This week, the #YourEdustory blogging challenge topic is “PLN Appreciation Week.” Educators all over the world are being encouraged to say "Thanks" to a member (or members) of their Professional Learning Network (PLN) for inspiring, encouraging, and helping make them better at what they do.
I want to thank Tim and Scott Bedley. These two gentlemen exemplify “out-of-the-box” thinking, their practice encouraging me to challenge limits and conventions to reach students. Both have been Teacher of the Year for their counties, and for good reason. In addition to being outstanding classroom teachers, they host their own education talk show/podcast, The Bedley Brothers Ed Chat, where they discuss cutting edge topics with leaders in the field such as John Hattie, Alfie Kohn, Susan Cain, Alice Keeler, Jon Corippo, and Adam Bellow. You can watch their broadcasts on YouTube or listen on PodOmatic.
I had to privilege of visiting Tim’s classroom and seeing him in action, and what I observed was incredible. The learning environment he provides for his students defies convention. See, his classroom has no desks. That’s right, students don’t sit at desks. Instead, couches and camp chairs occupy the floorspace, and all four walls are lined with whiteboards. Students engage in what Tim calls Gallery Learning, spending much of the day working on the whiteboards surrounding the room, displaying their work for classmates and Tim to see. Students are able to rotate around the perimeter of the room and see each other’s work and offer feedback on things such as problem solving methods and descriptive writing. And due to the increased visibility of his students’ work, Tim is able to easily assess their progress and provide support and challenges when necessary. It’s 360° of learning, and it’s awesome!
Using Mystery Skype and Google Apps, Scott breaks down the walls of his classroom altogether. Many teachers use the peer editing technique. Scott takes it a step further. Scott has implemented cross-age peer editing -- with students at different schools! A few years ago, Scott shared at the annual CUE Conference how he, Bill Selak, and Sean Ziebarth used the “Share” feature of Google Docs to have 2nd graders, 5th graders, and juniors in high school provide feedback on each other’s writing. Imagine this -- 2nd grade students sharing their writing, via Google Docs, with 5th grade students who provide feedback through comments within the docs. Then the 5th graders share their Google Docs with 11th graders who are able to point out the positives and offer suggestions for improvement. Talk about authentic learning! 2nd graders receiving encouragement from "big" 5th graders, and those same 5th graders getting feedback from high schoolers! Awesome!
In addition to inspiring me with ways to take classroom learning to new heights, I want to thank these two gentlemen for how they stretched me during last year’s CUE Conference, where I had the privilege of co-presenting a session on digital storytelling with Tim and Scott. As we were planning our session via a conference call, one of the guys had an idea.
“We should give out the link to our slides and ask attendees to hijack the slide deck before we start our presentation. Make it interactive. Let them contribute!”
The other instantly responded, “Yes! I love it! That’s a great idea!”
How did I respond? Confession time. I had one of those moments of internal disequilibrium. It didn’t feel comfortable, because it was out of the box. It wasn’t what a session was “supposed to be like.” I started to sweat. What if we did this and it bombed? What would people think? But then I thought of the other possibility -- What if it’s a home run?
“Cool!” I said. “Let’s do it.” See, Tim and Scott are risk takers, and in that moment they stretched me to take a risk with them. Did it pay off? Was the idea a flop or a home run? Well, based on the feedback we received during the session and from the tweets below, it was a huge success.
Thank you, Tim and Scott, for pushing me to think outside the box, to try new things, to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of students and become a better leader. But more importantly, as great as you are as educators, thank you for being even better people. I am blessed to call you both friends.
I love Post-It notes. When I was in the classroom, my students and I used them all the time. I utilized them to keep myself organized, reminders and checklists constantly stuck on my desk, notebooks, and teaching manuals. Each of my students had his/her own pad of Post-Its they used for a variety of purposes -- note-taking, making graphs in math, even classroom currency paychecks. They were everywhere in my classroom, and you’ll find them all over my office today. Post-Its are awesome! But the other day I was reminded just how powerful a Post-It note can be.
Thanks to a bond measure that was passed by our community, all the schools in my district are receiving educational technology upgrades, and my site is scheduled to have new audio/visual systems installed in a few days. Our staff is very excited! The other day I was in a classroom showing a teacher where the new equipment was going to be installed in her room. As we were standing by her computer, I glanced down and happened to notice a Post-It note the teacher had stuck to the bottom of her monitor. On it were the words “Thanks for everything you do!” The handwriting on the note looked familiar and for good reason -- I had written the note.
I remember writing it, but to be honest, I don’t remember exactly when. What I do know is that I wrote it some time ago. Yet there it was, stuck to her monitor, offering her encouragement every time she sits down at her computer.
In that moment I was reminded of the long-lasting impact words of encouragement can have. Five words, written on a sticky note. That’s it. Not a five-paragraph essay, not a formal letter of recommendation. A Post-It note. Yet it must have been meaningful because it didn’t get tossed in the trash. It instead occupies valuable real estate on her desk.
Years and years ago I took an unused purple file folder and labeled it “Thank You.” Each time I’ve received a nice note from a student, parent, or administrator, I’ve dropped it in my “Thank You” file. Periodically I pull the file out and glance at some of the notes inside, usually when things are incredibly stressful and I’m in need of a little encouragement. Most of the notes I’ve saved aren’t long. Many are tiny scraps of paper with only a few words on them. But they meant enough to me that I’ve saved them for all these years, and they’ve lifted my spirits time and time again.
Seeing that Post-It note on my teacher’s monitor reminded me that I need to write notes like that more often. So often I think how appreciative I am of those around me, and I try to be very deliberate in expressing my appreciation verbally. That’s great, but putting those words of affirmation in writing takes it to another level. A note is tangible. A note can be saved and read again and again and again, for years.
If you’re a teacher, I encourage you to write notes like this to your students. Choose a couple students a day and write a short note of encouragement on a Post-It and put it on their desk, notebook, cubby, etc. If you’re an administrator, take a moment to write notes like this to your staff. It’ll make a difference, I promise. And who knows? You may find your note stuck to a computer monitor some day down the road. :)
Can Christopher Walken teach us a lesson about education? I think so. Check out his performance in this Super Bowl ad from Kia to see what I mean.
In addition to being very clever, this commercial caused me to ask these reflective questions:
Am I a teacher or administrator who always wears beige socks? Not literally of course, but do I spend each day doing the same thing, never stepping out of the box to give my students learning opportunities they’ll remember?
There are times, yes, when beige socks are OK. But am I content to blend in, to never try something new? Am I walking through my career like a pair of beige socks, not standing out and being remembered by my students? Are my students uninspired and bored by my “beige socks?”
Or am I a teacher/administrator who is exciting, who expects more, who has pizazz? Like the world’s most exciting pair of socks.
Do I stand out to my students? Does my practice cause students to say, “Whoa!” like the Kia Optima did for Richard?
If our educational closets resemble Richard’s in the commercial, filled with bland “outfits” that all look the same, perhaps it’s time to add some color, to try something new.
Let’s ditch the beige socks.
Brent has worked in the field of education as a teacher and administrator for 25 years. He is currently Principal of Alta Murrieta Elementary School in Murrieta, California. Read more about Brent here.
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