Saturday, November 15, 2014

Hey You! Go Make Some Change Happen!

What are you waiting for?

I mean you. You, Kindergarten teacher who's got your hands full with five-year-old needs and their sweet charms. You, elementary P.E. teacher whose jump-ropes keep going missing. You, eighth-grade science teacher who's got a love for biology you want so much to transmit.

You've all got wants, needs, and complaints about how things are. Maybe you dislike your schedule. Maybe your administrator is unresponsive. Maybe you oppose testing. Maybe you want to promote positivity amongst your staff but you don't know how.

Guess what? None of these challenges are going away by themselves. NONE OF THEM. Just like in your real life (the other, non-teaching one) there are parameters but mostly your happiness is up to you. You have to make the changes you wish to see in the world.


I take my own advice to heart. I've been super inspired this year to do some of this in my own world (the teaching one). Let me share. First of all, I've been tweeting into the Breakfast Club daily twitter chat; it meets at 5:30 am and the hashtag is #BFC530 if you are so inclined to join. It gets me going EVERY MORNING.

One of the ideas I got during #BFC530 one day was to create a shout-out board. I made it with a twitter theme - here's a pic after just a few hours. Two weeks later, the board was filled with shout-outs.

First tweet ever in Salish? 

Another idea I conceived was the Reservation Ambassadors club, a club dedicated to building relationships with off-reservation schools in order to dispel misconceptions and stereotypes. The first meeting of this club drew 25% of the high school population. We quickly got moving to make connections with teachers and their classes. The photos below show our kids in action, working with these schools from different areas. We've based our work on shared videos and texts. When we can't get to a school due to distance, we skype!
Our master planning board!

Skyping with New Trier school in Chicago

Working directly with 6th graders at Target Range Elementary in Missoula

Guess what? I hate useless furniture and wasted classroom space! A long-time desire of mine to change my classroom is finally coming to fruition as I commission the shop class to demolish my counter (made possible by removal of desktop computers, made possible by adoption of chromebooks by the district). Moved the whiteboards, painted the wall, putting up bulletin boards...oh yeah! It's a work in progress. My final move will be to replace the desks with round tables, lamps and power strips.
Before, during, and ... after is coming!

I'm also not satisfied with my certifications. I want to be the BEST teacher I can be! So I've embarked on the journey to National Board Certification, which everyone says has made them more reflective and purposeful. I'm relying on my NBCT colleagues to push me along.

I can't do any of this alone - notice how all of the above require support from others? Yep, I try to remember that at all times. However, nobody but me initiated any of this. That's because I have the desire to do it...and who knows what else I'll decide to change in the coming years?

So: take some time right now to think about one thing you want to change. One thing you can change. One way to make your life better. One way to improve your world... and go do it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bringing It Back Home

We teachers love to attend good conferences. We swap ideas, weigh down our suitcases with free stuff from the vendors, and let's be honest: it's all about the local food. We get to say to our colleagues for years afterward, "Isn't this a cool lesson? I learned it at that conference in Philly!"

I just attended a conference in New Orleans without teaching workshops. Without vendors. Without poster presentations. And this was the most inspiring conference I've ever attended.There was singing and dancing at this conference - yes, I participated. There was a parade - yes, I participated. There were problem-solving, colleague circles, cage-busting, high-fives and shout-outs. Yes, I participated!  I did not want it to end. I looked for my colleagues on the plane. I sought them out on twitter with our hashtag (#ecet2nola). I've continued to interact with them since via facebook and voxer.

So here it is: ECET2 New Orleans. ECET2 stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers and the entire convening - that's what we call it, not a conference - was wholly focused on this task. Funded by the Gates Foundation, it elevated and celebrated our work every day. The staff and organizers did this. Dr. Irvin Scott, the Deputy Director for Effective Teaching, did this with daily calls to convene (and sing, and dance!) The attendees picked that ball right up and did it when we supported each other through colleague circles.

Sound hokey? Yeah, in the way an old-fashioned revival is hokey. Yeah, in the way a wedding is hokey. Yeah, in the way meeting the President is hokey. Not hokey! One hundred percent genuine, and you don't hear me gush like this often. ECET2 got it right, folks.

Here's a video about the convening, made during the convening.

Now why did I get to attend this incredible weekend in New Orleans? I was lucky enough to be selected as a keynote speaker for the "Cultivating a Calling" series. All the speakers in this series are teachers sharing our stories on stage. We rehearsed and supported each other throughout the weekend. Our stories are here: Anthony MarshallDwight DavisMatthew Keefauver, and me.

Let's break this down. What do the ECET2 people want? Why did Gates pay for all these educators to travel and attend and eat at this conference? Because here it is: They want teachers like us to bring it back home. They believe that elevating and celebrating effective teaching and teachers will promote positive problem-solving, professionalism, and improved opportunities and outcomes for students. Because as every educator knows, a school's culture can have an enormous impact on all of those elements, which in turn affect student achievement. If educators do not promote and participate in this kind of positive, uplifting behavior, we will be impaired in our efforts to teach students effectively. That's the bottom line.

So what happens next? What happens is I keep in touch with my #ECET2 pals. I help plan a Western Montana ECET2 convening. I get the sound system ready. I invite teachers to speak. I practice my shout out voice. Because that's what we do: we lift each other up, we celebrate our successes, and we plan for more.

And for the record, it really is all about the food, y'all.