Month: April 2016

For Your Own Edification…

Though experience is a requirement for almost every job, and extensive training is often required to hold managerial and decision making positions, teaching is one profession where the people making the big decisions are not teachers. In fact some, if not most, of them have never been in a classroom within the past few decades, let alone in a teaching position. It’s no wonder that teachers are having a hard time teaching anymore. Practical knowledge and experience will always beat out reading and static understanding, and teaching is a profession where experience and practical work are paramount for success. Those who have never taught a class cannot understand what is required to teach effectively, and therin lies the problem.

Though we can’t upend the system on it’s head for the sake of those trying to gain an education in this transitional period, we can still do what we can to educate those who cannot or will not teach. This is the value of an open door policy for a teacher. You are on the front lines, you are practicing what is preached, and you understand the pitfalls and needs of students, teachers, and schools. One could say it is your duty to educate the masses as well as your students. Oftentimes when doors are opened, and curtains pulled back, people will notice and care.  We are rarely interested in what is not under our noses and in front of our faces, and if you keep what goes on in your classroom under wraps you breed suspicion, ignorance, and misunderstanding.

Though you don’t have to explain every step of your process, or relate every difficulty you encounter, I think that at least being willing to share with those who ask will help others to understand and care about issues in education; whether the issue is as small as your classroom, or as big as economic inequality, no one can help or care if they don’t know and understand. And as someone who understands and knows the issues better than most, I think it is important and necessary for teachers to teach about teaching, not just English and math. And you should listen, for your own edification if nothing else.


The Leadership Compass

I’ve always had a thing for personality tests. Even though i know you can’t really take a personality test at face value because it’s all subjective, i still tend to place a good amount of stock in the results. On the other hand, i always feel like all outcomes are applicable to me. To a certain extent, this is true for everyone, but time and time again, i see myself fitting into multiple categories rather than snugly into one.

Such is the case with the Leadership Compass Self Assessment. I really did my best to be absolutely honest and only check things that i really do MOST of the time, not just SOME of the time, but i still found myself checking off pretty much every box. My results are as follows:

  • North/Action – 8
  • East/Vision – 10
  • South/Empathy – 10
  • West/Analytical – 10

I feel like if the questions had been mores specific, or if they did a better job of hiding the lead, that i might have come up with different results, but as it is i scored pretty evenly across the board. I think that this speaks pretty accurately to my personality as leader. I am capable of both leading and following, i intuitively understand people and larger thematic issues, while being able to think logically and analytically about them. Though i am introspective and reflective, i also look to the future and attempt to make decisions that will positively influence my future. I always try to incorporate all perspectives and opinions, but am not afraid to voice my own and take charge if i feel it’s necessary. I really feel as though i am capable of leading in multiple styles. I’ve been told that i have a natural affinity for reading the room and  understanding my place in it given the circumstances and people involved. The one thing i would really want to work on is letting go. By that i mean letting other’s take charge without following or leading, simply letting others work without my input. This is probably my biggest weakness. I do like to make my voice heard in either a contributory or leadership role, and have a hard time letting others completely take over. I also like things to be done a certain way if my name is going to be attached to them and this can also make me difficult to work with.


Advocating for Teachers

It can be demoralizing to choose education as your career. Although most people think that education is important, it is no secret that a teacher’s job is long, difficult, and underpaid. Even worse, there are those who believe that teacher’s are ineffective or lazy because they “have” summer vacation time to relax and slack off. Nothing could be further from the truth. As idealistic young teachers who still believe in our power to change the world and positively affect our student’s lives, it is sometimes difficult to persevere when faced with low wages, little control over our curriculum, long hours, diverse and often overpopulated classrooms, and a whole ton of grading, lesson planning, and self-edification. That’s why it’s important to advocate for ourselves. After reading “How Do You Know if You’re a Teacher Leader?” and “How to Become a Teacher Advocate” i have a few takeaways about how to “stir the pot”, raise awareness and get people really thinking about education and the role that teacher’s play. 

One point that really stayed with me was how advocacy is important not just for the profession and for your classroom or school, but for yourself. Making your voice heard, giving yourself a platform, and knowing that your opinion and knowledge as an educator matters can be powerful in many ways. Advocating connects you and gives you resources to actually enact the change you want to see in your classroom. Advocating, even to a single parent or to your friends, can raise awareness and get people talking about the important issues in education. Most importantly, advocating means that you get tocontribute and help shape the face of education. If you don’t speak up, your voice will never be heard. The other point that really spoke to me was that advocating doesn’t have to be this big undertaking. You don’t have to speak to an audience of thousands, you don’t have to write books or give lectures, you don’t even have to lead a staff meeting if you don’t want to, but you can still advocate. You can advocate by tweeting and posting on social media. You can advocate by collaborating and discussing issues with other educators and citizens. You can advocate by writing blogs or talking to your student’s parents. I thought that this quote said it all rather well:

“We somehow mistakenly believe that teachers can only make a difference in their classrooms, their immediate sphere of influence. But there is so much more we have to offer each other. Every teacher leader’s journey is different. Every teacher leader’s influence is needed. Every teacher leader’s reach is valuable. The moment you believe you own your profession and that you should lead your profession, step up, take action, and make your voice heard. Look toward your local association and connect with other leaders who have the same passions as you. I don’t know if I would call myself a leader had that potential not been recognized by my union friend. I might still feel isolated in my classroom. Or worse, I might have left the profession altogether.”

Drowning in a Sea of Expectations

As much as i love connected learning, it is extremely hard for me to wrap my head around how to implement it into my classroom. Maybe i’m just putting too much pressure on myself, maybe i’m putting the wrong kind of pressure on myself…to be honest, i’m not sure. What i do know is that i’m currently drowning. Drowning in a sea of my own expectations, the expectations of others, and the expectations that i have assigned to others. What i mean by that is that i feel i must meet expectations that others may not have directly said, but implied, a certain level of excellence, going above-and-beyond, etc. Although that last one has always been a problem for me, i’m always placing my expectations too high, too close to perfection, for any real sense of personal ability to remain in my mind. It’s not that i can’t meet these expectations, it’s just that it’s scary. It’s scary to fail. So in order to learn how to swim in this sea of myriad expectations, i am going to do two things. The first is to create a checklist/idea/reassurance list for every principle of connected learning. The second, is to continue to learn how to fail forward and to continue practicing a growth-mindset. As i’ve discussed the latter two topics in previous posts, i will focus on the first point here.

1. Interest-Powered

  • group same interests together
  • allow a variety of interests, or a variety of options within an interest
  • provide resources for students to develop expertise in a given interest
  • meet student’s in their territory and develop a personal interest in what student’s are interested in. – note that doesn’t mean you have to fake it –
  • In fact DON’T FAKE IT! student’s will know, express genuine interest in their lives and ask questions about what they find interesting so you can incoporate it into your classroom

2. Production Centered

  • Access to digital and physical production tools
  • remix, add on, grow others work – don’t necessarily have to create own from scratch
  • products are visible, tangible in some way – SHAREABLE
  • products don’t have to represent the content, but rather involve skills, ideas, themes, strategies, etc. learned in content are. Transferable skills
  • sharing products, give students an opportunity to show-off and feel pride in accomplishments

3. Peer-Supported

  • give opportunity for students to contribute expertise, ideas, and questions
  • give opportunity to share work – see above
  • opportunity to give feedback – online and digital
  • places to socialize and hang out – online and digital
  • give students a chance to collaborate, bounce ideas, and share
4. Shared Purpose
  • group students, give shared goals for groups or for class
  • accountability, students must help each other out to reach goal
  • everyone participates
  • cross-generational purpose as well as individual goals. Make it applicable
  • authority is given to students and teachers alike.

5. Academically-Oriented

  • connect interests/activities to academic/institutional domains
  • visible outputs
  • what is “academic” – what counts and to whom?
  • participation
  • skills gained, ideas thought, concepts attained

6. Openly-Networked

  • peer-peer contact in class and outside of class
  • groups are fluid and purposeful
  • multiple/easy ways to connect/coordinate
  • many ways to participate and succeed
  • share work, products, edits, comments, etc.

Meet The Expert

Antero Garcia is certainly an expert in many things, but his vast amount of knowledge on connected learning is absolutely fascinating. I wish that we had had more time to talk to Antero, his ideas are so useful and real. He has the experience, he has the knowledge, and he has the ability to translate it for those of use who are still learning how to teach. Antero’s ideas for incorporating student interest into the classroom through gaming and social media were very helpful. What i liked most about his ideas is how he focuses on bringing student interest into every aspect of the classroom. You can do this either by finding ways to make existing lessons/topics fit into activities or themes that are interesting to the kids, or by choosing themes/topics/activities that interest the kids and fitting those into your curriculum. One thing that Antero said that really stuck with me is that there is this false idea that fun and learning are two separate concepts, done at two separate times. You play a game, then you learn. Antero thinks that learning and fun are the same concept, learning is fun, therefore when teaching, it is our job as teachers to make sure that learning is fun.

I particularly liked Antero’s idea of using video gaming and games in general in the classroom. Whether it’s Minecraft, Dungeons and Dragons, alternate reality like Second Life, or other games, students will immediately become more interested and invested in the learning outcome. This is all part of Antero’s goal to meet students on their territory. Rather than inviting students or forcing them into your idea of what’s fun, meet the students in the middle or all the way on their side. To Antero, it’s all about connecting with students. And this means creating time for connecting in the classroom and out of the classroom. By using social media, online gaming, and other platforms, students can connect to each other and their work outside of the classroom. But just becuase students are “hooked up” doesn’t mean that face-face interaction isn’t extremely valuable, both for your students, and for yourself.

Most importantly Antero reminded me that the answers are not in the computer. Even Antero doesn’t have all the answers. The best thing you can do is to focus on and learn from your students. Googling “ways to connect with students” is much less effective than asking your own students what sorts of activities, ideas, and topics they would like to see in the classroom. Give your students a space where they feel comfortable, at home, and safe, that way when the learning gets hard, they have a home, a friend, and a mentor to turn to.



Bud Hunt

Bud Hunt

Bud Hunt is one of the authors of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. He is a rather enigmatic man, with rather enigmatic answers. Though to be fair there a better interview venues than twitter, his answers often leave me with more questions than i started. Though he wrote a section on open-networks in connected learning, he is particularly passionate about production-centered and interest-driven learning. When students are passionate about learning and have something to show for it, they are much more likely to become invested and interested in the work at hand. Bud Hunt is a rather simple man too, he does not seem so concerned with the resources at hand or the classic pathways of education, rather he seems to believe that with real connection, real passion, and real experiences, the learning, the love, and the education will all follow. What i really like about Bud Hunt is that at the core of it all, he’s not concerned with all the complications and red-tape of education, he drives to the core of what is really key about education, the students.

Interview with Bud Hunt – it’s a short interview as the interview was done over twitter and the answers are rather open to interpretation, but i like that. They make me think harder about why he answered the way he did and what sorts of ideas i can gain from his work.

Q: sarah bragg ‏@QueSeraSarah99

@budtheteacher which is more effective : creating open networks between the kids and the outside would or open networks within the school?

A: Bud Hunt ‏@budtheteacher

@QueSeraSarah99 If the networks are truly open, then what’s the difference?

Q: sarah bragg ‏@QueSeraSarah99

@budtheteacher without access to technology or the budget for it, how can you keep kids connected outside of the classroom?

A: Bud Hunt ‏@budtheteacher

@QueSeraSarah99 I don’t think you have to buy all the stuff for connections to happen. Love the one you’re with.

Q: sarah bragg ‏@QueSeraSarah99

@budtheteacher is it better /easier to bring experts /outside experiences into the classroom or to go to them?

A: Bud Hunt ‏@budtheteacher

@QueSeraSarah99 Depends on the experts and what they know that your students don’t.

Q: sarah bragg ‏@QueSeraSarah99

@budtheteacher which principle of connected leading speaks to you the most /which do you find most important or effective in the classroom?

A: Bud Hunt ‏@budtheteacher

.@QueSeraSarah99 I believe most in interest driven & production centered experiences. Be curious. Make stuff. Learning happens like that.

Literacy in the Classroom

A lot goes into being literate. And being literate can mean many things. One can be literate in English but illiterate in math. You can be literate in art but absolutely abysmal at science. Being literate is generally defined as being able to read, write, communicate, and understand content in a given subject area. However what is understanding? What counts as communication? What level of reading and writing do you have to be at? Unfortunately, these points are rather subjective. That’s why it is our job as teachers to provide our students with more than one kind of literacy and the skills to tackle literacy in any subject area.

By teaching cross-content lessons that incorporate vocabulary, concepts, and important figures or ideas from other content areas, kids will not only have a chance to work with these ideas and words before the pressure is really on, but they will  be expanding and building upon their ability to read and write and communicate in English. The same goes for students who are still learning English or who don’t speak it at all. By incorporating other elements besides English grammar and syntax into your lessons, students will be able to pick up skills and learn new vocabulary through lessons that are theoretically unrelated to the content of your classroom. If you teach an ESL student a grammar lesson through pictures, or a math student grammar through math sentences and structure, or an artist grammar through color, form, and shape, then students will be able to transfer those ideas to other content areas and lessons without having to go through the drudgery of classic grammar lessons.