Releasing Expectations

I really had to live out my word for the year, Release, this spring as I was sick for 6 of the 12 weeks of the term. Many of my goals (such as blogging at least every two weeks) went out the window because I was just trying to get through each day completing only the most crucial tasks. I had to make choices between family and school work, my part-time job and housework. It was a very difficult term on many levels, but as I reflect on it, I did learn quite a few things:

  1. Course work is not the most important thing in my life. My family is.
  2. I still learned many things in my class despite not being able to give my best, healthy me, effort.
  3. Sometimes you just have to get by, and that is okay. Give yourself grace, lower your expectations for yourself in those seasons.
  4. Have more grace for others, they may be going through a rough spell.

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Innovator’s Mindset Reflection (Week 2)

Critical Questions for Educators

  1. Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?
  2. What is best for this student?
  3. What is this student’s passion?
  4. What are some ways we can create a true learning community?
  5. How did this work for our students?

(from The Innovator’s Mindset written by George Couros.)

These questions are essential to understanding our learners because they requires us, as educators, to put the focus on the learners and reflect on our practices and the community we are building. When we ask these questions we are looking at the unique needs of our individual learners as well as our response to those needs and requires us to assess whether or not we are meeting those needs.

 

If I would add a question to this list, it would be, “What is the next step I can take to improve the learning experience for my students?” I chose “next step” because I want a specific and actionable task that I can implement right away. Otherwise, I might have lots of great complicated ideas that require significant change, but those are less likely to realistically occur because of the effort required to make those changes.

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People with The Innovator’s Mindset are empathetic, problem finders/solvers, risk takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective. I do see myself as having many of these characteristics. Six years ago, I saw a need in the local homeschooling community that I am a part of and began a homeschooling collaborative that has met weekly during the school year since that time. I took a risk and created something new. We began with 12 families and 30 children and have since grown to 23 families and 62 students. There have been challenges and setbacks along the way, but I have pushed forward through those difficulties. In order to see this group flourish and grow, I have had to be reflective along the way, seeing problems and finding solutions before they turned into bigger issues. These qualities will help me to continue to be an innovator as I transition from being a home educator to becoming a certified teacher.

Image credit: Sketch note by Sylvia Duckworth, content by George Couros, Innovator’s Mindset author.

Change Is An Opportunity

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”

I am fully embracing this statement in my current season of life. Having been home educating my children for the past 15 years and with my youngest graduating next year, I am looking towards the “what next?”.  Acquiring my teacher certification is allowing me to explore many options in the field of education and helping me think about what is the next amazing thing I am going to step out and do. I am reading about innovation, observing as many classrooms as possible, and trying new ideas in my field placement. Working in an arts based charter school has given me a unique look at one way to “do” education a little differently than the usual public school. I have also been involved teaching at a self-directed learning center, which is another very different model of for learning, more in line with the way that we homeschooled our children.

I am excited about the changes in my future that will be driven by what I think the purpose of education is. I believe that education should help students find what sets their soul on fire and give them the tools to pursue those passions. Education should be a hands-on, growth filled experience that is tailored to the uniqueness of each student. Risk should be encouraged and failure applauded as a step to growing in knowledge and wisdom. Another key piece to education is not only learning how to use our gifts and talents to make the world a better place, but gaining the confidence to actually step out and impact our communities for good.

Because our world is changing rapidly, we must embrace innovation. We will fail our students if we continue to do what we have always been doing. I look forward to discovering what my next step is, both for next week and for the years to come.

(Thanks to #IMMOOC and #InnovatorsMindset for spurring this blog post. I am so excited to learn with you all!)

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Work vs. Play

I’ve been reflecting on the need for balance this weekend. One of the books I am currently reading, Cultivate by Lara Casey, is challenging me to look at my life and purposefully choose an area to cultivate. In mulling this over I have realized that the balance in my life between work and play is off kilter. I don’t allow myself to rest or do something just for fun very often. Instead, I tend to work, work, work and work some more. I like my “to do” list and the satisfaction of crossing things off it and getting things done. Sadly, how I see myself is often affected by whether or not I have been productive, efficient, and effective.

 

Last term I had a class that was VERY demanding. It stretched me in so many ways. I thrived in that class. I learned and grew and got much better at seeing progress in the imperfect. This term I have an extremely easy class with very little demands outside of the hours I put in at my field placement. Most of what I am learning this term I am learning by doing, and I AM learning. But it feels so weird not to be constantly pushing and straining. I am struggling to allow myself to breathe. Sure, it has been great finally getting to a few projects around the house, creating a blog for my side business of teaching art to homeschool students, and actually spending an entire weekend with my family, but still I am wrestling with a feeling of not doing enough. I am working on letting go of the side of me that gets too focused on things that are task oriented and cultivate the restful, playful side.

 

This balance is necessary in classrooms as well. Learners should have times where they are pushing, stretching and growing but in order to be whole beings, they also need time to rest, be creative, and have fun. I want to be purposeful in developing an atmosphere for learning that encourages students to work hard and do their best AND also allows students to have time to kick back a bit and work on projects or activities that are lower stress. Students should have time to explore a variety of activities and find out what they enjoy, what are they passionate about. When they do find that passion, they should be given time to invest in that subject. To dig deep and set goals and fail and then try a different approach, with time to breathe in between.

 

I would be interested to hear how you create this balance both in your own life, and in your classroom.

 

Thanks for reading,

Heidi

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Open Education: Be the Change

Yesterday increased my passion for open education.

 

Having just taken a course that incorporated many tenants of open education, including open educational resources and open pedagogy, I was already sold on it. This course had been the best course I had taken BY FAR. I loved learning in the open, increasing my personal learning network on Twitter, interacting with students and faculty on Granite State College’s facebook page, and blogging about my learning experiences. During this course the way I thought about learning and my coursework changed. I went from a student who was very focused on getting assignments right and getting A’s to one who desired to take risks, learn new things, and see growth in myself. Working on projects that were meaningful and would benefit others was so much better than writing another paper that only the course instructor would see meant I put so much more time and energy into them. This translated in higher level thinking and an exponential increase in learning.

 

So while I had a great experience with open education, I’m not sure how much effort I would have put in to advocating for it. And then I went to the conference yesterday. From the fascinating keynote speaker, Bryan Alexander to the creation of our own advocacy plans at the end of the day, I saw more and more reasons why we should put time and energy into this growing movement.

 

I was on the student panel, sharing my experience with open education and yet I was inspired by hearing the other students talk about their experiences with open education. They were all so articulate and passionate about how much their learning benefited from open ed. It was extremely sad, and yet incredibly motivating, to listen to one of the students talk about how she had to sell her car in order to buy textbooks her first year of college. Other students shared how they used free Open Educational Resources (OERs) and how much that helped them. I loved the variety of disciplines that were represented by the students from biology, to interdisciplinary studies, to education, it was clear that open education can benefit so many students.

 

The response to the student panel was encouraging. The faculty and staff at the conference communicated how vital it was to hear from the students and how much they valued our contributions. Hearing our stories seemed to give them a shot of motivation to put the effort into advancing open education, it certainly did that for me.

 

Today, going back to traditional coursework and writing another 3 page paper summarizing my readings for the week that only my instructor will read was challenging. But I will persist where I am and be hopeful for the future of education- that more and more open pedagogy will be infused into the learning experience and make a huge impact on the level and quality of learning for our students.

 

As an educator myself, I am now determined to be part of that change.

 

A special thanks to Carolyn Cormier who was my amazing instructor last term, and who has encouraged me tirelessly. 

(Open Education: Be the Change was put on by the Academic Technology Institute at University Systems of New Hampshire)

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Learning in the Open

This term my course has required me to learn in the open. We were asked to create Twitter and professional Facebook accounts and use them to share resources and ideas. We also set up a blog (this one!) and reflected on our learning. Our final project involved creating a resource that targeted a specific audience related to digital leadership.

The biggest benefit that I see to learning in the open is that the knowledge and skills I have gained are already being integrated into real world applications. As I have been learning, I have been using the skills in a way that I will continue to use after the course is completed.

One example of this has been the addition of Twitter to my personal development. Some of the course assignments required posting to Twitter and one involved participating in a Twitter chat. Because of my participation in that chat, I not only gained valuable information and ideas, but began to build my personal learning network (PLN) with individuals who are like minded and will spur me on to continue to grow and become a better educator. I will carry on using Twitter after this course is completed because I have seen the rewards of investing my time on this platform. I have been made aware of several great books, read dozens of articles that relate to my interests and passions, and have been encouraged on a consistent basis to grow and improve.

The second best piece of learning in the open for me is that the assignments I completed had a purpose and an audience. Instead of just working towards a grade, I have wanted to invest time and energy because I knew that my efforts would make a difference in the lives of others. From a large project that will be a open resource for the public, to my posts on Facebook, I was writing for more than myself. Even if I was just sharing what I learned the past week, I had the potential to encourage other students. If I had just been writing to earn a grade, it would not have been as meaningful.

Learning in the open is so much more meaningful than the traditional classroom methods. I am thankful that instead of producing documents that only the instructor or other students will see, I have been able to have a wider audience and the potential to positively influence others.

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The Power of Reflecting in the Open

Reflecting Pool Opal Creek StreamI can experience paralysis by analysis. I spend far too much time going over and over things that I have done or conversations I have had. I tend to overthink and strive for perfection too often. That said, I have found that by reflecting on my blog and in the open has been a positive tool for growth for me.

 

Writing for an audience does several helpful things for me.

 

First, it helps me to think in a focused manner. I am analyzing my lesson or what I am learning looking for how to grow in a specific area instead of just worrying about what I didn’t do well or an overall sense of needing to do better.

 

Second, it helps me to organize my thoughts on paper. In my head, I tend to flit from thought to thought in a random manner. When I sit to write a blog I make notes and think through how best to communicate. This helps my reflection to have meaning, because I am working towards a purposeful goal.

 

Lastly, when I write a blog I want the tone to be positive and the reader to be encouraged. I don’t always treat myself that nicely in my thoughts. I can get stuck in the negative and discouraging. When I know that I have an audience, it helps shift my thinking to sharing positive thoughts or being encouraging to others.

 

I also think that having the time set aside every week to write a reflective blog post helps me to spend less time overthinking at other times. I often try to think about what my blog post will be in advance and this helps my thoughts to be growth oriented instead of being random and purposeless.

Growth

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At the beginning of the year I always pray about a word to focus on for the coming year. This year the word was GROWTH. I started my teacher certification program in January, so it seemed fitting. I had seen a great video on growth through adversity by Rabbi Abraham Twerski about how lobsters grow that had really stuck with me. Twerski asserts that “The stimulus for the lobsters to grow is that it feels uncomfortable.” My favorite lines is “We have to recognize that times of stress are also times that are signals for growth and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.” You can watch the full video here:

I have been feeling the uncomfortable for a while now, but am finally feeling like I am shedding the old, hard shell and seeing real growth. It has not been easy, but it has been worth it.

I think the biggest take away from all this for myself is this:

How you look at adversity affects whether your are paralyzed or whether you pursue growth despite the difficulty.

I am also learning to allow my students to be uncomfortable, to stretch themselves and to encourage them to have a good perspective through it. This week I almost changed my lesson plan based on the way the previous lesson had gone. I was thinking that they higher level thinking I was asking for was more than I could expect from these students. My classroom teacher encouraged me to go for it and see what the students could do. I am glad that I did because the result is a fantastic padlet where each student shared their thoughts on the why slavery began in Colonial America and what we can learn from this terrible piece of our nation’s history. The students loved being able to all post notes at the same time and see what they others were writing. (There were a few repeated lines, but overall they did write original thoughts.) I am very pleased at what they were able to accomplish.

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