For me, in the moment Elisa Carlson asked me to present instant nerves and fear settled in. So I leaned on all my Brene Brown readings. Here the excitement of what was going to happen settled in. Over and over I tell students and teachers to embrace vulnerability. I tell them not to focus on the possible shame of an outcome, but rather enjoy the thrill of the process. Now I had a chance to model this. On the top of my first cue card I wrote just that, “You got this! Enjoy the moment!” With that in mind I turned fear upside down and relished the opportunity to talk about what drives me as an educator. Buckle up because this is what “IGNITES” my pedagogy.
One of the most bizarre feelings is the first day, late in summer about a week before class starts, when you step into a perfectly still, empty classroom. While standing alone in the room a swift realization transpired, a classroom is not a classroom unless kids are in it. For me this led to an “aha” moment! I thought, I am the warden of this sandbox and I can decide what occurs in it. My decision led to my goal that you will read in the next section.
For all teachers, that empty classroom and empty feeling should motivate you to make your room the epicenter of where magic will happen. Unfortunately, many teachers don’t allow kids a chance to guide their own learning and the magic never materializes. Too many of the ‘traditional style’ classrooms do not build off of the passions and inquiry that each child possesses but rather focuses on and rewards students who demonstrate compliance. It puts walls around the sandbox and says “stay in here”.
Last time I checked stringent boundaries are not known to inspire masterpieces. See a classroom is just an empty canvas. It has no personality. It does not judge your work. It does not care about your ability. The metaphoric walls are merely there to show off your creativity. The kids in your classroom are all individual, brilliant painting tools. Each paintbrush stroke adds character and a story to the canvas. The more types of brushes and the more stroke types, the more diversity you see, and the better story it tells. For me, I want my little artists to proudly paint their colours for the world to see!
Last summer I created a goal. I wanted to create a student-centered, passionate, curious and creative classroom that was so engaging that students wouldn’t stop talking about it when they got home. I wanted to create a classroom where students looked at vulnerability as a good thing and then weren’t afraid to fail. I wanted students to take risks in their learning without the fear of judgment. Of course, this is easier said than done. Taking risks, being vulnerable, standing alone and the thought of shame binds us down rather than promoting risk taking.
But if you get to the heart of the child, make them feel worthy of everything they do, make them feel safe, valued and accepted then risk taking becomes a little easier.
Here is the beauty of life, the classroom and the learning process. Where the heart is the mind will soon follow.
I wanted to model how seemingly minor social interactions can have massive impacts on the heart. Early this year I wrote a student of mine a letter. Megan was a shy, disengaged girl who had slouching shoulders and sat in the back of the room. She doodled instead of doing work. She doodled with so much passion that I wanted her peers and the world to witness it. This letter I wrote to her pointed out her talent and asked her to use my desk as her doodle pad. The letter has made her feel worthy and proud of her talent. The grander canvas, which she titled “Megan’s Playground”, has turned her into a girl with a permanent smile. Once happy, an improved learner quickly followed.
If you want to know more ways on how I teach to the heart click here.
I am very lucky to be in a school district that is very innovative. They have given us endless amounts of tools to incorporate into our classrooms. It is now up to us to create a pedagogy that blends these learning devices with the students’ passions. Using technology for the sake of having it is merely not enough.
Ask yourself, “Am I using technology to replace or am I using it to enhance?” The answer must be to enhance. For example, earlier this year my class used Skype and Twitter to talk with people around the globe about what Christmas means where they are. We talked directly with people in Ghana, Australia, Holland, Finland and Ethiopia. We then created a Twitter hashtag, #Christmaswhereweare to create short videos showing Christmas traditions. Students were so engaged learning about Christmas around the globe. Worksheets and books cannot replace the benefits of having discussions with actual people. Another example of enhancement is the coding and creation of videogames, which again textbooks don’t teach. Whether it is Genius Hour, Global Read Aloud, chatting with authors, project-based learning etc. kids in my class are constantly having opportunities to take their learning to places not imagined within the traditional classroom boundaries.
Building lifelong learners needs to start from within. So my classroom is full of opportunities that allow curiosity to flourish. It includes choice and creativity and is led fully by passion. It is global and it uses technology not to replace but rather enhance. It is safe and encourages people to “fall flat on your face” because it means you tried. In my opinion this is the only way. I believe a change is needed to adopt a new framework where reaching the student’s heart and building off of their strengths and passions needs to precede academic objectives. Lastly, stagnation and the learning process cannot coexist, so as a teacher move away from your comfort zone, be vulnerable, and focus on engaging the child. You do this and you will be a superhero teacher!
If you want to watch my ignite click here. (starts at the 32 minute mark)
Click here to view my Ignite PowerPoint presentation.