April 6, 2009

Sleeping on the couch?

I've noticed that as I get more and more involved in collaborative communities I have more and more meaningful conversations.  Well whoop de doo and la de da!  But just hold on a second, they are more than just conversations - they are enthusiasm generators and shift initiators...meaning that they get me excited about learning and teaching, and force me to think about myself - what I believe, if I am being effective, etc...  This last part is HUGE!  If we do not evaluate ourselves, constantly questions ourselves, and have dialogue with ourselves, and othters...how are we going to improve?  And if you, as a teacher, don't think you need to improve allow me to let you in on a little secret...you're wrong.  

Of course we need to improve!  We're part of a system that strives for constant improvement.  This is what we pride ourselves on.  It's how we measure student success...and our own.  Anyways, nothing new...same old song and dance just sung from a different mouth and danced with a new pair of shoes.  What I do want to talk more about, and explore, is learning.  I've dropped the "I need to be perfectly prepared for every class" mentality and adopted the "where are the teachable moments" philosophy.  Let me explain.  Yes, I need to be prepared for class.  But I also need to be prepared to change and adapt.  Real learning takes place on the fly, in real time.  This is something I am coming to understand.  So, someone shows me something cool they are using in class (e.g. getting their students to blog), cool - looks good, I want to do that.  Now I have two options.  Old Nickell would go home and test the idea out, try to figure it out and set up expectations for how it should be used in class.  New Nickell goes straight to his class and has his students start blogging while he refills his coffee cup...just kidding, but seriously.  Okay, what I have started doing is I go straight to my class and share my enthusiasm with my students.  I show them blogger and all the cool things people are doing with it.  We talk about how we could use it in class, what skills it could build, what they would like to do with it...and then we do it.  This collaborative culture that we talk of...it's not just between teachers...but teachers and students.  And students provide an interesting perspective...they let you know what they would like to learn.  Anyways, learn and then do...or learning by doing...quite a concept.

Now I had planned to blog about something else.  I had planned to share a conversation that I had with my wife just a couple days ago.  She is an elementary teacher.  People sometimes say "that is great, but how do you ever escape work?"  Truthfully, why would we want to.  Learning is our passion.  So, back to our conversation.  We were talking about PLC's.  I told her that our staff had just started using exit questions in our staff meetings.  We had to create a question we had about PLC's and then research it, come back to the next meeting and talk about what we had found, and then revamp our question or create a new one - depending where our research had taken us.  Great idea...gives people the chance to do some learning on purpose (courtesy of Gary Ball).  Not only that, but we can answer a heck of a lot more questions as a group.  Now, I am not sure if people saw it as an opportunity to learn and share, or simply a homework assignment that needed doing.  Hopefully the first, why wouldn't you want to help create a collaborative environment?  

Anyway, as we were talking my wife raised an interesting point.  She said that it is sometimes more difficult (e.g. time consuming) for elementary teachers to research or discuss such issues. Let me explain, one: because I am not being clear and two: because I don't want to sleep on the couch tomorrow night.  Some of the conversations we have as teachers (e.g. how to create a collaborative culture, shifting our ways of thinking about education , etc..) are easily transferable into a high school classroom.  I can discuss these topics with students, and the difference between my classes and an elementary classroom is that we can have an in-depth conversation.  Such discussions are also right up my alley in terms of my teaching assignment (ELA and Social Studies).  Translation, it is not more work to engage in such topics...it is my work.  Now take an elementary teacher.  They spend most of their day reading literature designed for young people.  They deal with issues and topics in relation to little people.  We deal with issues and topics in relation to adults (we have many adult students at our school) or young adults.  I think you see where I'm going with this.

So this is what I was going to blog about.  This was going to be my topic of discussion.  But then...I came home...and my wife showed me what she was doing with class blogmeister, and a site called buildyourwildself.com.  And I got excited.  I said, cool, I want to do that...how can I use that in my class.  And guess what...tomorrow...well, you know the rest.  Then I showed her what one of our elementary teachers had done with class blogmeister (she came back super excited from a conference on Friday and boom,, she's doing it...yay her - learn and do!)  Then I showed her what I was doing with my classes and blogger.  Then we had fun looking on the internet at other cool programs.  Our discussion eventually lead to talking about autism, and FAS, and learning patterns.  The point - we had an in-depth conversation about learning...and it was a conversation that was directly related to our classes - even though she teaches elementary and I teach high school.  All we really need to do is find ways to connect and discuss topics in meaningful ways.  After all, we are all learners - and learning is a universal topic.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ryan,
    I get your point about collaboration working at the high school level, as well as engaging in deep conversations. I'm glad your wife is experimenting int he elementary. Too often we assumse little children's thoughts are simple. Not so. I've been challenged and enlightened by many of my Gr. 2 students comments and insights. Certainly young children have important life issues to deal with and are very capable of collaboration, providing they have the right kind of scaffolding to support it. Donna D. found this interesting site that encourages philosophical discussion in children based around picture books. I really like it. http://www.mtholyoke.edu/omc/kidsphil/stories.html
    JoAnne K