A New Beginning, a New Mindset

I have been thinking about writing a post for a very long time…it has actually become the thing I know I want to do but I haven’t been able to bring myself to actually do it. I told myself it was writer’s block, or unclear thoughts that I just haven’t been able to get down “on paper.” But I think I can finally admit, it’s been fear. I began my journey into administration in 2014 and haven’t recovered my writing abilities in this blog since. That was three years ago! I can no longer even tell people I blog, because I haven’t done a real post in so long. Today I read George Couros’s post, “Finding Inspiration in Yourself” and today, I found the inspiration in myself to write. Thank you, George Couros.

I think I have been afraid to share my thoughts as a leader. I know that as a school leader, people can interpret the simplest things you say in many different ways, and sometimes those interpretations have adverse effects. But today, I realized, it is even more important for me, as a school leader, to share my thoughts and beliefs with my community. I talk a lot about “walking the talk,” being vulnerable, and taking risks So here goes…

I am so excited for the new school year to begin and part of my excitement stems from our school’s shared summer reading of Neuroteachby Glen Whitman and Ian Kelleher and the conference I attended called the Science of Teaching and Leadership Academy at the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning (CTTL) at St.Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland. It was an intense week of learning about utilizing best research practices, specifically regarding mind brain education, into our teaching practice. The first group experience entailed dissecting a sheep’s brain! Although the smell of formaldehyde brought me right back to 7th grade science class, I loved learning about the brain and I now can actually remember what specific parts of the brain do–experiential learning at its’ best! Each day ended with our Translation small group. We reflected and then listened to our group members’ reflections. It was wonderful and much needed after intensive learning throughout the day. Our Translation group leader, Hillary Hall, was incredibly patient, pushed our thinking and led us in beginning to create a question for possible action research in our own community.We continued with two intensive days learning as a group, followed by two more days of “Deep Dives” moving into the teacher track or leadership track.

Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez, Asst. Professor in the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development in the Department of Population Health at the NYU School of Medicine and author of The Teaching Brain, led a full day of learning. Dr. Rodriguez proposes a “Theory of Mind” that states teaching is a process and a natural human act.  She proposes that there are “Five Awarenesses of the Teaching Brain:  Awareness of the Learner, Awareness of Interaction, Awareness of Self as a Teacher, Awareness of Teaching Practice, and Awareness of Context.” (Check out this book review to learn more!)

Dr. Rodriguez explained that in education, we often talk about everything being student-centered but that there is someone else in that mix, the teacher. She certainly doesn’t propose stating your school or your classroom is student-centered is wrong, but when talking about teaching, perhaps we need to include thinking about who the teacher is, what he/she brings to the table, and what his/her perception is of who the learner is and what’s happening in the classroom is also very important. As a teacher, I can attest to feeling the magic that happens when great learning occurred in my classroom. There are so many factors that go into making learning happen that have to do with connection and relationships between students and the teacher! It was validating to hear someone talk about this out loud. As an administrator, I thought about how these five awarenesses could be brought into developing collaborative professional growth plans for teachers, as well as myself as an administrator. Much food for thought in that “Deep Dive!”

The next two “Deep Dives” included David Weston, Founder and Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust. His talk was entitled, “Unleashing Greatness in Teachers: What effective professional development looks like.” He shared that great PD is focused, responsive, has a supportive environment, provides expert support, is sustained, and has specific outcomes in mind. His talk helped me to solidify my action research question, “How can we utilize ‘Mind Brain Education Research-Informed Power Strategies for Teachers’ to better engage teachers in faculty meetings and other professional development experiences?” Incorporating best teacher practices into professional development for teachers will hopefully be fun and inspire teachers to incorporate those strategies into their own classrooms! I believe being a school leader doesn’t mean teaching and learning stops for you, it just means your audience is different.

The last “Deep Dive” was led by Julie Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for the Future of Learning. She too was AMAZING! She led us in assessing where we are as a school and began helping us think about a plan to get us where we want to be. We thought about co-creating a three to five year professional development plan with our community to lead us into the future. We realized that we get hung up in creating activities instead of systems and this often adds to our community feeling like they are getting “one and done” professional development experiences, which adds to a feeling of being over-initiated. And we do have so many initiatives, but also realize it’s hard to avoid…but avoid we must!

I am thankful for this learning experience. And I must admit, at times, I was overwhelmed, which is hard to do to me because I LOVE all things education! I especially love intense professional development experiences. It was an excellent reminder of how my passion for education can be overwhelming for others at times. Delivery is important but learning also happens when it’s hard. I am ready for the new year to begin, as I grew a new mindset over the summer.

Connected Educator Month, Something Near and Dear to My Heart

(Post courtesy of: http://www.connectededucators.org/swipe-copy/)

Connected Educator Month: Those who do, teach. Own it, year-round. October 2016.
A celebration of community, with educators at all levels, from all disciplines, moving towards a fully connected and collaborative profession. Convened by the connected education community, with the full support of the U.S. Department of Education, building on the success of previous years with hundreds of new events and activities from dozens of organizations and communities. We’ll be working together, in October and beyond, with all stakeholders, leaving no device unturned, no country or learning environment unexplored. Get involved at connectededucators.org.

About Connected Educator Month (CEM)
Millions of educators and others around the world have participated in hundreds of professional development opportunities as part of Connected Educator Month (CEM) the past four years. Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Education and its partners as part of the Connected Educators initiative, CEM offers highly distributed, diverse, and engaging activities to educators at all levels. Based on its success last year, the initiative is poised to reach even more educators in 2016, through expanded partnerships and enhanced programming.

Highlights of CEM 2015 included:
hosting hundreds of events during the month,
mentions on millions of web pages;
connections of educators in 100+ countries; and
reaching 24 million Twitter impressions each week.
CEM 2016
Led by the American Institutes for Research, the initiative seeks to create a more fully globally connected, evidence-based movement that fosters collaboration and innovation to transform professional learning and effect educational change. Our key goals in service of this vision include:

Expanding the reach of CEM by growing a global coalition of education stakeholder groups and partners
Documenting and communicating the measurable impact of CEM and connected education
Acquiring sufficient resources to achieve year-round sustainability
Influencing the way professional learning takes place in and out of schools
Fostering collaboration and innovation within and between education stakeholder groups and partners
Connected Educator Month 2016 is being convened by a group of core partners in collaboration with a wide range of participating organizations and funders. Interested in sponsorship?

Connected Educator Month in 2012 and 2013 was convened by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and its partners in the Connected Educators project (2010-2014), on behalf of the Office of Educational Technology of the United States Department of Education. In 2014 and 2015, leadership was continued by AIR and its partners, Powerful Learning Practice, and Grunwald Associates LLC, with permission from the Office of Educational Technology. For more information on CEM’s past and current connections to the Office of Educational Technology, check out the materials developed under that project for CEM 2012 and 2013 on OET’s website, 2014 welcome videos from Office of Educational Technology Director Richard Culatta and Digital Engagement Strategist Sara Trettin, and this post and video by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (who hosted his first Twitter chat as part of the 2013 celebration) which were created under the prior project.

My Why

Last week I discovered Brad Gustafson’s new book, Renegade Leadership. I follow Brad on Twitter and often read his blog posts.  I began reading his book and became particularly inspired by this quote, “We are kidding ourselves if we think we can merely delegate learning to our staff while somehow maintaining relevance as school leaders.” As a new administrator, I continually think about how I will maintain my relevance as a curricular leader. How will I model for teachers, students and parents my beliefs about teaching and learning? We are living in a digital world. As educators, it is imperative that we utilize technology and connect with our global community.

In wanting to “walk that talk,” I decided to start a Renegade Leadership book chat utilizing the app Voxer. I Tweeted an invite out to the world, including @GustafsonBrad, and he agreed to pop into our group. What a gift!

renlead-vox-tweet

Before beginning the book, Brad Gustafson invites the reader to answer two questions: why are we reading the book and connecting in this online space and what is our ‘why?’ I think a lot about what I do everyday, but what was my why? The great thing about the timing of all of my pondering these questions was that I had Back to School Night that very night and had to publish my weekly parent email that very day. The following email was a result of all of this thinking:

From Heidi Hutchison,

Lower School Assistant Principal for PreK-PreFirst    

September 8, 2016

 

Dear Families,

This week students are beginning to adjust and come to grips with a full day’s schedule. Although, there are still sleepy faces from time to time, they are happy, relaxed, and feeling safe. I have truly enjoyed getting to know each one of them and must admit, the hugs in the morning are priceless!

Tonight is Back to School Night in the Pre-Primary building (7:00 pm-8:00 pm, Multi-Purpose Room) and I have thought a lot about what I should share so that you get to know me a little better. Someone shared a video with me called, “Know Your Why” and it made me realize that you should definitely know my “why.” Before you read on, I encourage you to watch this video by clicking the link.

My “why” is to serve, inspire, and support our children, our families, and my colleagues in our community. I wake up happy, pretty much every single day. I love our students and our teachers. You should know I want to help build a bridge between school and home. You should also know that I am passionate about teaching and learning and I will work tirelessly to think outside of the box and make every situation work somehow for the better. Sometimes people wonder how I can be so happy most of the time, and I realized it’s because of my faith and I know my “why.”

I look forward to seeing you all tonight!

Warmly,

Heidi Hutchison

I look forward to connecting with my new PLN (Personal Learning Network) via the #RenLead Voxer book chat and building relationships with my new Pre-Primary community at Friends School. I will continue to strive to “walk the talk” and above all listen with my head and my heart.

 

Risk Taking: A Lesson in Humility

Gabe What WouldI love this quote. I have the quote on a magnet in my classroom and have frequently talked about it with my students. I believe in modeling being a learner with students, parents, colleagues, and the greater community. Over the past year, I completed a demanding one year graduate program, worked a full-time teaching job, participated in many other learning opportunities where I was able to share my learning publicly and with great success! It was exhilarating, challenging, and quite a confidence builder.

My graduate program in school leadership prepared me to take the next step and I believe I am completely ready for the shift from teacher to administrator. The part I think I forgot about was what happens when it doesn’t work out the way I want it to work out? What if I don’t get that job I had my sights set on? Talking about having a growth mindset it easy until you actually have to have that growth mindset. I have watched my students struggle, take risks with their learning, stand up in front of their peers, teachers, and principals and really put themselves out there. We encourage children to do this all of the time and remind them the importance of having a growth mindset and being resilient. What I forgot to tell them is when it doesn’t turn out the way they wanted, it is an opportunity.

My most recent experience didn’t turn out the way I wanted. For the past couple of weeks I have been vacillating between realizing it was for the best and being completely distraught and worried about the future. I was humbled by the fact that no matter what I did, it didn’t work out the way I had planned…humility is a gift of grace. Not getting what I want is an opportunity to realize I am just a person doing the best I can with the gifts I have been given. I have faith in knowing that I am not in charge and what will be, will be. I love learning and teaching and serving others. That is what is important and being humbled is a gift that keeps me grounded. Serving my school community is the thing I love and makes me who I am. So I will continue to model ‘what I would do if I knew I could not fail.’

Being humble means recognizing we are not on earth to see how important we can become, but to see how much difference we can make in the lives of others.

~Gordon B. Hinckley

Where Are the Women Keynote Speakers?

This post was collaboratively written by:
Jessica Johnson
Melissa Emler
Heidi Hutchison
Iram Khan
Kaye Henrickson
Tia Henriksen

executive-534413_1280

Image from Pixabay

In a recent discussion in our Women in Leadership voxer group, we came to the realization that opportunities for us to hear female education leaders speak as keynote presenters at conferences are a rare find. We can list numerous outstanding male keynote speakers we have heard at conferences and would be happy to listen to again:

  • Todd Whitaker
  • Eric Sheninger
  • Peter DeWitt
  • Andy Hargreaves
  • Michael Fullan
  • Joe Sanfellippo
  • Tony Sinanis
  • Jimmy Casas
  • Jeff Zeoul
  • Daniel Pink
  • Sir Ken Robinson
  • Kevin Honeycutt
  • Baruti Kafele
  • Josh Stumpenhorst
  • George Couros
  • Dean Shareski

The list could go on and on…

Yet, when we tried to list women keynote speakers…our conversation came to a halt. Within our group we could actually only identify six keynote speakers that we’ve heard:

  • Pernille Ripp
  • Marcia Tate
  • Becky DuFour
  • Heidi Hayes Jacobs
  • Angela Maiers
  • Kristen Swanson

All six are dynamic speakers who we want to promote and would love to hear again. One interesting piece of these women keynote speakers is that they are all pedagogical goddesses and relentless advocates for student learning. Liz Wiseman, another woman keynoter who was remembered later in the conversation, is the only woman that was hired to keynote on the specific topic of leadership and the impact leadership has on student learning. We are connected to many great female education leaders; we’ve read their blogs/books, we’ve connected in social media to continue learning from them, and we’ve heard them speak on smaller scales (conference sessions, not keynotes). So why aren’t they being asked to be keynote speakers at state, provincial, and national level conferences? Why is the pool of keynote speakers so dominated by our male colleagues? More importantly, why are we, the women leaders in education, not making a bigger stink about it?

This has been a difficult question to discuss as it has brought up some uncomfortable reflections, especially in the areas of how we support women colleagues. Some of the reasons that we discussed included:

  • Women can be our own worst enemies. Sometimes we compete with each other as though there is only one space at the top, when as we can see with the number of men who are keynote speakers, this is not true.
  • Some women leaders feel isolated and don’t have a support group.
  • Speaking in front of others can be scary, causing us to question whether we really are an expert to present to others about it. It’s the own voices in our head that prevent us from stepping up. Many refer to this as the “Impostor Syndrome” which is common among high achieving women where, “Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved” (wikipedia). According to researcher, Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, women who are in male-dominated professions are particularly vulnerable to this syndrome (Goudreau, Forbes Women, Oct. 19, 2011).
  • Sometimes, we rely on “duty calls” and stay back to complete the work. Again, our own worst enemy by not prioritizing sharing our story (and the story of our teacher leaders) with others.
  • The reality of mom guilt; we already feel guilty about the many hours that take us away from our children and worry about the additional time spent away from our families.

According to Tiffani Lennon, the author and lead researcher of the report, Benchmarking Women’s Leadership in the United States, women hold 75% of all teaching positions across the U.S., but hold only 30% of leadership positions. Education is a field that is predominantly women, but we hold less than a third of the leadership positions. In looking at this report, education has the largest gap between number of women working and number of women in leadership. We have work to do.

What can we, the women in school leadership roles, do to help even out the influential voices in our space? These are our suggestions:

  • Demand that the organizations we belong to recognize the imbalance and work hard to elevate our voices. We pay membership fees too.
  • Recommend women in leadership that we know would be excellent on the stage.
  • Submit proposals to speak at conferences on topics we are passionate about.
  • Encourage women colleagues to get out there and share their passions.
  • Recognize and promote the female speakers that we want to hear.
  • Continue to share our learning/reflections with others online (Twitter, Blogs, Voxer, etc.).
  • Read, reflect and discuss great books on women in leadership, such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg or Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.
  • Reflect upon our own self-doubt and bravely put it out there so that others can learn from it, support you and help you move onto reaching your leadership potential.
  • Learn more about the Impostor Syndrome and what that is and looks like for you. Get help from others, as you feel necessary.
  • Learn about some of the many successful people who have also identified themselves as “impostors”, as described in the article, High achievers suffering from imposter syndrome News.com Dec 10 2013.
  • Get to know women leaders, so when the time comes to recommend speakers you have a list of good, potential candidates.

We believe women in leadership is a diversity issue and doing this important work is the responsibility of all educators. It is important for girls to see women in leadership roles so that they can imagine and dream their own possibilities. It is also important for girls to see women being celebrated as speakers whose opinions are honoured and valued. It is just as important for boys to see women in this role and on the stage. This issue is not just about girls and boys though; it is also about women and men. If most of our teachers are women, they deserve to learn from women and aspire to be like them. If they only see men, some of the best and brightest may never choose to elevate their position. On the flip side, there are certainly some amazing men in our classrooms who may feel forced to enter leadership positions because it is seemingly expected. The field of education needs all of us to be in roles that fit our strengths. Furthermore, we need to challenge our own thinking, and have courageous conversations that move us forward. It is important for everyone to acknowledge and value the importance of our voices as women to the educational conversations, including as Keynote Speakers at major conferences, both locally, nationally, and internationally. In doing so, we are doing the work of creating a brighter future for all of us.

Walking the Talk–A Year in Review

Heidi Graduation

The past year I have been working on finishing my graduate degree and I am finally almost there! It is hard to believe a year has gone by. I have learned so much about leadership in independent, boarding and public schools, but mostly, I have learned about the leader living inside of me. It is hard to believe that I spent years wondering and doubting that I could ever accomplish this kind of graduate program. As a 46 year old woman, it is slightly painful to look back on the insecure young woman who was paralyzed by that fear and self-doubt.

As I reflect on my journey, I cannot help but think of my mom. She always, always told me I could do anything I wanted to do. Both she and my father told me they loved me and if I put my mind to it, I could accomplish anything. I hope my mom is proudly looking down from heaven saying, “Aha! I knew she could do it!” I finally get it, Mom, I really do. This year has been difficult for me, but I also know it has been difficult for my friends, family and colleagues. Although I tried to balance being a wife, mom, friend, colleague and student, I know much of the stress and work fell on the shoulders of the people I love. I am so grateful to have that kind of support. I have learned much about leadership, but I have specifically learned more about: empathy, humility, flexibility, perseverance, resilience, creativity, curiosity, collaboration, reflection and faith.

Seeing the school world from a teacher’s and a leader’s perspective is a tricky wire to walk. I began my journey as an objective observer in my school. It has been said that ignorance is bliss and I now understand why. At first, I was able to simply watch my administrators and take note of their body language, the words they chose to describe our objectives for the school year, and how they balanced supporting teachers, communicating with parents and accomplishing administrative tasks. As the year went on and my stress increased, I began to inwardly question leadership in my school. At times I grew quite frustrated. At times I became quite unhappy and wondered if I knew what I was trying to get myself into. As I look back on that time, my journey mimicked the developmental life cycle of humans. I began as a child in awe of the world, open to new learning. As time went on, I began to try and make sense of this new information as it related to me and my world. I began to question authority like a teenager that didn’t quite have the whole picture yet. And now I feel as though I have grown up. I am ready to take on a new challenge and put what I have learned into action. The great thing is that I have some life experience to add to my bag of tricks to lean on.

This year I have said I am sorry too many times to remember. I have had to remind myself to let go of my ego and acquiesce. I have stretched my ability to see the big picture, multi-task to accomplish multiple objectives, stick with projects and people when I just wanted to stop and take a breather. I have had to bounce back and try again when I made mistakes, be imaginative to think outside of the box in order to come up with solutions that worked for as many people as I could make it work for. This year I worked with the most incredibly motivated, talented, kind, and committed group of people in graduate school and at work. Together we accomplished things more beautiful and innovative than we could have ever done alone. This year I have had the opportunity to think, discuss and write about my work as a new leader. Lastly, I have learned what a great gift it is to have faith and that my blessings are more than I can count.

I have learned that my philosophy of leadership resembles very much my philosophy of teaching. I believe in “walking the talk” for learners through modeling my expectations. I believe in being joyful and in awe of the wonders of our world. I believe that we all have things to teach and learn from each other. As my mom would say, “This ain’t no dress rehearsal! Get out there and make the most of every single second.” What better advice could there be?

EdCamp Leadership 2014

Image from icanread
Image from icanread

I was lucky enough to attend EdCamp Leadership in Philadelphia yesterday with my principal. I was nervous and excited to see some of my PLN in person. I know people have written about this before, but it truly is so exciting to meet people in person. I feel like a dorky, nerdy educational groupie! Seriously, I get just as excited to meet some of these people in the world of connected education as I do when I have met famous people in entertainment! As one of my PLN friends @BrianFahey put it, I am a “goner”, I have “crossed to the other side.”

EdCamp Leadership left me with many great take-aways about educational leadership. One thought that occurred over and over again was that educational leadership is about building relationships with people. I agree and use the same principle with my students. If I want my students to take academic risks, become self-directed learners and strive to find and stick with their passion, the first thing I do is get to know them to show I care about them.

One thought I put forth (and I am sure others did as well) yesterday was the importance of modeling being a learner first as a leader in your school. Teachers need to see their leaders taking risks and trying new things. Model by presenting information in a new way (via video like TouchCast, audio messages like Voxer, flipping faculty meetings) so that teachers can be inspired to try something new and see that it is important because their leader is doing it. And when you make a mistake or it doesn’t go exactly as planned, model humility and resilience by doing it again! I have a “Marvelous Mistakes” jar in my classroom. As members of our classroom community, when you share a mistake that you really learned from, you show you are humble enough to admit your mistake, learn from it and move on. We all benefit and when the jar is filled, we get a pizza party. I must admit, I contribute to that jar more than anyone and I am ok with that. I am an adult and have enough chutzpah and self-esteem to be ok with laughing at myself or to be embarrassed in front of people and move on. Leaders need to do this; it builds trust, it shows we are all human and it makes you more relate-able.

Another take-away from yesterday was that there was not one single attendee that was in their first five years of teaching. Many of us agreed that we need to do more as educators to help our new colleagues develop their PLNs and realize this wonderful world of connected education exists! The attrition rate for teachers would be way less if they experienced the support of a personal learning network. Our teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities need to educate new teachers about how to become a connected educator and why they should do it! As professors and adjunct faculty, they need to model this as well. I begin my new program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and will be sure to mention it more than once!

Lastly, yesterday’s experience left me feeling even more supported and inspired by the passion and incredible talent that filled those rooms. My own principal showed her incredible passion for education and courage to learn something new by attending EdCamp Leadership with one of her teachers! Others shared their wisdom and a piece of their heart by sharing personal experiences of being lead learners in their communities. The people that hosted EdCamp Leadership gave us all a gift yesterday. I thank them and hope they inspire others to host an EdCamp in their school or their community.

I realize that the most important thing I learned yesterday was to continue to believe in my passion for education and not be afraid to lead. What better example could I model for my students and my own children than believing in my passion, working at my passion and celebrating all that comes with it?  Not much, I say.

Continuing the Old Factory Model of Education and Expecting 21st Century Results

allthingslearning.wordpress.com

I have been frustrated lately in my current new 5th grade position. I have been impatient, and critical, and negative. I am happy to say that most of this has been in my head. However, some of this negativity has been shared with my poor husband in our house, and I am embarrassed to admit, sometimes to my friends and family. February is a notorious month for teachers. There is said to be a slump that occurs with teachers in February. The cold winter months have been particularly harsh this season and the time between winter break and spring break can seem endless!

Anyway, I am searching, searching for ways that I can make an impact in my field. I have been so blessed to have the opportunity to truly practice my craft of teaching at my school. In addition, they have been so incredibly supportive of my efforts to grow and become a better teacher for my students. I have been critical of decisions, or perhaps more specifically, a lack there-of from my administrators. I want more curricular leadership, but I also want to keep my autonomy. I would not want to be in their positions and I am mature enough to realize my own irrational wants. I have been a learner for sure; however, my skill at being an empathetic learner has been lacking. My lack of empathy, I believe, has stemmed from a lack of understanding of what to do next.

While reading Michael Gorman’s post “10Steps for PreSearch Strategies…Digital Literacy Series Part I” I realized a couple of things. In order for 21st century teaching and learning to occur, a great deal of planning (i.e.time) needs to go into it. You cannot just throw Common Core Standards at teachers (which is what public schools in Baltimore are doing at the moment), tell them to teach in a 21st century way (for example, by creating project based learning units), create rubrics, embed all necessary skills, give formative and summative assessments, and at the same time, not adequately train teachers how to do this and not give them the proper amount of time to plan and learn!

It seems to me, we are still treating teachers using the old factory style of education—  Input:  Common Core, no time to learn, not enough training…and expect an output:  Students that are creative, innovative thinkers that pass all state tests. It is a simple recipe, you put crappy ingredients in without enough cooking time, you will not get a tasty dish.

I suppose all of this has led me to understand that I have to be willing to understand that this new road technology has paved for education is new for all of us. Learning happens not only on the part of students and teachers, but also on the part of administrators. I need to speak up and say, “Look! Look what you are expecting! It isn’t a realistic model and you cannot change some parts of this new educational path and not the other. It won’t work, it hasn’t worked and it will never work that way.” Students are not little empty cans waiting to be filled and neither are teachers. This may be where my new next step comes in. I have such a great desire to help reignite passion into teachers loving their incredibly demanding jobs and I also have the desire to help bridge trust and respect back into the administrator-teacher relationship.

I have an idea of where to start and also know I need to put-up or shut-up. It’s certainly exciting to fantasize about where this may lead me!

Kid EdCamp 2014

Kid EdCamp 2014
Why Do a Kid EdCamp?

There were many take-aways from doing our first ever Kid EdCamp that can be simply stated in a list, and I love lists!

1. Students are motivated by voice and choice.
2. Students are able to be self-directed learners as presenters and participants.
3. Students are able to practice and experience the habits of mind: creativity, curiosity, empathy, collaboration, and reflection.
4. Teachers are able to see the power of voice and choice.
5. Teachers are able to see the power of self-directed learning.
6. Teachers are able to see the power of students practicing and experiencing the habits of mind: creativity, curiosity, empathy, collaboration, and reflection!

Last week, we held our first ever Kid EdCamp! It was phenomenal on so many levels and I will do my best to bring it to life for you.

On the first Wednesday of each month, my school has something we call PLUSS Day. We have moved to a 10 Day schedule and the first Wednesday of every month is a zero day in our schedule. In the morning, we have time to collaborate with other teachers and the students come in at 10 am. As a Lower School, we usually try to do cross-grade, and sometimes, cross divisional type activities. A few brilliant teachers, Judy Sandler, Andrew Hanes and Bill Hardy had brought up the idea of doing a Kid EdCamp off and on over the last year, so we took the leap!

3rd and 5th grade teachers said they would ask their students if anyone would want to present at a session. Fourth grade, unfortunately, was on a field trip that day so they would not be able to participate, but more on that later. The other grades agreed that depending on the sessions, they would have their students participate in some.

After explaining what EdCamps were to students, they became very excited. We explained that at an adult EdCamp, no one really presented anything…they shared, but they did not present. At our Kid EdCamp, they could present an idea or teach students how to do something, or they could just have a discussion. Making it developmentally appropriate for PreK through Grade 5 was intimidating for sure at the beginning. Once students wrote their session idea on index cards and we hung them up on a schedule, all of that fear I had just disappeared!

They were amazing! Students’ sessions included: Misunderstood Dogs, Knitting, Pottery, Understanding Pi, Origami, Goldilocks Rap (presented by the Kindergarten class!), Coding, Football Discussion (Route Runners and Wide Receivers), many Rainbow Loom sessions, Upcycling, Cupcake Decorating, Theater, Lacrosse, Soccer, more Football, All About Horses, Stop Motion Photography, Karaoke,and so many more!Teachers took students down to the schedule board and they put post its or sticky notes on sessions they wanted to attend. This idea came from Tim Bedley who ran a Kid EdCamp for his 4th and 5th graders. His blog post, “Kid EdCamp,” was essential in helping us understand what to do and how to possibly do it!
Students became more and more excited as we approached our Wednesday PLUSS Day and of course, it snowed! Our school was closed on Wednesday February 5th! However, my principal, Michelle Holland, was extremely supportive and decided after all of the work and effort the children put into this day, we would have our day on Thursday February 6th. This meant that about 50 fourth graders would now be attending! The fourth grade teachers, Kelly Causey, Jillien Lakatta and Lisa MacGibeny were so incredibly flexible and creative, they came up with a quick plan. Many fourth graders volunteered to do a last minute session and we just added them to the schedule. Other sessions became a little larger, but everyone was able to just go with the flow.

We began the day at 10 am. There would be 25 minute sessions with a five minute travel time between sessions. We had two sessions before lunch and recess, and three afterwards. We did not tell the students about the “law of two feet,” which means participants are allowed to move to a new session if the session they are in is not meeting their needs. We felt that it would not be developmentally appropriate for PreK through Grade 5. In addition, I made a session schedule for special area teachers and administrators so that they could sign up for times to cover rooms. Homeroom teachers were able to float from room to room so that they could see their own students. Basically, I ran from room to room each session making sure everything was running smoothly. Jennifer Robinson, another technology teacher and Assistant Director of Library and Information Services, not only planned and made it possible that MineCraft worked in one of our labs, but she manned the room for the majority of the day! There were so many MineCraft sessions, it would be impossible to notice we need to learn more about this and incorporate it into our teaching. Each lab was crammed full of kids. It was fantastic! Students were so engaged and excited and asking if the sessions could be longer!

The day ended with our version of “Smackdown.” At an EdCamp, Smackdown is a sharing of tech tools and resources that teachers learned about or already knew about that they want to share with their fellow EdCampers. Our Smackdown was a reflection of what went well for the day and what things we could do differently next time. Students and teachers shared the most incredible things! Students shared that they loved it because they got to know other kids with the same passions that they had, one student said they knew what they were going to do for Genius Time (stop motion photography), and another said they were able to make new friends. Students shared that they could empathize with teachers because it was hard to get everyone’s attention sometimes. I found that there was incredible beauty in the learning that occurred from “mistakes” or lack of student preparedness, and the learning that occurred was teacher learning, presenter learning and participant learning! My husband, Andy Hanes, is a technology teacher at our school and shared some of the responses via Twitter.

I will never forget the power of this day. I actually got teary-eyed during our Smackdown! I will admit, this isn't hard to do, I am a "crier," but it truly was moving. If you are thinking about whether your school or a group of grades should do Kid EdCamp, stop thinking, just do it! If you have questions, email me, or others who have tried this. Really, you will not regret it!

Things to Remember for Next Time:

1. Allow each teacher to “cover” one room so that we can all float and see different sessions.
2. Allow some sessions to change after 25 minutes and others to change after 55 minutes.
3. Remember to tell students they cannot attend more than one kind of session. (We had a student in Minecraft all day!)
4. Have two sessions before lunch and two sessions after lunch but each session should have more offerings.
5. Always, always, always have a “Smackdown” session at the end!
6. End the day with an All School DEAR time!

The picture below is a list of writing prompts my students came up with to help with a blog post that reflects their day.

Student Created Blog Post Prompts on Kid EdCamp Day 2014

Visit Friends of the Fifth Dimension to see student blog posts about Kid EdCamp 2014 Day!

10 Easy Steps to Teach Writing through Blogging

I have been thinking of writing this post for the past six months. Blogging has done more for my students’ writing than anything I have ever tried. Students are writing so much that it is hard for me to keep up with them! Here is how I began:

1.  Students need to be able to critically read blogs and evaluate others’ writing before they can write themselves. I asked my students what they were interested in reading about. With the help of a couple of colleagues, we created a list of blogs that were safe for them to read using Mentor Mob. Feel free to use it yourself or create one in the same way! 

2.  We then had a discussion about why they liked or disliked particular blogs. Opportunities for digital and information literacy skills are endless! We discussed layout, graphics, advertisements vs. no advertisements, grammar and how it affected their understanding, safety (Some kids used their full names and we decided that was not a good idea.), content (Did the writer do a good job of explaining their topic-why or why not?), and also intended audience (Could they tell who this was intended for?), as well as information literacy skills (Would they consider this writer an expert on the topic? Would it be worthy of using as a resource for research purposes? Was it only intended for entertainment as an opinion piece?)

3.  We copied a style of another writer.  Students are allowed to copy the style of writing another person uses. It is very important to distinguish copying style to copying words. Copying the way a person writes is good practice. Eventually their own voice comes through and they develop their own style through practice. I am reminded of the book, Steal Like an Artist, which I am still thinking about reading to my students!

4.  We then participated in The Student Blogging Challenge through Edublogs. Although we started a little later than the official challenge began, I chose challenges for students to give them some focus. In the past, allowing students to freely write about anything they wanted right from the git-go did not provide the structure they needed. They needed to learn how to write. I was able to structure mini-lessons on opening/topic sentences, writing supporting sentences, and also lessons on specific grammar topics that came up in their own writing. I was able to differentiate instruction based on their own writing style. The challenges I chose also gave enough choice that they felt as though they had some say in what they were writing about! Students had choice and were able to direct their own learning in many ways.

5.  The most influential piece of blogging for my students has been having an authentic audience! I Tweeted their blogs out to my PLN (personal learning network) and they commented on my students’ writing. The creator of Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge, Miss W., commented on my students’ writing! Parents read their children’s writing, invited other family members and friends to comment on their child’s writing. Parents, family and friends began commenting on other student’s writing! This was also great because parents often want to know what their child’s work looks like in comparison to other kids their age. This is also a very difficult and sticky thing to show. As a teacher, you do not necessarily want parents to compare their kid to another, but being a parent, I get it. Blogging allows parents to see all different kinds of writing and how sometimes, topic and purpose affects how well a child writes. Sometimes it is better than others just like it is in real life!

6.  We talk about commenting throughout the whole process. Students critically read other comments and as a result, were able to write better comments themselves! They were so motivated to write because people were reading what they wrote about. Although they still write one-liner comments sometimes with way too many exclamation marks, most of the time, they are thoughtful about their comments. They are fifth graders…a million exclamation marks are fun sometimes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

7.  Students edit and revise even after I published their work! After a few revisions, and I always struggle with not beating them to death with revising, I publish a student’s work. Because I use Kid Blog, I am the one who pushed the “Publish button.” This is a great feature! What I have found most amazing about using blogging to teach writing skills, is that many times, students go back in after it is published to revise again. What happens is that they read their friends’ work and realize they need to add more detail, or a picture, or a link that will make their piece even better. I think this is so incredible! What more could you ask for as a teacher?!

8.  Students finally move in and out of what we call “Free Blogging” between assigned blogging challenges. I didn’t allow students to begin free blogging about whatever they wanted until I felt they had a good handle on the purpose and intended audience of writing. I know this may sound awful, but I do not believe that all thoughts are worthy of publishing. Students have often asked me why teachers allow students to publish with so many mistakes. Now, of course sometimes it is because of the developmental stage and age of students, but other times, I believe it must be a difference in philosophy. Just like math, and foreign language, and music and sports, writing takes practice. I explained to students that because they began a new sport this year, should they play in a stadium and invite the world to watch them yet? No, of course not, they need practice. Writing is a muscle that also needs practice and it needs to be clear enough for others to read it.  

9.  Students become self-directed learners of writing through blogging. In allowing “free blogging,” students can explore different genres of writing through trying them out on their own. Although I am still struggling with keeping up because it takes me some time to read and then individually respond to students, I still feel that they are motivated to read other students’ writing and write their own posts. The 21st century learner isn’t so different from learners of the past. I think we all innately want to be self-directed learners. However, the 21st century learner has the unique opportunity of being provided the experience to self-direct their learning. They are all researchers of information. Technology has provided us with some really cool tools to help students become better readers, writers, and problem solvers. 

10.  Students are reminded that learning to write happens through making mistakes and most importantly, through reflection! Throughout the year, no matter what we learn about, students are reminded that perfection is not necessary and would make life boring. I would also be out of a job if everything they did and wrote about was perfect. Their uniqueness in all that they are and all that they do, including writing, is what makes our community so much fun and so interesting. The next step I will take with my students is to list ways in which students’ writing can improve…a sort of brainstorming list. We will then look at the writing of a peer and share three things that person has improved in with their writing since we first began to blog.  I hope to have students then evaluate their own progress and even blog about it if they are brave enough!

Lastly, I must add that students have been so excited to blog, that other fifth grade students who do not have me as a teacher, have come to me to ask if they too could learn how to blog. As a result, I created a blogging site for them to blog as well. Feel free to visit all three of our sites and comment! Friends of the Fifth Dimension , Ms. Hutch’s Marvelous Math Students , and Kids Who Just Wanna Blog.