Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Slice of Life: Pirate's Treasure 6/30

If you would like to participate in Slice of Life, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog each Tuesday.

      A few summers ago, I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I was blown away with the level of enthusiasm this educator has for teaching and learning. I loved his ideas and was inspired to make a few changes in the way I thought about my classroom and the way I planned and taught. I put the book on my shelf and determined to continue to come back to the book. Then, life happened. I really didn't get back to the book again even though I knew there were excellent, not to be missed, ideas there that could help me transform my teaching.

     Then, in January, I saw a flyer that immediately caught my eye. Right here in Milwaukee there was going to be a conference that they were calling an "innovation symposium." There were all kinds of great people who were going to present about ideas like genius hour, global connections, gamification, flipping the classroom, etc. Already, I was quite interested. Then I saw that Dave Burgess, the pirate himself, was the keynote speaker. I knew immediately that I HAD to get there. Even though attending this conference would mean missing record day and giving up the precious time in my classroom to clean and pack things up, I just had to get there.

    Summer Spark at University School of Milwaukee (#usmspark)was every bit as cool as it sounded. It was like an edCamp on steroids. There were so many forward thinking people there! We all were pirates in the making.  The best part of the conference, of course, was hearing Dave Burgess speak. What a way to start the summer! His presentation was dynamic and filled with nuggets of wisdom. He gave us ways for "unlocking" engagement. The truth is that "an engaged student is rarely a behavior problem." I was reminded of the amazing ideas that this teacher has for bringing his classroom to life for students. The reality is that we teachers do need to make sure we are bringing presentations to students that will bring them in. He reminded us of the mistake a lot of us make of transitioning instead of delivering content at that peak moment of engagement. I love the idea of having "engaging presentations with handles on them for students to pick up." One of the best parts of his presentation was when he talked about asking questions and analyzing results. Three nuggets of wisdom made it into my notebook during this part of the talk:

  • "It's not supposed to be easy, it's supposed to be worth it." 
  • "Safe lessons are a recipe for mediocrity"
  • Failure = Feedback for Teachers
     What an honest reflection of the kind of work risk-taking teachers do. It is such a reminder for me of what I want for my students. I need to be working hard to engage them and I need to be able to take risks to do so. The work that I do needs to be worth the time that I spend doing it. Making my lessons engaging is worth that time. I love the level of detail involved in asking the questions to make good ideas for lessons into awesome experiences for students. 

     "Students will forget lessons, but they will never forget experiences." Another piece of wisdom from Dave Burgess is that teachers should work to provide an uncommon experience for students. Since students are bombarded with things that compete for their attention, we need to make our lessons remarkable in order to gain their engagement. 

     Listening to this educator speak about lessons and engagement made me realize that I have become somewhat complacent. I have not taken the time to create amazing experiences for my students. Although I have spent hours writing plans, I have not taken the time to ask the questions that will bring out the creative ideas. I have not been working to engage my students to the full extent of what is possible. I want to change that. 

Here are the two big questions that every teacher should ask himself according to Dave Burgess:

  • If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?
  • Do you have any lessons that you could sell tickets for? 
Both of these questions make me cringe a little. I don't think I have good answers for either one. I think that I have worked to create relationships with my students and they might want to come to school if they missed me, but I don't necessarily think they would be there for the learning. At least, not the last group of students. I want to change that. Next year at this time I want to be able to give resounding and positive answers to those two questions. I want to be confident that my students would come even if they were not required to be there. I want to have lessons that are so amazing people would pay money to be there. 

This summer as I work on outlining my units, I will get out Teach Like a Pirate and I will think creatively. I will brainstorm hooks and think about how to provide experiences for my students in all content areas. Most of all, I will remember that in order to improve, I need to keep trying. I will fall flat on my face at least once and probably several times trying out some new ideas. If I expect my students to have grit and to persevere through failures and challenges, I need to be willing to do so myself.  

So there you have it, I am raising the pirate flag and setting sail. Time to find some buried treasure, mateys!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Slice of Life: Where Did The Confidence Go? 6/23

Every Tuesday, a group of bloggers share a Slice of Life. If you are interested in joining in, visit the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information. 

     When I was younger, I think I was much more adventurous. It may be just my imagination, but I remember being able to let go of thinking about how I looked or sounded and being able to just be me. This was especially true in classes. I was the student who always had her hand in the air. I love learning and I had an insatiable drive for learning more and discussing that learning with my classmates.

     I still have that innate drive to learn more. I still love to attend conferences and professional development opportunities. I still sit relatively close to the front. I still raise my hand and participate in discussions. However, it seems to cost me more now. It takes an extraordinary amount of self-talk to convince myself to get to the session in the first place. I get anxious about it before I am even dressed for the event. I feel this ridiculous amount of pressure (from myself) to not appear pushy or like a know-it-all. I sometimes refrain from introducing myself to people because I am afraid that they won't know who I am or that they will think me annoying. This isn't at all about the other people in the room. I am pretty sure that the other people at the conferences won't actually find me annoying and might actually like some of my ideas. However, I seem to be almost cripplingly unsure of myself. My confidence seems to have vanished.

     I wonder why that has happened. I don't think there have been any ridiculously awful experiences that I have had with other people reacting to me in a weird way. I do not experience this lack of confidence when working with my students. In fact, I think they would be shocked that I even know what it is like to be doubting oneself. How can I have such confidence in the classroom and so little confidence when faced with a social situation?

     The introvert in me cringes at the mention of a new experience with a new set of people. That is why I am proud of myself for attending not only one, but two new conferences last week. At both conferences, there were people who I "knew" online from blogging communities and from Twitter, but it was nerve-wracking to go into these new experiences. I found some people to learn with and enjoyed meeting some of my online friends. However, I never got up the guts to approach some of the other people who I "know" but have never met face to face. Maybe next year I will ditch the self-doubt and branch out to meeting new people.