Monday, February 20, 2017

21st Century Cohort 4.0 (#BVSD21cc)

Earlier this year, I applied for and was accepted to join an amazing group of educators - the BVSD 21st Century Cohort.  I am excited for what the next three years will bring for our group!  Even though we have just begun our journey, there are certain aspects of this professional development that have stood out to me so far:

  • Toolkit - one of the most exciting things, initially, is that we each were able to choose a toolkit from a catalog of different tech tools (Chromebooks, iPads, robots, cameras, etc).  These tools are ours to use as we see fit throughout our time in the Cohort and beyond (if we stay in the district).  As fun as it is to get new tools, the more meaningful thing is the support it shows for our growth and development.  Having resources to enable us to implement some of our techy dreams is amazing!
  • Freedom to play and explore - our catalog of tools had several things that I had never played with before.  Building time into our professional development days to explore and play with the different options was crucial in making decisions about what would be the most helpful in my classroom!  After we received the tools, we were given more time to play, share, and see what we could come up with through an EdCamp-style PD complete with playgrounds for all of our new "toys".
  • Attitude of a Learner - in our cohort, we are told over and over again that we are not supposed to have everything figured out or be experts right away.  This takes so much pressure off!  Especially in this first year, our goal is to learn, to grow, and to push ourselves.  Many of the assignments we get are designed to introduce us to new tools (or increase our familiarity with old ones) by asking us to create something, much as our students might in the classroom.  Our leaders have done a great job modeling the attitude of a learner, as well, by trying new things right alongside us!
  • Time - this is a big one.  As teachers, we never feel like we have enough time.  Trying a new program or incorporating a new tech tool sounds awesome, but it takes time to plan!  And with conferences, grades being due, and other looming deadlines, it is hard to make the time to do that.  I have really appreciated that at each of our PD sessions, time is built in to explore new ideas, but also do decompress and synthesize what we have just learned.  This helps me get even more out of it than if the day was jam-packed with new information, because I have a minute to process what this could mean for me and my class, making it much more likely for me to implement it in the future!
  • Relationships - I was talking with a friend who was a part of Cohort 2.0, and she talked so much about the relationships that she developed as a part of the cohort.  After the first day, I wasn't quite feeling that yet, but the more we get into this, the more I see a bond starting to grow.  Being with a group of people who are not afraid to try new things, imagine different ideas, and share our experiences & knowledge is invigorating!  Sometimes, in education, innovative ideas garner resistance from people who are happy with the way things have always been.  Both the in-person PD and the connections on Twitter & social media have been encouraging simply because I'm around other people who share a similar vision of extending our classrooms beyond where they currently are.  I know this will continue as we begin mentor groups and have more opportunities to collaborate and share our learning!
All of this has been so great for me as a teacher, but it has also been helpful as I prepare for a future in educational leadership.  Thinking about what aspects of the PD have been most meaningful to me gives me insight into what I might design in the future as PD for my staff.  The learning never ends!

I am so thankful to be a part of Cohort 4.0, and can't wait to see where the next three years take us!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Trimester Check-Ins

As we start our third and final trimester of the school year, I always like to check in with students to refocus our energy to finish the year strong!  It also gives me great feedback for future planning.  I've been really happy with the questions I've asked, so I wanted to share them here:

-What has your favorite part of (class name) been this year?
-What has your least favorite part of (class name) been this year?
-What has been the hardest thing about (class name) this year?
-What do you wish was different about (class name)?
-What is one SPECIFIC thing you want to get better at in 3rd trimester?
-What is your plan to get better at the thing you mentioned?
-What can (teacher name) do to help you have a better experience in (class name)?

The majority of the responses I get are very encouraging and thoughtful.  I find out how students are feeling, like the girl who told me that she feels like she learns music slower than everyone else.  That is not what I see in the classroom, but it is important for me to know that she is feeling that way.  I find out where they are struggling, like the boy who told me he was so confused about what a certain musical symbol meant.  That was an easy thing to address in class, but it may not have come up for a couple of weeks if I didn't know it was bugging him!  I also find out what they want/need from me, like the student who wanted more frequent feedback on her position in class.  I may not be able to do that every time, but I can file away the knowledge that this kid is craving more feedback!  I also find out what they like the most, and can try to implement more of that in my classes!

This avenue also helps me to address trends I see in the class.  Many students say that their least favorite part of the class is practicing.  Based on this, I am planning on having a whole-class discussion about practicing - why we do it, why it is important, and what it might look like if we didn't practice.  Getting a pulse on where the class is as a whole helps me tailor instruction to them as well.

Unlike certain other assignments, I always look forward to grading these reflections.  They give me so much useful information to help me feel like I can really reach each student!  I also have found that students are usually positive in these reflections and share what they like and appreciate about the class, which cheers me up through the long days of conferences and grades!

One note: Usually, I am all about collaboration, but I have found that I get much more individual, thoughtful responses when students do this on their own.

Do you have students reflect and/or set goals in your class? How do you incorporate their feedback into your teaching? How do you find out about their individual goals, thoughts, & needs?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Unexpected Joy

It's been a hard couple of weeks for me.
Talent show.
Report cards.
Grad school.
All of this came crashing together to form a very tired, worn out teacher.  Every year, I have time like this (and it's often in February), where I struggle to give my best to students because I feel crushed beneath the endless to-do lists and looming deadlines.  All I want is a chance to rest, for even one day!

I really do love my job.  And I wouldn't trade it for the world.  But it's easy to lose sight of that when I'm in a funk.  I've definitely been living out the adage of "fake it till you make it," and my motto has become "Just keep smiling!"

This past week, construction began on a new wing at my school, which meant new fences and new drop off/pick up routines.  My principal's voice rang through the intercom one morning before school, asking for extra support with morning duty as we establish the new norms.  As tired as I was, I knew that I should go help.  So I grabbed my yellow vest and went outside.

I was stationed where the buses dropped off, near an entrance, so I got to welcome about 300 kids to school that day.  As I saw them hop off the bus and greeted them, a true sense of joy began to blossom.  Their smiles, their shouts of "Hi, Ms. Yeh!" and their excitement to be at school rubbed off on me and lifted my own spirits.  I went on to have the best couple of days I've had in a month, and have felt much more like myself since then.

What's great about schools is that they are full of people.  People who live together, learn together, and influence each other.  The to-do list didn't disappear in this moment, but my focus shifted to the relationships rather than the "stuff".  That's a pearl of wisdom I can hold onto to help me through my next busy, stressful time!

Who knew that 10 minutes of duty could bring such unexpected joy?