Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Simplest Definition of Innovation in Schools

I'm currently in the Innovative Teaching Academy. It's a class put on by my friend, AJ Juliani. I'm so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this great class and learn from so many awesome people. 

"What is innovation?" is the topic of the week. We had to answer that question by creating a meme. (Sidenote - George Couros' book, "The Innovator's Mindset" is a fantastic read on the topic. It affirmed many of my beliefs about what being an innovator truly is. I suggest you give it a read.)

This is my meme. 


I imagine someone a lot smarter than I did came up with some grand definition of what innovation in schools really is. Problem is, I probably couldn't understand it because there would be big words. So, how about we keep it really easy. 

The quick answer to this is that if students are truly engaged, it's probably innovative. If students don't want to leave your room to go to the restroom, it's innovative. They'll hold it. They'll do the pee-pee dance while working. Their eyes will start to have a yellow tint. They'll do whatever it takes to stay in the room. My best lessons are like this. I can see it happening. There is a certain energy during this type of learning. I also have a ton of dud lessons. Hopefully, I can eventually make all of them innovative. It takes time. 

The simplest definition of what innovation is in schools is if your students are doing the pee-pee dance while creating then it must be innovation. 

It takes courage, a huge amount of bravery, a willingness to leave your comfort zone, and to ultimately let go of the fear of failing. I had to get over myself for real innovation to take place. I had to release control, release the "I'm the most important person in the room" mode, and release the "Learning Isn't About the Teachers" role. Get over yourself. 

I remember the first time that I tried Genius Hour / Passion Projects four years ago. I had no idea what I was really doing. I pitched it as a do anything you want and just show us what you learned by creating something that you present. Pretty sure no one left to use the bathroom that day. 

Trust. I had administrators that ok'd my adventure. They trusted that I knew what I was doing and knew it was what was best for kids. They were also there to check-in and bounce ideas off of. 

Just do it. Yes, that's Nike's slogan, but for crying out loud, do something. 

Get out there and do something. Push yourself. Put yourself in your learners' shoes. Would they really want to be in your class if you said it was optional? 


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

7 Things I Can't Do for Students (and 7 Things I Can)

The best way for me to vent is to write. I have found that I need to blog to get my mind off of things. So, today, I write.

At the end of every school year, I end up turning into someone not myself. It’s really someone that I don’t want to be, but it’s like it just comes out. I can’t help it. My main reason is that I’m tired. Tired of a lot of the antics from students, tired of policing the same students to somehow behave appropriately day after day, after day, after day. Tired of harping on the same students to turn their work in even though I have reminded them to the umpteenth power already. Tired of saying, “Be prepared by doing _______.” and kids not doing said thing, but then upset at the consequences from not doing said thing. I might and probably some of my students that I routinely get on might even consider me a jerk. As we end the year, I wonder if that’s how they’ll remember me? Some cantankerous, crotchety guy. I don’t mean to be that way. I was raised to work extremely hard in the classroom, to not do dumb things, and that I could be guilty by association. I can’t, for the life of me understand why some students just want to simply exist. I just don’t get it. Wouldn’t it be more boring to just do nothing in school than do the assignment.

So, because of these things here’s a list of the Top Seven Things I Can’t Do For Students...followed by things I can and already do do. (Saying do twice in a row always makes me giggle)  

  1. I can’t make kids care about school. Let’s be honest. Not everyone likes “school.” There are things that I don’t like about school. There are things that happen that I don’t think are very beneficial to a learner. What I can do is that I can try and make students look toward the future and see how the long term effects of their actions today influence the future.
  2. I can’t consistently engage kids better than electronics. There is a difference between being entertained and being engaged. Being entertained is like watching a movie. It’s more one way. Being engaged is two-way. Being engaged in today’s culture is like watching Dancing With the Stars while simultaneously engaging in twitter conversations with people all over the globe during the show. There has to be input from both parties. There are just some things in school that can’t be engaging all the time. School can’t compete with the digital overload that students have access to. We just can’t. Learning is hard work and not necessarily for your entertainment. I work in a 1:1 school system. One chromebook isn’t enough, students have to pull out their phones and iPods, also. Attention spans have dropped. Spending an hour on an assignment is extremely hard for students to do. What I can do is provide as much choice as possible, try to connect to their world as much as possible, and encourage them to dive deep. Here’s what we’re currently working on in my class. Here's what it looks like in class.
  3. I can’t do students’ assignments or make them turn it in. This seems like an easy one. I won’t do an assignment for you. I can encourage you to start, to continue, to press on, to look at the future, to not just live for today, to explain the long-term effects of doing off-task things, or to talk about planting a seed that grows later. I can help you by answering your questions. I tend to answer questions with questions. I can assign them a lunch-n-learn with me during lunch, or a detention, or a Friday School. Those things don’t necessarily help. The only students that things like detention influence are ones that already care. (See number one in this list.)
  4. I can’t make them act like Mother Theresa. Look, not everyone’s perfect. I get that. I pretty much wipe slates clean everyday. I teach in middle school. First, they are trying to figure themselves out. Second, they are trying to figure everyone else out. Third, they are trying to figure out what they want to investigate in their own life. Fourth, they are trying to manage jumping up into secondary school and trying to make it as least awkward as possible. Fifth, by time they get to sixth grade, a lot of their thoughts have already been shaped by former teachers and how important school is perceived at home. I can read books like “Inch and Miles: The Journey to Success,” which is the kids version of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success so they know what it takes to be successful. I can read them things like the “Energy Bus” by Jon Gordon so they understand how positive and negative energy affects culture and how to choose your friends wisely. I can read “The Crossover” by Kwame Alexander that gives a glimpse into the daily life of students in middle school that struggle with the same things that they do. I can read a quote of the day from “365 Days of Wonder” by RJ Palacio to try and get deeper and have discussions about life and show some empathy.
  5. I can’t be in charge of their home life. Parents/Guardians are in charge of home lives. As much as I want every student to have the best life outside of school, the reality is that most don’t have that TV sitcom home. I can make my room a safe place. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m not too positive with students that can’t figure out how to “student” correctly after 160 days of school. (Random: I think studenting should be a word. There is a proper way to student. It’s kind of like the word parenting. A parent parents. Shouldn’t students student? I know, my mind is wired a little different.) Those students that just can’t figure out how to turn things in at the end of the year still, continue to talk out, continue to be annoying, continue to back talk, continue to treat others not nicely, are the ones I’m talking about. I can remember to look at others through the glasses that they are doing the best that they know how instead of judging them.  Maybe they haven’t learned yet? More importantly, maybe they haven’t been taught?
  6. I can’t make them responsible or be organized. I can provide support and ideas for organization like Google Keep, journaling, and using Canvas calendar, but a student won’t learn how to be organized or responsible unless they are held accountable and taught how to be organized. Even then, some students just won’t because it’s a choice. After 6 years of previous schooling (K-5) most of those habits have already developed. It’s also a caring issue (see number one) and a home life (see number 5) issue. Sometimes, being held accountable is writing a personal note. Sometimes, it’s calling them out in front of their peers. Sometimes, it’s a hug. Sometimes, it’s a stern gaze or suggestion. Sometimes, it’s having them call their parents from my desk phone to “tell on themselves.” Sometimes, it’s just being there to lend your shoulder.
  7. I can’t pull their legs anymore. I think it’s best to be straight up honest by the time they get in the middle school. This game called life is about to get real. Choices matter. Completing your work matters. Who you hang out with matters. Learning how to work hard matters. A lot of students are just getting a taste of what it takes to “student” correctly. (See, studenting is a thing, hehe.) I can tell students what they need to do to improve. I can help them make goals to get better. I can be honest and inform them that what they are doing isn’t cutting it and they need to try harder. Speaking the truth is a very hard thing to do. It seems that most people avoid the truth nowadays. Speaking the truth in love is what is needed. Listening to the truth is really hard, too.

I hate it when I get to the end of a school day and I have spent all my time on those students that fall into one or more of the seven things above and have neglected all the students that are working hard, behaving correctly, and care. I struggle with that balance. I struggle with letting students fail because it’s the right thing to do. I give limitless chances to redo or retake an assignment. I let students hand things in late. I feel I do enough on my end. There has to be some responsibility from the students.

I’m tired.

Good thing summer break is coming :)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


I'm stuck.

I feel my lessons are "good enough." They get by. Students are challenged. I've been using the same lessons for a couple of years now. The problem is that I've always thought that good enough is neither. Neither good, nor enough.

I'm out to change that. As I wrap up this school year and start making preparations for next year, I decided to enroll in the Innovative Teaching Academy that's put on by my good friend, A.J. Juliani.

I'm excited to learn more. To grow. To improve. To meet other educators that share the same passion. To find some new things to make the teaching and learning in my classroom better.

Here's to a great #ITA17