In 2016, I will continue to “walk or run with long, decisive steps” at a “good or regular rate of progress” toward my aspirations. I will stride.
The greater distance we travel, the more strides we take, the more highs and lows we face. When I encounter hills and other obstacles, I will stride with perseverance to maintain momentum. We all need inspiration to persist, but for educators, the reminders are ever present in the students we impact every day. Keeping the focus on their individual needs requires acting with empathy and compassion. Students rely on our consistent message, positive attitude, and unwavering support.
In times of stress and conflict, I will stride with resilience to overcome negativity and turmoil. The important lesson–simple runner’s logic–applies to building relationships, parenting, and educating: be patient, remain calm, control breathing, and monitor heart rate. Take life in stride.
–excerpt taken from my 2016 One Word post: STRIDE
To hit one’s stride means showing improvement in the way something is developing–to pick up the pace with ease and confidence.
So, that is exactly how I approached 2016. I took the training advice of top runners: “have fun with it, and try something new.” In class, my learners and I improved our model of personalized learning, approached every day with crazy #tlap passion and an Innovator’s Mindset, created our own genius, leveled up with #xplap gamification, captured learning with #booksnaps, and shared our work in true #ditchbook style.
Thanksgiving receives plenty of attention for traditional feasts, shopping, and family time; but for teachers, Thanksgiving week means more than a couple days off of work. It represents the opportunity to reflect and reconnect with former students.
Yesterday, as if posted on the school calendar, a former student stopped by at the end of my prep period. He told me about his current studies and adventures as a college sophomore. We exchanged stories and shared laughs. These reunions are my reward–my holiday bonus.
But conversations with this graduate always go deeper than catching up on life and reminiscing about old times. He wants to know how systems work and asks questions about education that challenge my thinking. He has always been a genuine learner, urged by intellectual curiosity. And he possesses one of the most observant, insightful, brilliant minds I have ever had the pleasure to teach (even when he was a freshman). The limitations of a traditional high school structure were the only obstacles in his education at the time. He exhausted our school’s offerings of Advanced Placement courses and conquered all standardized tests with ease. As anticipated, he needed the independence of college to thrive and be challenged intellectually.
So why do we continue to lack vision of the possibilities and impede the potential of our learners?
Am I doing this right?Is this what you’re looking for?What do you think about this?
Learning with a Purpose
As I personalize the learning process in my high school communication arts literature and composition courses, I hear students asking questions about how they can show evidence of their learning. They check in for approval even though we have created an environment of trust, innovation, and risk-taking. I want what we all seek: students creating new outcomes with learning; content they are intrigued by and learning they are invested in; engagement with and exploration of course material; and evidence of innovation.
This year’s theme — Innovation, Iteration, Implementation — reinforces and focuses on the innovation cycle introduced six years ago and the premise of the action network approach — multiple sites trying different approaches to implement the Institute’s Personalized Learning Model, sharing that learning, making adjustments and trying new things, and feeding that back into practice.
Visions in World Literature and Composition: An intensive study of the Communication Arts for 11th grade visionaries, focused on critical thought, literary analysis, writing, and discussion, with emphasis on individual growth and autonomy in learning.
Rationale: The Need to Push Exceptional Learners
I have the privilege of teaching two sections of high school juniors in Visions in World Literature and Composition. These are high-performing, mostly compliant students. However, due to the competitive culture we have created, the strong students have learned how to play the system to get (not earn) better grades than their peers. These respectful, conscientious students admittedly complete work to the minimum expectations in order to receive credit. I observe as students rush to complete (or copy) menial tasks for their classes with little thought or effort. Many will not push themselves to explore concepts outside of class or read beyond the assigned material. Yet, they constantly check their online average and wonder why they are not getting an A in the course. Is this a local issue? A generational issue? A cultural issue? How have our actions enabled extrinsic rewards to nearly silence intrinsic motivation?
Visions students are capable readers, writers, and thinkers–many of which are college-bound and in multiple advanced placement courses. The majority have supportive parents, but face the pressure of (sometimes unrealistic) parental and personal expectations. They rarely take risks in their learning and tend to be satisfied when a grade is secured. For students and their parents, learning is not viewed as important as the grade point average.
Some high-achieving students admit to not feeling challenged, but most feel overwhelmed with anxiety, knowing one subpar quiz will crush their average for a marking period. This stress is accentuated by the number of advanced placement courses on their schedule. As we direct more attention to accommodate the needs of all learners, my focus is on those already proficient in most English Language Arts standards.
I am frustrated with exceptional students settling for mediocrity by playing the game of school. And for what? To earn A’s and B’s so their parents may drive around town with a “Proud Parent of an Honor Student” bumper sticker on the back of the family SUV–but not to learn the material. They are honor students, but likely have little to show for their education. The reality hits when seniors struggle to craft memorable college application essays. It is time to push these students to create something greater–something authentic and meaningful. Let’s stop setting minimum expectations and have students challenge their own limits. This is a necessary step if we wish to remove the current ceiling on our schools. Continue reading
It is amazing to consider how much of an impact educators I’ve never met have on my career. Each day, I am motivated, challenged, supported, and lifted up by others who have a passion for educating our youth. We engage in intellectual dialogue, share resources, and learn together. But a professional learning network does more than exchange ideas. My PLN takes action. We put students first every day and build cultures of learning in our districts.
When I enter my Twitter conversations into a word cloud, the top image is created. The heavy influence comes from #sblchat, #colchat, #sunchat, #satchatwc, #aplitchat, #geniushour, #tlap, and now the wonderful group of #reflectiveteacher bloggers. The other images are a result of the blog posts I have written, inspired by my professional learning network. Their purpose is clear; their actions speak louder than words.
*Day 22 of @teachthought #reflectiveteacher 30-day blogging challenge
As documented in my previous post, Escaping Education’s Cave of Apathy With Genius Hour, my World Literature and Composition classes have committed one hour per week to explore our individual passions. We launched our mission with a challenge to attack the destructive apathy that spreads throughout a high school—especially following the first semester of a school year. During our most recent genius hour, I created a simple Google form to collect feedback from my students. Their responses to seven weeks of genius hours are overwhelmingly positive. Student voices are considerably more powerful than reading an educator’s observations, so I have decided not to write this post. Instead, I am going to let my junior geniuses do the work (despite the anxiety of the ACT test looming at the end of their chaotic week).
I think that genius hour is awesome, it’s a nice break and escape of the regular school schedule of just sitting in class and continuously learning about subjects you have no say in partaking. It’s great to be able to choose what you want to learn about and research.
I really enjoy this time!
I think this is a great idea.
I enjoy genius hour.
Genius hour is awesome.
Enough said…but there’s more.
NEVER ENOUGH TIME IN OUR BUSY LIVES
Genius hour gives us a fun hour to help explore what we want to explore. The trouble with today is that there are never enough hours in the day, and by having this hour once a week gives us a little time to get to find what we really want. Genius hour is very helpful once a week.
I think it’s a great idea. It gives me time to do the things I love to do, even when I don’t have the time on my own, and to even increase my skill in what I love to do.
I like genius hour a lot. I think it gives students the ability to work on their projects for this class. I also think that more teachers should start doing this because sports nowadays seem to take up more and more of our time outside of school. It seems to me like all teachers would suggest/require a minimum of 30+ minutes of work on that subject every night. Some classes prefer even more than that! With golf currently lasting until around 6:00 every night, I have found myself all of a sudden staying up until around midnight and sometimes beyond. I can understand why teachers would like us to work hard on all 6 or 7 subjects every night, but there are times where that is not physically possible. I really respect genius hour and I am proud to say that I use it to its fullest extent.
A STRESS-FREE ENVIRONMENT IS VITAL FOR MENTAL HEALTH & WELL BEING
I really enjoy Genius Hour and I think it really helps me relax about the stressors in life and it lets me do what I want and look up things that interest me and make me happy in life, which is a pleasure that I don’t get very often.
I really appreciate Genius Hour. Not only do I have valuable time to research something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but it is relaxing and stress relieving as well.
It is relaxing and calming. It’s nice to have some time to ourselves during the school day.
I really enjoy Genius hour. Good way to end the week in a more relaxed, independent way, researching topics of interest.
RESPECT = AUTONOMY TO PURSUE PASSIONS
I really like genius hour, as it gives us a chance to learn about something that we never had a chance to in any other class. It gives us complete freedom over learning about what really interests us.
I think this is a great opportunity for us to learn about something we are interested in. It is also nice to be able to learn about what I want.
I think it’s nice to finally learn about something I want to learn about.
I have enjoyed Genius Hour and I like working on my own and doing my own thing. I can work at my own pace doing what I want to accomplish for my blog.
I really enjoy doing genius hour because it gives us a chance to do what we are interested in and finding ways to help around the community and future generations.
I think it is a good “project” to do. It gives us the ability to do what we want and be free and if people don’t take advantage of that freedom it is a very successful activity.
I’ve really enjoyed and looked forward the class period each week where I get to explore something that interests me. It is a nice break from school and all the pressure to do what is expected/required of us. It can get so tiresome being forced to do things that don’t interest me at all.
I love it!! I look forward to having time to study things I want instead of being told what I have to study like every other class.
STUDENTS APPRECIATE LEARNING & DISCOVERY THROUGH INDEPENDENT EXPLORATION
I very much enjoy the independent learning opportunity. It is very interesting and inspiring.
I enjoy having an hour to myself to research topics that spark my interest.
I feel that this has helped me improve my overall knowledge.
I think it’s amazing to learn about musicians and bands because music is a very important piece of my life.
It is fun to go through Tumbler and build a fan base! I really enjoy the website, even though GHS has decided to block it, I am getting around that by going through my Data Plan even though it takes up a lot of data… I am willing to sacrifice that to further this project!
Personally, I think this is what everyone needs. A lot of people I feel are looking to focus on what they want to do in the future career wise. Also, giving kids the option to study, explore, practice, and work on what THEY find interest in can show their work potential. My overall opinion on Genius Hour is it’s genius. I think this was a great idea and maybe see it as evolving into something bigger for kids to further explore their future career or an interest of some sort. I suppose my view of it is from the career and future aspect of Genius Hour but none the less, it’s a fantastic idea.
Genius hour is a genius idea.
Thank you for the opportunity to do this!
I loved the idea. It gave everyone an incentive to study something they truly care about in class periods. I wish we did this more often because I think students would enjoy school more often if we continually did things like this.
And there you have it. Kids these days…
- are creative, passionate, and worthy of respect
- share their inner genius when given time and opportunity
- continue to impress and inspire me
*Part 3 of my Genius Hour posts will address specific projects. Prepare for mind-blowing awesomeness.
“I’ve just given up. The pressure is too much. I need to feel numb in order to block the pain.” The haunting silence was suffocating as the air escaped the classroom.
Ever wonder what’s on the mind of a seventeen-year-old high school student? Ask one. Then listen. If enough trust has been established within a classroom community, juniors will share. But be warned. Prepare for a dose of reality the adult world tends to overlook or ignore.
Arguably the most significant question I have ever asked a class was a simple, spontaneous journal prompt earlier this year: What are the top ten sources of stress in your life?
The common responses included: grades, constant homework, high school drama, the upcoming ACT test, expectations of AP courses, prom, need money, pressure from parents, job responsibilities, time management, friends, stereotypes, college searching, being judged, extra-curricular activities, and lack of time. There is not enough time to balance everything—including sleep.
Third quarter is ideal for this conversation. The class has likely conquered the challenges of first semester and everyone’s voice has emerged. This is when I facilitate a thematic unit focused on “the quest for personal fulfillment,” which promotes highly reflective thought in World Literature and Composition. We begin the unit with a study and analysis of our individual learning styles—particularly, how our learning styles impact our educational experience.
The literary study opens with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” one of my favorite literary pieces (thus the reference to Form of the Good, the title of my blog site). As we read and share insights about the dialogue, I urge students to release any preconceived notions about their mindset and approach learning from a new perspective for a glimpse of enlightenment. The guiding questions include: “What are some ‘caves’ in your life in which you might be or feel ‘imprisoned?’ How might you be liberated from the restrictive limits of the cave?”
How can we expect students to invest in our class for 50 minutes before a bell signals another mindless transition in their day—a day in which they must also face the stress of a job, expectations of parents, social pressure from peers, and the workload of each class, including advanced placement courses? Add the anxiety of time restraints, lack of sleep, and grades, and the picture becomes clearer. Adolescents are caught in a race to adulthood, where external forces rush their emotional maturity, but offer little choice in the process.
We might complain about students’ apathy and their lack of engagement (How can they not care about anything?), but it is not to be taken personally (they assure me). My students recognize the efforts of their teachers—passionate educators—and the attempts to create exciting lessons and fun class activities.
Classroom learning is simply not a priority in their busy day. According to my juniors:
We have experienced years of seeing no success, no reward for our efforts, and are not held accountable—especially on standardized tests. Why even try? In class, we are commanded to be quiet and learn. Then told to talk to others and learn. [The voice of teachers] loses effect over time. We need down time that is not dictated…and not be preached at by hypocritical adults. So, it is just easier to go through the motions with a sense of numb…it’s easier when I feel numb.
Powerful words. They trusted I would listen and I did. The next day, I greeted class with this prompt.
Genius hour was officially launched in Room A15.
I have since monitored progress and collected feedback from students. I will post student projects and the positive response to genius hour soon.