Finding Your Inner Teaching Ninja

Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free. -Jim Morrison

The number one rule in our kindergarten classroom is to Be Brave.  This covers so many areas of life that it is an appropriate rule, and truly the only one we need.  It is hard to be brave sometimes.  It’s hard to speak up, step out, or stand alone.

A reader of this blog messaged me not long ago asking if it gets easier letting go and letting young students make choices in their learning.  As a long time educator (like me), she shared concerns about letting children have that voice and choice in demonstrating their learning.  I get it.  Before iPads, I was afraid to let go.  I mean…where is the control in that?   I thought I needed to be in charge.  Of Everything.  After all, that was how I was taught and how I was taught to teach.  iPads changed that.  How can a technological device make such a dramatic change in philosophy?  Perhaps I would be more accurate to say my students using iPads  changed my thinking.  Watching them use the iPad for creation, on their own, awakened me to new possibilities in learning.  Yes, it was scary but what a difference it made.

5258698926_9059e7bfe6_zSomeone once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find a new room.”  How has your teaching changed in the last 4 years?  If  it hasn’t, why?  Is it because it’s easier to do what you’ve always done?  Is it because, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”  Is it because you just don’t have time/support/resources to make any changes?  Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess is a popular approach to changing professional development to be engaging and interactive.  It helps you kickstart your own creativity and make your classroom experience rich and engaging.  He has a book on Amazon…worth the read!  Another organization dedicated to ongoing learning for educators is Teach Like a Feral Pig.  Their mission is for all educators to continually grow their “edutusks”.  I still want one of their t-shirts!  I often compare teaching to being a ninja.  This site emphasizes several key traits that tie teaching and ninja behavior together (particularly the one about not ever going to the bathroom)…The ninja one is tongue in cheek (slightly) but the point is…stop making excuses and make changes!  If you are stagnant, get a new PLN.  Find a Twitter chat…if you are nervous, lurk and take in the conversation.

Start the new school year with inspiration, the willingness to make some changes, and be a pirate, a feral pig, a ninja…whatever!  Just BE BRAVE!

Today we will do exciting new things!  Let’s get to it!

Photo credit:  Creative Commons

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Creating a Code of Cooperation

“Can’t we all just get along?” -Rodney King

So we’ve just finished 8 days of the new school year and to my utter shock and disbelief, it took 7 of those days before it happened. I waited each day, bracing myself for it to occur. The. First. Tattle.

IMG_05797 whole school days. Shocking really, when you think about a class of 5 year olds. It came just in time. We finally finished our class Code of Cooperation. This code is created along with my students as an agreement of what we believe a good classroom looks like. The children brainstormed a chart full of ideas and each day we talked about those things, narrowed them down, combined like ideas and finally settled on four things. 1. Put things where they go. 2. Be nice to others an share. 3. Listen and do what you are asked to do. 5. Try your best. We discussed what each of these things look like and the students suggested pictures that would match the concept. We came up with 2 pictures of each. The students will add a few sticky notes next week as they come up with more refinements. They already decided we need to identify what it means to be nice. Someone said to use kind words. That will go on a sticky note as an addition.

I guess I actually misspoke above when I said we “finished” it. It is never really finished. We will make additions and changes throughout the year as we go. It is a “living, breathing” agreement. The children all showed their commitment by signing around the periphery of the poster. When students have voice in how they will interact in their learning environment, there is true ownership. They are able to monitor their own behavior and rate how they did. This also creates accountability. I am not the sole monitor of their behavior. We will talk about the code daily and review our commitment to it.

This week, we will use our iPads to draw pictures of what each of the expectations looks like. They will share their ideas with their groups and we will work on how we will address those who choose not to follow our code. We will also work on how using the iPads fit into our Code of Cooperation.

When students have voice and choice in their learning and their learning environment, they become stakeholders. Even 5 year olds understand what it means to choose and to have their choices heard. Aren’t we all a little more cooperative when we have had a say in a process? The pictures we have and the ones we will add also create a visual reminder of what we agreed upon.

As a class, our shared vision is that we will work and learn together. By breaking that down into its components, we now have a working agreement that will serve as a guide for this school year.

Hopefully, it will reduce some of the tattling too. 🙂 One can always hope…

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

Comfort Zone-Exit Stage Right

I’m continually trying to make choices that put me against my own comfort zone. As long as you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re growing. -Ashton Kutcher

I return to school in 7 days.  Recently, I was asked to mentor a new teacher hired on my grade level.  My plan was to meet her at school and go over the important things she would need to know to get started.  I went to school the day before our meeting and moved my furniture and set up my classroom.  There was no way I was going to be able to sit in the chaos of jumbled furniture and plan with her.  I guess you can say I have high organizational needs.  My brain functions better when my environment is in order.

While we have different ways we approach things, whether it’s our classrooms, our homes, a new task, we all have a comfort zone in which we operate.  Our students are no different.  As I prepare for a new class of spunky 5 year olds, I am looking forward to watching them learn and grow.  As educators, we have to stretch ourselves and step outside of our comfort zones in order to innovate. In order to make a little magic.   There is tremendous enthusiasm for iPads and other technologies in education and it’s definitely part of learning’s future.  The opportunity to share information, collaborate around the world, to consume endless amounts of content and get access to information anywhere, anytime, anyplace, is a game changer that fundamentally will have a huge role in the future of the way learning takes place.

Ironically, using iPads is not out of the comfort zone of our students.  They come in ready and excited to get started.  Part of good teaching is staying a little ahead of the game.  Having a plan for implementation, and yet, allowing students to have the freedom to stretch and create is necessary for true success.  Teachers are good at planning….but not all are comfortable letting go and giving kids time to figure things out themselves.  For some, it’s threatening when students know more than they do.  The new Common Core State Standards stress the importance of student engagement in the whole brain activity of creative problem solving.

As we prepare for a brand new year, I’m thinking about how I can stretch myself and step out of my comfort zone a little. I’m looking to make a little magic.  With the iPads, the possibilities are endless.  Are you willing to stretch with me?

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