Sunday, October 24, 2021

Strengths, Weaknesses and Learning


I'm working with several teachers this year on what I'm calling a Go Beyond Challenge. It's about stretching rather than getting back to normal. I am sharing more about the ongoing work on my other blog.

For purposes here, to focus more on inspiration, I wanted to share some general principles I've keyed into while working on the projects. These are three things I hope to do for students, regardless of the class or the project.

  • Reveal their strengths - When I'm in the classroom, I'm looking for the chance to say, "Wow, you have a real talent for that!" I don't necessarily mean a talent for the course content. I'm looking for things like a student who has a good speaking voice in their podcast or the one who makes an impressive graphic for their video's title image. I am looking for examples of quality work I can share beyond the classroom.
  • Give them confidence to work through weaknesses - I once read somewhere that efforts to improve employees' weaknesses are not as effective as letting those employees work in areas of their strengths. Of course, in school we're focused on learning, so I hope students will do a little of both. When it comes to weak areas, though, I want to show students they can still succeed in spite of the weakness. Whether it's a skill they struggle with (math, drawing whatever), a work habit, or even a preference ("this stuff is boring"), I want to help them see that with extra effort and proper tools they can press past it and still do quality work. They don't have to rise to the top of the class in that area, but I want to make it clear to them it doesn't have to hold them back. 
  • Show them they can learn - Most importantly, I want students I work with to feel confident that they can learn. Confident, competent learners have an edge in our changing world. I want them to understand that and experience it. My usual way to do this is to provide ample time for reflection throughout the project. Good questions allow them to think about what they knew or thought before and after an activity. They also give opportunities for them to connect the content to their own experiences and opinions.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

8 Years of Teaching Like an Artist


A popular early post from my blog

In 2013 I started writing about teaching like an artist. It was such a time of refreshing for me. As I wrote in my previous post (which is several months old now) it has been more of a struggle to maintain the vision and keep this blog alive lately. 

The Way of the Artist, which I so often lifted up, is to dream big, do the work and share it. Looking at my creative pursuits, I haven't abandoned that. I just have lost the vision for teaching like an artist. 

Somewhat that's true because I have found some promising pursuits in other areas. I'm actually having a little success with game designs again. I've been writing fiction and loving it.

But I also have less vision for teaching like an artist because I don't know that it ever panned out. In terms of inspiring students and teachers, it didn't pan out in any big way. I wanted so badly to see that. I worked for it and expected it, just like you'd expect fire to spread if you dropped a match on a pile of newspaper. 

Instead, the routine of what school has always been won out. A year and a half of COVID didn't help, of course. But even before the virus gained attention on the horizon, I had nearly given up hope.

Last week I was talking to a friend about this. We were discussing just how much we can influence the drive that our students have to succeed. She told me she can't be that kind of person who gives up on trying. That's nice, I guess, but I'd really like to know. I like to be motivated by more than just my chemical make-up. Is it worth holding on, trying again, and giving up other things to do the work?

I told her that in the moment I usually find the energy to keep the dream alive. At school, when it's time to talk to students, yes, I try to inspire. It's much harder to get excited about that outside of school, though. I'm more likely to look back on 27 years of teaching and wonder if the others were right. Those teachers who lived by the contract, tried mostly to just meet the bare minimum, and spent every free minute doing what they liked outside of school, were they the smart ones?

I haven't given up. I look forward to some opportunities I know are coming in this new school year. But I have to consciously do that. I have to will it. Hopefully by year nine I'll have better stories to tell.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Challenge of Teaching Like an Artist

The past year was difficult for everyone. Not that it was any worse for me personally, or as an educator, but it did certainly pose a unique challenge in my line of work. As an instructional tech, I had built somewhat of a platform about teaching to inspire. It was the basis of my presentations and my blogs.

Inspiring? As any teacher will tell you, trying to do school in any way the past year was anything but inspiring.

It was exactly a year ago that we learned schools would be shut down in our state. I had been at an ed-tech conference the day before. It was supposed to take two days. Instead, they tried heroically to put together some virtual options for the first day and they canceled the second.

My school closed a day early, so we could get a plan together. I was very happy with what the leaders and teachers from our small district accomplished in a mere four days. By March 17th, we rolled out a K-12 plan to keep in touch with students for what we hoped would be just a couple weeks.

Of course, we never returned to school that year. In those weeks that followed, I learned just how far the teachers in my district were from actually making online learning work. That's not an insult to them. Most schools were in the same situation. I did think we would have been a little more prepared, given the twelve years I worked in the district to help them do just that. 

I still maintain that if we had been prepared, it would have given our students a huge advantage. It's a relatively small number, but imagine those students who already had the skills and discipline to learn on their own when schools shut down. When almost every student was facing a setback, it was an opportunity for them to forge ahead. 

While I'd never hope for (or even imagine) such a drastic turn of events that brought us to that point, I hoped I was helping teachers and students be prepared for such opportunities. Being able to learn is a necessary skill for success in today's world. We've known that for years. I hoped I was helping teachers help students get ready. Weeks on end of non-stop work in the district served only to remind me how badly I'd missed that goal.

Followers of my work might remember I was even finishing my 2020 edition of my Teaching Like an Artist Journal. Yeah, that never came together. I was hours away from having it ready, but it was the first of many "why bother" moments that followed.

I've posted three times on this blog in the past year (counting this post). In December the bill comes up to renew the domain. I seriously considered letting it go. 

I decided this won't be forever. If anything I ever wrote here mattered, persistence now will be required to find out its value. A mere three posts a year show that I didn't persist very well. For today, though, I've had the courage to try again.

I'll try again tomorrow, too.