Monday, September 16, 2013

Shadows and Shifts

At our summer leadership meeting, our superintendent, Dr. Spence, challenged all of the leaders within the county to shadow a student for a day.  To see the classroom world through their eyes.  To reflect on the experience of being a student in Moore County Schools.  He provided us all a journal titled "What's Your Shift?" to jot these notes down (of course, I cheated and used my iPad...).

I thought it was an excellent idea and finally, my day to shadow a student came today!  I was truly excited to be able to go back and spend time with one of my favorite age groups - 7-9 year olds.  So I headed out to Westmoore Elementary to spend time with Ms. Tapia, a fun 3rd grade teacher, and in particular, a student named Makayla.  Also- as an added bonus, it was wacky tacky day (if only I had known...but then again, I'm fairly tacky most every day).  I thoroughly enjoyed my time connecting with the kids and received one of the best compliments I've ever gotten; I had brought Makayla and a few other students to the media center to spend money at the book fair and on the way out a staff member said to me "You must have been an elementary teacher before."  Yes, absolutely.  100% proud of that.  #elementaryforlife

Book Fair Buddies

Reflecting on my day, I saw things that were similar to how I would have taught, things that were different, and many things to ponder.  The main things that my mind kept going back to were "If I were full-time in the classroom again, what would I do differently?  How would I improve?"  In the essence of keeping this short and sweet, I'll dive into two main things my brain swirled around.

Engagement + Accountability for ALL

The first thing I would improve is hitting the sweet spot of engagement and accountability for ALL students at all times.  Stepping out of the classroom has allowed me to see the forest from the trees- how have lessons I have worked through in the past missed students?  Were they able to hide?  (yes)  Were students able to look busy and do the minimum?  (yes)  I think it's critically important as educators to think deeply about each child, at each moment, in each lesson.  Is the material accessible to every student?  Is it FUN?  Does it get them moving/doing/creating?  Are they all able to show their knowledge?  Are they held accountable?

Accountability.  Now there's a word that has been co-opted for nefarious purposes in the last decade plus.  It has come to be associated with high stakes testing, holding students/teachers/schools accountable.  Calling them to task.  But that's not the lens I view this word through.  I view it as a responsibility for every educator to make sure students are held accountable to each other, to their teacher, to themselves. When we ask students to work on something, they need to be accountable to show what they know.  To me, the best accountability is the opposite of the high stakes testing kind- it's quick, it's easy, it's personal, it's embedded in everything we do.  It's an expectation that is followed through to the end, rechecked, then chased down again.  And all of this should happen in a caring environment based around mutual respect.

So, getting every student engaged + holding them accountable is where it's at.

How will a flood of technology fundamentally shift the classroom experience?

I was struck as I was sitting within this classroom of just how big a shift is about to happen within Moore County Schools.  We are headlong into making digital learning an every day environment for our students.  We have already rolled out many devices and will be going 1:1 in 7 of our schools this spring, affecting over 3500 students and their teachers.  Westmoore Elementary (grades 6-8) is one of those schools.

Seeing all of the work that is (somewhat necessarily) paper based got me thinking- when every student has a device / computer, there is so much that can be done in more meaningful ways.  For example, today students did some journaling around a really interesting, personal prompt ("Describe someone you know that has a really important job").  The kids did well with this, but instead of notebooks, in the future these entries could be done in Google Docs.  They could become collaborative journals instead of quiet writing time.  Students could easily share and comment on each other's work.  Teachers could highlight entries, showcase to the class.  Kids could enrich their entries with multimedia to show their points more clearly.

But the bigger issue in my work ahead is- how can our digital learning team best help prepare our teachers in MCS for this capitol B Bigtime shift?  It's coming, and it's our task to prepare our teachers and students to be as successful as possible in making meaningful use of digital tools.

So those were my main takeaways today. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to spending more time with kids!!!