by her in meetings, and my friend Matt will help me with anything I need anytime I need it, sometimes even before I know I need it.

At first Twitter allowed me to fill the personalized PD void and connected me with others who both challenged my thinking and inspired me to be a better educator than I was. And it was great. I would see people Tweet about their "tribe" and how they "loved" other Tweeters, and I was all like, "What? You've never even seen that person?" Then, one glorious day, I found the #personalizedPD chat and my entire perspective changed. Instantly, I loved these people. I'm convinced that Mandy, for example, is my personality doppleganger. I think that God made one of us and said, "Whoa, that one turned out pretty well. I'm going to try that recipe again." (Of course, she must've been the second one made because he made some modifications to make her funnier - #jealous). Jason & Kenny have welcomed me with open arms and take my teasing and off-topic-ness like champs. They have even invited me (and by invite I mean I had to beg a little) into their Voxer personalized PD group.

So, my perspective on what constitutes a friend has changed. Sometimes I think people use the words "friend" and "acquaintance" interchangeably, but these people have definitely made their way into fulfilling a role in both my personal and professional lives. And really, when it comes down to it, what difference does it make what we label people as long as they make us happy and support us in our journey.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Freedom to Fail

I have been failing for a long time. I've had loads of practice at it. I was failing way before it was cool to fail, and telling people that I had failed never bothered me even before it was "a thing". I'm the first one to admit that I have failed, have no problem pointing out to someone I've failed, and immediately look for ways that I can improve and grow from my failing. In every experience I've had with failing, however, I've noticed there is one constant: how you and your failing is perceived by those around you and their subsequent attitude can be drastically affected by their mindset.

We have one camp of growth mindsetters who believe that we need to fail in order to grow, and honestly, thank goodness. These are my people. They believe that failing is just a part of growth, and even though eventually you must have enough grit and determination to succeed in your endeavor, you will most likely fail on your way. But, that's okay! Each failure provides lessons that get us closer to glorious success.

Then there are the people who either don't feel this way or maybe just don't know any better. They are the ones who either falsely claim that failure is okay but don't really believe it, or just don't even accept failure as an option to begin with. I've worked with some of these people...admins, other teachers, instructional coaches, students (and who has modeled that for them?)...and inevitably what happened is I felt like I was seen as someone who was incompetent in whatever area I had admitted my failure. I was no longer asked questions or for help, no longer asked to mentor others, and definitely not asked my opinion. Even though they wouldn't change the way I believed regarding failure, I absolutely stopped admitting to anyone I didn't trust that I had failed. I kept it to myself and there were a few downfalls from that: 1) I no longer had the option to reflect on my failures by collaborating with someone and finding a better answer 2) I never modeled how to fail and grow for anyone who was not yet in that mindset 3) I no longer had the option to reflect on my failures by collaborating with someone and finding a better answer (that was an important one worth repeating). In effect, I stunted my own growth.

Sometimes, I feel like we talk about failure only in philosophical discussions, but in practical terms are not always willing to put it into practice. The freedom to fail should be something that is an expectation in classrooms. Not that failure is an expectation in all that we do, but that all educators and students are given the freedom to fail without judgement, taught how to take lessons and learning from the failure, and persevere in working toward success with the learning. Once we establish that kind of culture in a school, there will be no reason for anyone to adapt their own beliefs to those around them, like I've had to do, because those who succeed because they failed will be seen as competent, growth minded professionals.