I can’t read one more viral, “I resign from teaching..” blog post. I get it. I really do. I understand we work in a broken system and need to raise awareness. I understand that the over-testing of America’s kids is beyond madness. I understand that society vilifies teachers and places the blame on schools for just about every issue that arises. I’ve worked in urban, rural suburban, and private school environments. And in every single one of these environments, I’ve seen things that need to go viral.
What needs to go viral?
The stories of kids filled with joy when they figure something out and it was hard and they worked at it.
The photos of students helping carry cans they collected for the local food pantry and the teacher who helped organize it.
The positive note you wrote to a colleague about what you saw them do for a child yesterday when no one else was watching.
The tale of love when you secretly paid a kids lunch bill so he could have a hot meal for lunch, because you might just the be only person who knows that it’s his only hot meal of the day.
The picture of the teacher who runs out on her 20 minutes of a lunch break to pick up extra supplies for a hands on science experience that she’s funding from her own pocket and the happiness on those kids’ faces when they use those materials.
The principal going down the slide on the playground, noticing a child without a coat, and secretly buying him one.
The art teacher hanging 500 paintings, with four pieces of rolled tape on each, because every kid needs to see that their work is valued.
The music teacher staying all weekend to paint the set for the school musical because he knows students’ grandparents will be there.
The reading teacher who lets kids whose minds work differently know that just because they think different, they are not less.
The Saturday mornings spent researching ideas online to make that science unit more fun.
The stories of teachers who do more with so much less, every single year because of their creativity, courage, and perseverance to make it work.
The comments written on each report card, with love in her heart, to make sure every single kid knows that she was happy to have him in her classroom.
Every teacher’s very best idea. Shared. Openly. Because together? We are all better.
As I read one more viral, “I resign from teaching,” post today, I get it. I really do. But it’s time for the voice of teachers to be louder than the broken system. There are moments of good that seep through the cracks in our schools and flood the halls with that soul-wrenching love that made us all love learning in the first place.
And if we share THAT with each other, we can make a difference for every single child. And we all know that would be worth it.
What if you wanted to turn your classroom into a makerspace tomorrow? What if you are thinking, that’s not in the budget? That’s not possible. But what if you could start small, make some little changes, and start turning kids loose? Unstandardize your space and watch them soar….
Here are few ideas:
Turn your desk into a conferencing center. You know how those ginormous teacher desks take up so much space and you rarely get a moment to sit at yours? Move it, put stools around it, make it a spot to meet with groups.
Put up blank bulletin board paper on the walls, let kids draw all over it and write questions. Cover the wall with their thoughts and ideas.
Whether you have desks or tables, change their heights. Make some low, some high. High enough to stand at? Low enough to sit on the floor. Take the legs off. Add some rugs or pillows on the floor to sit on.
Add some art supplies…. Start with cardboard, masking tape, fabric scraps, ribbon, buttons, needles, thread, batteries, LED lights, a variety of paper, or pipe cleaners. Send a letter to ask for “leftover craft materials’ from people in your community.
Don’t assume you need a 3d printer or a set of robots to create a makerspace. All you need for a makerspace is a place to provide kids the opportunity to make their own learning. It might be a pile of cardboard on a spare table, or it could be some paper, LED lights, and batteries to tinker with light up pop-up cards.
Put away half the devices. If you have one device for every student, try some learning with collaboration and set up projects in an authentic way where the device becomes a shared tool. Sometimes less really is more.
Tear down the pre-written rules and ask kids to write norms as a team. Build community. Set up situations where kids can rely on each other instead of just you.
There is so much in the world of education that is a “standard” right now. Don’t let your classroom fall into the trap. Your students will thank you for it… every single one of them.
If I could sing a parody, which trust me, you DO NOT want to hear, I’d rewrite Megan Trainor’s famous song “All About that Bass,” with the lyrics, “It’s not about the space… all learning.” It’s almost comical for me to say it’s not about the space, because truthfully, I’ve loved putting together every single learning space I’ve ever created. From watching the evolution of my classrooms when I taught fourth grade, until this year’s space, my goals have always been the same. Use the materials you have around you, buy as little standardized stuff as possible, create the space, and remix, redo, and revise to make the space work for learners.
1.) It’s about the collaboration. Does the space support it? Are there places to gather, to meet, to lean over tables together working to build, create, design, and discuss?
2.) It’s about choice for comfort. Are there 30 identical seats? Or are there choices? Are there big tables, small tables, carpet squares, high stools, low stools, places to stand? Are there choices in where, how, and even if to sit?
3.) It’s about the meaning in the mess. Your room is going to be a mess. Let that go, now. There’s going to be stuff everywhere, because learning is so far from the linear process we’ve tried to make it in education, that we’ve got to get back to the materials, hands on experiences, and mess where the beauty of it all hides.
4.) It’s about the joyful calm of kids in control of their learning. This one is hard to explain. But when you find it, you’ll know. It’s that moment when, as a teacher, you’re not telling anyone what to do or how to do it. You look around and you realize that full-on engagement is taking place and you could leave the room and the kids wouldn’t even notice. Of course, you don’t leave the room, you roam and stoke the fires.
5.) It’s about the creativity. Space inspires creativity. Look at Google’s offices. Kids need to reminders that school is ABOUT creativity. School is about developing your passions, your style, your learning, your way, with support. Moving away from standardized walls, doors, halls, and spaces means moving toward different. Unique finds a place in spaces like this.
Sure, the space is fun to put together, but it’s about so much more. Beyond the splashes of color, deeper than the bins of materials. past the matching lamps is a place where happy chaos meets busy minds. A place where the joy of finding your own passion makes your heart beat louder than the sound of all-day direct instruction. It’s a place called learning, and it’s the most important space there is. The space supports it, ignites it, and gives it the oxygen to burn. But the flame? It comes from the space between the ears of the learners who walk through the door and the hearts that beat within them all.
This past week our learning space transformation was revealed and The Launch Pad is open for business. My fingers are still stinging from the glue gun burns and fingernails stained with enamel spray paint, but the ribbon was cut and the door was open for our teachers and students. As kids were coming in, seeing the room for the first time after months of anticipation, I got to watch their eyes light up, again and again. And that? It’s what learning should be. Shouldn’t we blow kids minds sometimes (or as Kevin Jarrett said… often?), and then give them opportunities to blow our minds, too? Of course we should.
I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life for this classroom. It’s a cross between the classroom I dreamed of having when I was an 8 year old buried in a pile of worksheets, and the classroom based on awesome planning and learning from the team of innovative colleagues I’m surrounded by daily. People who push me, inspire me, support me, and who remind me what matters.
The days, weeks, and months ahead will be filled with challenges, rethinking, integrating, transforming, making, creating, and most of all…. learning. It’s exciting to think about all that lies ahead.
On the giant Apple Watch hanging on the wall is a quote by Steve Jobs that reads, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” The kind of work that drives you to reach into your soul, wakes you up in the middle of the night with ideas you have to write down, and pushes your thinking until your brain hurts in the best way possible. Work where creativity is not only invited, but innovation is expected. Work that will be messy, and difficult, and hard. And it’s that very thing that makes it awesome and totally worth it.
I don’t like the term “personalized learning.” It’s redundant. Learning IS personal. We know that the best classrooms are built around relationships. We know that healthy environments for great learning are those where teams function like a healthy family. So, why is it that we separate learning?
Let’s empower learners. It’s not “here’s a pile of devices, use this app.” It’s check this out.
Learners need time to play, tinker, organically grow their own ideas. They don’t need a guide to follow, unless they do, then allow them to. Their needs, desires, and style. But also their creating. Solving. Developing grit, resilience, and experiencing the highs and lows of the roller coaster of learning.
You probably assumed by “learner” I was talking about kids. Read this again and think of teachers. Teachers ARE learners. We say it out loud, but I’m not sure we provide that type of professional development. It can’t come from a bulleted slide, it can only come from personal relationships.
Time, energy, and space. Small group, large group. Online course. Offline meeting. One on one. Informal. Formal. Inspiring keynote. Quiet reflection. Blogpost. Mentor. Modeling. Sharing. Collaborating. Risk-taking. That’s all learning.
And we offer bulleted slides or step by step demonstration 99% of the time. Slides that aren’t even personal.
I like to share. I love to learn. Creating stuff is one of my basic needs in life. Sharpie hoarder. Pen collector. Wife. Mom. Innovator. Educator. Dog lover. Dreamer. Blogging just so my head doesn't explode.
The Launch Pad Virtual Tour
Currently an Innovation Coordinator at The Kinkaid School. I get to play, innovate, and support teachers and kids in learning. Know that saying, "Do what you love"? Yep.