Thursday, September 15, 2016

Not Just Better, But Different

Recently, we had a faculty meeting to start our teachers thinking about their personal learning plans for this year. Personal learning plans are an important part of what we do to grow and learn as educators at Bolivar High School. I outlined what we do and why we do it in a previous blog post.

During our last meeting, I challenged our teachers to try to develop a learning plan that has the potential to be a game-changer for their own professional practice and for student learning. It's easy to get in a pattern of just doing mostly the same things but trying to do them a little better. As a result, we may miss great opportunities to do something that would be completely different and possibly tranformational for student learning. It could be a game-changer.

I would certainly applaud those who seek to improve established practices, especially newer teachers. It's much better than an approach that doesn't seek growth at all. A worse scenario would be an educator who teaches exactly the same lessons year after year with little adaptation. Even the smallest incremental change is better than no effort to improve.

But for teachers who have developed their instructional foundation, it can be highly rewarding to take a risk that could be awesome or awful. You see I believe the things we often choose to pour our energies into are safe. We want to improve, but we aren't comfortable enough with failure. If we are doing hard things, it can be highly rewarding, but it can also be terrifying.

During our staff meeting, I shared the video of Caine's Arcade with our staff. I asked our teachers to consider how their own personal and professional learning is similar or perhaps different from Caine's learning.

Each small group worked to develop a visual representation of how Caine's Arcade might help us think about developing our own successful learning plans. These are a few of the characteristics often found in successful projects. 

1. Starts with Empathy - Empathy recognizes there is a problem to be solved. It involves seeing things from another person’s perspective and seeking to help make something better.

2. Rich Inquiry - Develop lots of questions to drive your learning forward. Seek out resources. Find the information you need to advance the project.

3. Deeper Learning - Apply the knowledge to create new understanding and original ideas. Invite complex thinking.

4. Meaningful Connections - Successful projects are usually personally meaningful, and they usually involve connections with others.

5. Autonomy - If you want commitment and engagement, not just compliance, autonomy is better. Our teachers are the ones who choose their project and are empowered to see it through.

6. Risk of Failure/Celebration of Success - Most meaningful projects have a chance of failure. The idea might not work. The more ideas we try, the more likely we are to find ones that are game-changers. We always need to reflect and celebrate what we’ve learned and what aspects are successful.

Our teachers shared some amazing insights from their reflection on the video. It was exciting to see the type of thinking happening around the room.

Here are some of the comments teachers shared on an exit survey:

It's always exciting to have the opportunity to learn something new and different. I also love to experiment.
You telling us that if we try our plan and it fails, it's OK.
I like that PLP is all about ownership and autonomy.
They will be something that has a positive impact on students and teachers.
Personal growth encouraged
The autonomy to make decisions of how I want to spend my time making a difference.
I feel good about the collaboration and the sharing that will take place. I feel like it's a very open place to share good and new ideas
I want to continue to grow as a professional.
PLP's hold me accountable for growth.

This next week we will have small group meetings (3-4) to share the ideas we have so far. It's an opportunity for everyone to give and receive feedback. When we share our ideas, they almost always get better. Someone will have a suggestion or make a connection that will move our thinking forward. 

Caine's Arcade was transformational. He didn't necessarily have that in mind when he started, but he did have lots of big ideas. In the end, his little arcade started a movement that has impacted students, educators, and beyond. And some more pretty cool stuff happened for him too. Caine's Arcade Part 2 details what happened after the initial video. It's amazing.

Who knows what you might start at your school with an idea and the willingness to pursue it? Be willing to take a big chance and try something new for your students. Your dreams and passions make learning come alive for you and for your students.

Question: Some educators seem to think that new ideas are unnecessary. They say the fundamentals of learning and education are unchanging. Stay with the tried and true. What would you say to this type of thinking? Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

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