I spent the last week at an Advancing Educational Leadership certification course. As a part of this week, we were tasked with developing a vision statement. This is more than a motto, which I've talked about in this blog- http://didacticchad.weebly.com/home/the-motto-of-teaching
A vision statement should be succinct, but also descriptive. It needs to be powerful and compelling.
And it it needs to mean something, so that it is not a phrase you craft and forget. Here is what I came up with:
The three main points align with my approach to education, but also my own personal morality. For more details, let's start with innovate.
I must admit, my daughter Kenna has gotten me addicted to Minecraft. Since it's summer, I've got some time. I've been building a hotel, I plan to build a pirate ship. Kenna asked me, "Can you do that?" I responded "We will find out!"
I learn by doing- usually by doing it my way. It's trial and error, but I love to create. I do it on Minecraft, I do it in my classroom design, and I try it in my instruction all the time. But it is not just doing new things for the sake of new- it's creating to make it better, to teach more students. My goal in innovation is to inspire my students to innovate- to think about different ways to approach problems. I value the kind of thinking and the courage it takes to innovate, so it leads off the value statement. But without a sort of boundary, innovation can go wrong.
There are actually two ways I approach Integrity. One, the most obvious, is moral. I want to honor and respect others, and I believe that teaching students to find their own moral compass- and follow it- is about integrity. I need to be an example of integrity to my students, to model honesty and loyalty and follow-through.
The second approach to integrity related to how I develop my craft as an educator. It is not just about my students, it is about how I can share my ideas and innovations with my fellow educators. In order to do that, I must honestly reflect on the data I collect in my class. I must dutifully and honestly evaluate what works- and what doesn't. All in pursuit of developing my craft.
I have always been fascinated by the idea of identity- how it is developed, grows, and evolves. When I Innovate with Integrity, I develop my identity as a teacher, and my class's identity. A teacher needs to know who they are, what they stand for. It's what a vision statement is all about. But as I innovate in my class with integrity, I am providing my students with tools to develop THEIR identity. They find how the content connects with their life, how it informs their actions. How it becomes a part of who they are.
See, as much as education is about equations and poets and dates and skills, it's about growing into the person we are to become. As a teacher, I want to create an environment where students can safely explore identity, with integrity and innovation.
What is your vision?
Below is the final assignment I had to write for my final grad school course (YAY!). I felt it was a good blog post as well, so I am sharing it here.
In Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk from 2006 (https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity#t-550265),
he argues that schools kill creativity. He develops a powerful (and humorous) image of how in education we focus on developing student’s mind, “and slightly to one side” as Sir Ken puts it. He then develops a mental image of a college professor- what he argues our education system thinks is the end goal- who is detached from their body. He says they view bodies as simply a means of transportation for their head. These walking heads are incredibly knowledgeable about their content of choice, but lack creativity, they can regurgitate, but cannot create. They have figured out how to game the system, move up the hierarchy, but have- in my opinion- lost their own voice.
And I see the same behaviors in our students.
I have seen brilliant students struggle to order a pizza, or communicate an idea that would seem common sense to others. But they get perfect scores on AP tests and SATs. They will make excellent researchers and professors, but will they be creators, innovators, good neighbors, or strong parents? Is that even the responsibility of the public education system?
I believe it is.
I believe there are five practices and policies that we need to explore to educate the whole child and at the same time, address student fears of failure, not fitting in and of making mistakes.
I believe it starts with teachers developing relationships with students that goes beyond content- teachers must make an effort to know the whole child in order to educate them. Connecting at the door with a “hello,” making an effort to learn and explore their personal interests, providing them opportunities to share about their life experiences helps you get a better picture of the child you are seeking to educate.
The next step is Student Voice- allowing students to ask the questions, not just answer them, then develop their own way to understand curriculum.
The third practice is making relevant connections- students have been asking for years “When will I use this in real life?” If they have been asking it for years, why haven’t we come up with an answer yet? We teach what we teach because we love the content (hopefully). We need to remember that we had to fall in love with it at some point, and try to find out how to help our students have their own experience, from their perspective, that leads to at least an appreciation of the content.
The fourth practice is empowering students through hands on learning. There is a growing trend toward Maker Spaces and Genius Hour programs where students take their learning from all content areas and apply it to real world, and relevant needs.
Finally, I believe that students need to be allowed greater choice in their learning and how they are assessed. Tests ask for regurgitation, papers and projects allow for student to express the learning from their perspective. And their perspective is important. If we are going to allow students to express their thoughts, we cannot crush those ideas because they do not align with our own. Unfortunately, I have seen teachers do this.
I want to look more in depth at two of these practices, Student Voice and empowerment. I believe they go hand-in-hand, and easily build upon each other. Both consider a child’s unique perspective and abilities, and allow a child to experiment and grow to overcome fears by playing to their strengths.
Student Voice may be the easiest to implement, and the scariest, because for teachers it means letting go of some control over the classroom. Basic student voice is getting students to answer questions, and from my own experience in class utilizing Student Voice, the best way to do that is let them ask the questions. I start my classes with student led discussion- students ask the questions that review the previous day’s content or connect with a relevant current event. Students will respond more readily and often more deeply when a peer is leading the discussion. Once they start talking, I want them to learn to be respectful- not talk to long, not talk over others, and ultimately to develop an appreciation for other viewpoints and each other. In doing this, we address those fears of failure, not fitting in and making mistakes. It is easier to correct a mistake in discussion than on an assessment.
Student empowerment is actually, in my opinion, the final step in Student Voice. I want to see students take action on their learning and their ideas. This could manifest in a number of ways, from Genius Hour or Maker Space projects in math and science, to political action taken during a government course, or even students teaching a full lesson to their peers. I have had students design their perfect classroom and present it to teachers and administrators. I have also had my students teach a full 50 minute class from bell work to closure. Most recently, my students developed proposals to present to school and/or government officials about changes they would like to see. Some are actually taking their findings to those who can implement the changes!
I chose these two practices because they also address and encompass the other three. I have spent the last year developing these practices in my classroom and plan to continue to develop and improve on the ideas next year. Someday, as a campus administrator, I hope to engage my teachers’ voices and empower them in the same way I have my students. In this, I want to lead a campus culture of educating the whole child, so that they make a greater impact on the whole world.