Sunday, February 19, 2017

Mindset Matters

Recently I had the opportunity to learn alongside two dynamic fourth grade teachers when we attended the TCEA conference for three days. 

Rewind - when I initially asked them to attend the conference a few months ago, they agreed, but I know that they were both hesitant because they had to be away from their students for three days. Dedicated teachers never want to be away from their students because they know that there's no substitute for great first instruction. I explained that I was inviting them to the conference in preparation for them being a part of our blended learning team next year. 

They will both admit that we walked away every evening on information overload because there was so much great information shared throughout the three days, but I think I learned the most...from them. While I may have thought about it previously, what I am absolutely certain of now, is that the greatest barrier to student success is adult mindset.

During our breaks, at lunch, and at dinner those three days, they could hardly contain their excitement about how they were going to take what they were learning and enhance their instruction to meet the needs of their students. They connected with other educators, took a little bit of this and a little bit of that from the various sessions, and formulated plans for making the learning relevant to what their students needed. They brought with them an open mindset and that is the key to student success...having teachers who are open-minded, and willing to try something new.

Fast forward - last week, I hosted a visit from our middle school feeder pattern leadership teams who wanted to see blended learning in action and how we are using technology to leverage instruction. More importantly, they wanted to see what we are doing so that when our students transition to middle school, they will be prepared to embrace their learning styles and support their academic journeys. And kudos to them for thinking ahead!

While we visited our blended learning classes in our pilot initiative this year, I also took the opportunity to visit the two teachers who attended TCEA with me. Remember...they are not yet part of the blended learning initiative, but being with them for those three days, I knew that they were coming back fired up and ready to start trying new ways of doing. They didn't disappoint. 

Our visitors and I were just enthralled when we walked into their two 4th grade classes. In the math class, the teacher took information she learned about making flip videos, and had students use the Hover Cam to teach the class and share their thinking. Some students were logged into their Google Classroom accounts and were watching videos previously made by the teacher. The students could make comments while reviewing the videos, allowing the teacher to check for understanding. The students expressed that when they are having difficulty with a concept, they can log in, review the video as many times as needed, and ask clarifying questions when they meet face-to-face with the teacher; others watch videos that introduce new topics so they can move ahead once they have mastered a subject.

In the bilingual reading, language arts classroom we saw students totally engaged in a plethora of learning tasks as they explored characteristics of biographies. As we spoke with the students, they shared that they had a choice in how they would design their work products. A group gathered around the Promethean Panel was involved in a heavy discussion as they generated the questions they wanted to research. One team member typed the questions and they appeared on the Promethean Panel for the group members to agree upon. Another group was busy creating their own anchor chart outlining the key components they felt had to be included as they began their research. Others worked on their Chromebooks on a Bio Cube which served as their guide for constructing the biography they were working on. Yet other students camped out under a tent and wrote in their writers' notebooks. How did they all decide what they wanted to do? The teacher gave them choice. When we asked a few probing questions, the teacher shared that she came back truly ready to let go, and let students lead...let them think...collaborate...problem solve and work together to create their products. In other words...provide them with experiences that will benefit them in the real world.

I am fortunate to work with amazing teachers who give their blood, sweat and tears everyday to support our students...some of whom are academically fragile. So it was hard to decide the thing I saw in the classroom this week to blog about, as per our #PrincipalsInAction weekly challenge. So why did I choose what I saw in these classrooms? 

The teaching and learning in both classrooms were all about students moving beyond the basics and embracing the 4C's for 21st century learning. Students will automatically embrace them but what I do know is that those 4C's cannot happen without the open mindset of the adult in the classroom.

Collaboration - working together to reach a goal
Creativity - trying new approaches to get things done 
Critical thinking - looking at problems in a new way and linking learning across subjects and disciplines
Communication - sharing thoughts, questions, ideas and solutions

Every single student was an active contributor to their learning in both classrooms and my heart melted when some students shared that they would rather stay in and work on this project than go out to recess. Say no more!