When we have each other, we have everything.
Not sure what spurred my reflections on my years of teaching...but I have been thinking about my choice of career a lot this weekend. My first thought was, "Wow, it has been 7 years when it easily could have only been 1." After my first year, I really didn't know if teaching was the career for me. I struggled big time. Over a dinner at California Pizza Kitchen, it was Ben who convinced me to give it one more year. Now I find myself loving my job and feeling grateful that I landed in my small-town district. In the spirit of being "thankful" this time of year, here is a list of things that I am thankful for in my job:
An amazing friend and colleague: Our friendship began with an impromptu decision for Ali to co-teach one class period with me. The intention of the class is to provide greater support for students that are on Special Education caseload or students that struggle with reading/writing. Little did I know then the impact that this class would have on my students, but also on my life. I met an amazing friend and mentor the day we started teaching together. Ali is a friend who: listens to the drama even if she has heard it a million times, makes me grateful that I have a REAL friend than lots of surface-level friends, accepts and loves her friends for who they are and where they are, and can put a smile on anyone's face with her sense of humor. Ali is a teacher who: puts the needs of her students above her own (she has some crazy stories), puts effort into being the best she can be even after 15 years of teaching, is willing to dance and sing during a lesson if it means the students will understand, and deals with EXTREMELY challenging parents, but still walks around with a smile on her face and a willingness to hear about the tough days of others. I admire her for these reasons and more and can't imagine my life without her. She is an invaluable friend and colleague! Love you girl!
Google Chromebooks: I was recently given (by my amazingly resourceful principal) access to a cart of Google Chromebooks for my classroom. Utilizing these devices in my classroom doesn't make me a better teacher, but these devices provide me with the opportunity to enhance my teaching and expand beyond the walls of my classroom. In addition, students are provided with the practice needed to prepare them for a world that will be highly dependant on technological competence. Although my current students have grown up in the digital age, students lack a simple understanding of how to use technology beyond social interactions. I can now work with my students on a consistent basis to use electronic calendars, notes, and collaborative methods that will impact them beyond the classroom.
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The art of discussion: This year, I made room in my classroom for a lot of student-led discussions. I attended a Socratic Seminar conference last year and learned a ton about how to lead students of any age in an engaging conversation. For those adults out there that don't spend time with middle schoolers, please understand that this can be rather challenging at times...thus the need to go to a conference to learn how to manage 13-year-olds leading discussions. The results have been incredible. I am seeing a growing confidence in my students and I am learning a lot from listening to them support their opinions with self-led research. Every other week, I share an article with my students from Kelly Gallagher (amazing resource for engaging, current news articles). Students will formulate a response to the article based on research. The following week, students will discuss / debate the article. It is incredible to see students defend their perspectives and engage one another in quality conversations. In addition, students that are not included in the discussion participate in a backchannel discussion using TodaysMeet. These students will provide feedback to their peers, ask additional questions, or provide personal opinions on the topic. This ensures that all students are engaged and supplies instant, specific feedback to those engaged in the discussion. These discussions have become the highlight of my week!
My school district is adopting the 21st Century ISTE model this year: This model promotes encouraging student learning in the 6 areas listed in the picture. I am thankful for this adoption because it encourages me to take a closer look at how I teach and evaluate if there is a better way. I have discovered that there is a better way to teach a business research paper that I have taught for a few years now. I am especially excited for this lesson now because of the changes that I have made. Students will now create a business based on the creation of an app/product of their creation. Students will pitch their "business" to a group of Deca students from the high school that will be "sharks" (from t.v. show "Shark Tank"). Presenting to high schoolers will definitely up the ante for my students. I also arranged for a friend from long ago, Brian Howe, to have a video conference with my students prior to them working on their business project. Brian started Impact Hub, a place for entrepreneurs to collaborate and pool resources. Not only has he demonstrated successful entrepreneurship, but he created a company that furthers the support of new entrepreneurs. I love the changes to this lesson and look forward to the results.
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Pride in our district: Two former students of mine created a blog this year that is solely based on promoting pride in our district, 170daysofMWHSpride. In a world where social media isn't always used for good, these students are showcasing our district in the most positive way and for all to see! Over the last 7 years, my pride in our district has increased as I have seen our small district accomplish big things. In 2012, Bloomberg Business Week named Mound, MN as the best place to raise kids. Overall, we have incredibly involved parents and a hard-working staff in our schools. So much to be proud of...just look at our school website.
Ben, Julie, and Amelia