Reflections from Tuesday

I hope that all of you were able to take something positive away from Tuesday’s PD: HSE21 Inquiry in Action.  I know that whenever I attend a PD such as that, I feel overwhelmed.  There are so many great ideas, and sometimes some things that just don’t seem to fit for me right now.  Trying to figure out what to do with the information overload can be a bit daunting.

One of the things that I have definitely learned throughout my years of PD – if there was something good, I better try it soon.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something good at a conference, but I’ve found an excuse to not implement it right away (I don’t have time, I’m not sure my students are ready, etc.).  When I put those awesome ideas off, they end up getting lost in the black hole of professional learning – that’s where all great ideas that we never try go.

So… With that in mind, here’s some simple advice.  Think about the questions that the presenters were asked to frame their sessions around:

  • What can you do to transform your classroom tomorrow?
  • What can you do to transform your classroom next week?
  • What can you do to transform your classroom in the long term?

When you get a chance to reflect on your learning from Tuesday, try to find the nuggets that you might want to use to answer those questions.  What is the thing that you can try tomorrow (or on Monday if you’re reading this the day it posts)?  Commit to it and give it a shot.  If you know you can’t do it tomorrow, set your own goal of when you want to try that new thing.  Put it on your calendar, share with a colleague, or do something to hold yourself accountable.

Next, set one or two long term goals based on something you learned on Tuesday.  Maybe take your idea and collaborate with a colleague, or use the ideas you learned to plan a new unit for your class.

Remember that reflection is one of the most important pieces of the learning process.  Tuesday was nonstop without much time for contemplation between sessions.  Make sure you take a little time while everything is still fresh in your mind to look back on any notes you took, or ideas that you came up with.

As you reflect, share with us one takeaway from your sessions on Tuesday.  What is the one thing you plan to try?  Or tell us what you have already tried.  We’d love to hear about your learning, and your excitement from the day.  Share with us in the comments below.

Reflection & Growth

Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.

At the end of every school year, one of my favorite things to do is to take some time to reflect on the year – what worked well?  What didn’t work so well?  What are the things I want to improve upon?  And conversely, what are the things I want to just forget ever happened?

As you are wrapping up your year, keep in mind that moments of reflection can be one of the most powerful pieces of the learning puzzle.  After you have finished cleaning your classroom, preparing for summer break, finishing student grades, and the multitude of other things that the end of the year will bring, take a little quiet time by yourself to just reflect.

You might choose to look back at your lesson plans from the year, you might look at samples of student work that you hung onto, or you might have another method that works for you to remind yourself of all that happened in your room during the last 180 student days.  Whatever method you choose, ask yourself some questions:

  • What are the things that happened this year that were awesome, and you can’t imagine not doing again?  How will you make sure not to forget by next year?
  • What are the things that you were excited about that maybe your students didn’t enjoy as much as you thought they would?  What could you add to get the students more excited about that topic? (If you’re looking for some ideas to hook your students into a lesson, check out Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess – tons of great hooks that can build interest, excitement, and engagement)
  • What did you feel was the single most effective thing you did in your classroom this year?  What ideas can you take from that activity to make other activities more effective?

As you reflect, also take some time to think about things you wish to learn more about.  Make a list of those things that you wish to learn more about.  Write it down so you don’t forget.  If you’re anything like me, the first few days of summer break will be just that, a break.  At some point, you’ll get the itch to think a little more about the things that will help you grow as an educator.  At that time, go back to your list and use some of your free time to grow as an educator!

Many of us also love to have an accountability partner so that we don’t get to the end of the summer and feel like we didn’t accomplish any of the things we wanted to do.  Share the things that you are interested in with your colleagues at the beginning of summer – your teammate, your PLC, others with similar interests – and then reach out to them from time to time.  Share what you are learning, a great book you’re reading, a blog post you loved, or something else that fits with your topic.  For those of us on Twitter – use the hashtag #RSISummerLearning (clicking the link will take you directly to a search of that hashtag on Twitter) to share what you’re up to.  Even if you don’t post to Twitter, you can go to that search anytime to see what others may have shared.  The more we all share, the more we all can learn from one another!  Next August we’ll all be able to bring that learning back to school to support our students and do even more amazing things!

Most of all, enjoy your summer time!  I know that I’m looking forward to my summer for some relaxation, a Cubs game or two, time with family and friends, and time to do some of the things that I never seem to have time for during the school year.  Have a great summer!

PLNs – Professional Learning Networks or Personal Learning Networks – you choose!

Many of you may know that one of my personal passions is cooking.  I learned to cook basic things when I was in elementary school.  When I was in 4-H I had multiple county fair champions, and sent a few things to the State Fair.  In our house now I do most of the cooking because it’s something I enjoy doing.  Over the years I have developed my “favorite” meals that I have found out there and adjusted to suit my tastes, or the tastes of my family.  Last fall however, I noticed that I had a series of 10-12 things that we were just cycling through.  It was hard to choose anything to cook because I was getting bored with the options I had.  I needed something new.  Then, I happened to be listening to an interview of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the author of The Food Lab, and I knew I had to get his cookbook.  The guy was a self-described science nerd who became a chef and uses the scientific method to perfect his recipes – sign me up!

The book is almost 1000 pages, includes awesome step by step pictures and instructions for hundreds of recipes, along with scientific descriptions of what happens during the cooking process, explanations of experiments to find the best option in preparing certain dishes, and suggestions for home cooks to be able to carry out techniques that normally are reserved for professional kitchens.  In the several months that I have had the book, we have upgraded our meals in the Behrman household.  The only complaint?  I think I need to run a few extra miles every week with the food we’ve been eating (it’s been hard not to have a second serving with most of these meals!).

Now, some of you may be wondering what this has with a PLN, but I promise, I’m going to try to make it connect.  When you think about what you need to grow as an educator, what comes to mind?  Jot down the top 3 things that you think of.  Really… Take a moment to jot down those top 3.  This post will still be here when you get it done.

Now, if I were to poll you, there would be a massive variety of choices that would make it impossible for any administrator to come up with a school PD plan that would meet the needs of all of you.  Instead, here’s what I suggest– think about your passions, your areas of continued growth, and get learning!  You could talk to your colleagues about things you’re interested in.  There are tons of experts within your building and throughout your district.  If you’re looking for someone to help you in a specific area, ask around.  Maybe your administrator can point you in the right direction.  By sharing our knowledge and sharing our curiosities, we can become an environment that encourages lifelong learning.

You know when you find something exciting!  You know when you have an idea that you just have to try out!  Just like I became excited about new cooking with The Food Lab cookbook, you can find your own ways to grow as an educator, and hopefully the rest of this post will help with that!

Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before! Matt Miller -
Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!
Matt Miller –

A couple weeks ago I shared links to some education hashtags for Twitter (click here to go back to that post).  See if there are any that tie to your 3 things you jotted down earlier – want to learn more about standards based learning? #SblChat might be perfect for you!  Interested in educational technology? Check out #edtech!  For things specific to your grade level, you might want to check out #5thchat (5th grade chat) or #6thchat (6th grade chat).  If Twitter isn’t your thing, you might try a search on Pinterest (yes, even I have an account!).  You can also search Facebook, and often you can find great videos on YouTube that may help you learn.

If you aren’t quite sure what you want to learn about, then you might have to take some other steps to find a path – you could ask your students what you should learn next.  Find out what interests them, what learning methods work for them, or what they’d be excited to do.  You could also check the blogosphere.  You’ve heard me reference blogs in the past – blogs like Edutopia, A.J. Juliani, Cult of Pedagogy, and The Cornerstone for Teachers are a few that I like.  Most of the blogs I have found have been through links from blogs I already followed.  If you find a blog you like, subscribe, or use Feedly as a single place to keep track of them all!

I know that some of you may be thinking that it’s the end of the year and you don’t want to mix anything up.  Think about it though – wouldn’t it be better to try something totally new with a group of students you already know, as opposed to trying it with a new group of students you don’t know yet?  Isn’t it easier to make adjustments to your teaching when one of the variables – students – is a known quantity?  Don’t put the pressure of learning something new on your future self!  There is no better time to try something new than right now!

Finally, one suggestion that might make some of us a little uncomfortable – seek out people with beliefs that might be different than you.  Being brave enough to learn from those who challenge you can be one key to your continued growth.  Find someone who challenges you and talk with them with the purpose of understanding their thinking, not getting it to line up with yours – you might learn from them, and they might learn from you.

What things have you learned through your professional learning network?  Share with us in the comments below!  We’d love to hear about it!

Be a connected educator (Part 1)

How often have you felt that you were “alone” in your classroom?  You plan for your students – nobody else’s class is quite like yours.  You plan for your content – nobody else is at quite the same place as you.  It’s easy to build up walls and confine yourself to them.  But think for a second…  Is that what’s best for you?  Is that what’s best for the kids in your class?

When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo.
When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo.

If the answer you find yourself coming to is no, then it’s time to think about how to connect beyond the walls of you classroom.  I think we all know that there is a wealth of information out there on the internet.  Can you imagine what teaching was like before Google? (I’m sure some of you are saying “Yes!  I lived it!”).  I think we all know that we can find great resources with a simple web search, but sometimes we find a lot of junk too!  Taking the time to sift through it all can be time consuming!  What if there was a way to connect with others who did have students similar to ours, or who were sharing something that was just right for your class to do as well.

One of the best ways to connect with other educators is through Twitter! Matt Miller:

In addition to websites, there are also other educators out there waiting and eager to help you!  Or they might be looking for the help that you can provide them.  The community of educators on Twitter grows every week.  According to one report from Twitter, about 1 in every 100 tweets are related to education, and there are about a half-billion tweets a day!  You can tweet at someone, or just to a hashtag, and get a response in moments.  For an overwhelmingly long list of education hashtags, check out this link:  Some of those hashtags are related to education twitter chats – you can see a calendar of what’s out there here: Education Chat Calendar.

You can also connect with other schools and teachers for your students benefit.  Earlier this year, my daughter’s first grade class did a Skype session with a class in New Hampshire to learn about geography and discuss a book from the Global Read Aloud.  This was the third Skype session (that I’m aware of).  Their online connections included chatting with the author of a book they read, and talking with another class in Colorado.

Last week Barbara tried out a Mystery Skype with her class (she can tell you more about how it went), and once the technology was working correctly, it was a cool experience for the kids in her class.  All over HSE, there are elementary classrooms participating in mystery Skype’s to learn about new places and things.  Want to know more about the idea behind a Mystery Skype, click here!

It’s also important to point out that here at RSI, we have several staff members who already use Twitter from their classroom.  If you want to know more about it, just ask Jenna, Mary Lynn, Barbara, Christian, Samantha, Mary, or Krista and Jennifer (you can also click on their name to go to their Twitter page) about how they use Twitter to connect with the world beyond our walls.  As a parent I also feel that Twitter enriches my understanding of what is happening in my daughter’s class.  I have followed and subscribed to Lainey’s teacher, Courtney Gibson, and I get alerts whenever she posts a tweet (typically just once or twice a week).  Sometimes she shares what they are doing, sometimes there is a picture, but always it tells me something about what the class has been doing which in turn allows me to have a conversation with Lainey about her learning.  If you want to see how it’s used by her teacher, click here.

Online educator communities provide you with 24/7 access to people, ideas, resources, philosophies, and opportunities that can expand your world (and the world of our students).  In next week’s post, I’ll talk a little more about some of the benefits of an online presence.

How have you used digital connections to improve learning opportunities for your students?  What new things have you learned or tried?  Share with us below!

Making Connections

In last week’s post we were talking about the HSE Best Practice Model.  There are many ways we can help our students be successful in the 21st century.  Our digital world, while not the only solution, is one of the keys that can help unlock the door to that success.  As an example, I’d like to share something that happened to me last spring.  I was reading a book and the author made reference to a spreadsheet that she used to track data on students.  While in theory I could guess what it probably looked like, I was having a hard time visualizing it.  I flipped to the appendix hoping to find a version, but no luck.  After rereading the passage I still had questions.  I decided to look on Twitter to see if the author had an account.  Sure enough, she did.  I sent a tweet to her, and in a couple minutes she responded.  Through a direct message I sent her my email address, and 10 minutes later I had a screen shot of the exact spreadsheet.

Matt Miller -
Matt Miller –

Who are the people you’d like to ask questions?  In a less connected world, you might have been able to track down a mailing address, send a letter, and hope for a response in a couple of weeks.  Today through the use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other digital services, we can connect immediately.  As teachers, we can leverage those connections into ways to help our students interact with the larger world.  Your class is learning about space science?  Have them compose a tweet to NASA or an astronaut (think about Scott Kelly on who is currently involved in the Year in Space Mission).  Did your students have a question about a book?  Try tweeting the author, or have your students share their reactions via your twitter account.
Sylvia Duckworth:

Personally, I look at Twitter as less of a social media site, and more at a Personal Learning Network.  I have connections to resources who share their ideas, and I can communicate back and forth with them.  And the best part of all of it?  I can do this anytime that works for me!  I don’t have to rely on anyone else’s timeframe to guide my learning.

Sylvia Duckworth:
Sylvia Duckworth:

How many of you use social media for the purpose of learning?  What sites have you found successful?  If you’re on Twitter, share your username so that we can follow you.