In January 2010, I attended EDUCAUSE Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in Baltimore, MD. One session in particular, I Am Change inspired me to want more change in my graduate level courses. Being an ambassador for young adolescents and teaching exclusively at the middle school level since my teaching career began in 1993, I’ve always been all about change. That’s what middle school teachers do. We change, evolve and transform to better understand and meet the developmental needs of young adolescents.
I quickly started editing and deleting my syllabus. I was inspired to have my students take more of a leadership role in their own learning. On the first day of class, I presented my new idea and it was received with a lot of, “You want us to do what?” The first few weeks were rocky. One student commented, “I have to admit that the first day of class was terrifying for me. I am a type-A personality. I love deadlines, to-do lists, and due dates. In my learning experience in college and high school, a syllabus was made to be followed and that is what happened. Not in this course. I have to admit that I did not really reference the syllabus after the first few weeks of class because I knew what needed to be done.”
With change a level of trust must be established. I focus on the process not the final product and this can be very intimidating for the first time. I ask my students to “get comfortable with the uncomfortable” because this is where true learning happens. I encourage, applaud and celebrate risk takers. I ask my students to “own” their learning and drive the direction of the course and the assignments. With some hesitation students will ask, “Can I do this for that assignment?” And I always respond, “If it works for you, it works for me.”
I can’t imagine teaching any other way. My question to you now is how do see yourself as an agent of change? How do you model taking risks and embracing change? What can you do to encourage your students to become change agents? And how is this all connected with 21st century skills and learning?
Here’s my presentation from #tec11 session today, I Am Change.
I love that my graduate students have challenged, tackled and addressed controversial issues this semester. Our focus on digital citizenship has addressed issues of intolerance week after week. I find myself challenging my beliefs and asking questions that I never even thought of when I first started teaching.
My transformation started this fall when the freshmen from Rutgers, Tyler Clementi took his own life. I took it personally. I did not know Tyler, but his suicide made me determined to focus on a solution. Tyler Clementi could be my son, your son. He was a brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, friend, neighbor, and most importantly, a human being. This perspective launched me into uncharted territory. I am the mother of a son. What if this was my son? What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? How can I make a difference?
The world responded and It Gets Better Project had people across the world stepping up and pledging to speak up against intolerance. Celebrities posted their own stories and words of encouragement. As our semester is coming to a close, I’m still concerned that I haven’t done enough. Why do children and teens have to wait for it to get better? Why can’t we make it better now?
Recently, the controversy around the J.Crew designer and her five year old son wearing neon pink nail polish hit the news. Everyone seemed to have an opinion. It made me dig deep. My four year old is all about dinosaurs, but what would I do if he was interested in tiaras? I kept coming back to the same questions: why would it matter? Children need the opportunity to play and explore different roles – that’s what growing up is all about. In middle school, adolescents try on new personas daily. We support young adolescents as they figure out who they are socially, emotionally, physically, intellectual and morally. Why are we not doing this in all phases of a child’s development? What do we need to do as a society to change how we view others and accept individual differences? Doesn’t everyone want to celebrate what makes us unique? I certainly do! I’m not waiting, I pledge to make a difference now.
I participated in my first #edchat this week. It was hard to keep up, but I thoroughly enjoyed being part of the conversation which focused on how we provide effective and meaningful feedback to students. To me, it starts and ends with creating relationships and building trust. Without them feedback is meaningless, so is learning. Anyway you look at it, it’s a two-way street and we are responsible for modeling what it means to build positive relationships in our classrooms and schools. Thanks to Twitter and @stumpteacher for sharing this must-see YouTube: The MHS LIP DUB: FIREWORK. This is exactly the type of culture we need to develop in our schools.
One of my #edchat posts says it all. It confirms my belief for building and sustaining relationships with our students: “do you recognize my efforts, do u notice my attempts, do u respect me? do you appreciate my gifts & talents & celebrate them?” If we can do this in our classrooms and schools we can create a culture and climate that resembles what Magnolia High School demonstrated in their school video: a school that recognizes and appreciates the individual gifts and talents of each and every student. When this happens providing effective and meaningful feedback will become a two-way street.
Make it a point to see me. Recognize me. Appreciate me. Celebrate me. I’ll be willing to go the extra mile for you if you do!