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I’m in a new position at my school this year—instructional coach. My 12-year classroom teaching career, along with a bevy of professional development (a healthy mixture of self-directed and district-provided), has prepared me well for this job. It fact, it is the kind of job I’ve wanted for quite some time—one that [...]
I’m in a new position at my school this year—instructional coach. My 12-year classroom teaching career, along with a bevy of professional development (a healthy mixture of self-directed and district-provided), has prepared me well for this job. It fact, it is the kind of job I’ve wanted for quite some time—one that provides me with the opportunity to make a greater impact on teaching and learning in a school that I believe in, a place that’s filled with some of the most passionate and dedicated educators I’ve ever had the pleasure of working alongside. However, like any new endeavor, this one has not been without its share of challenges. Chief amongst these has been the fact that I’ve been pushed outside my comfort zone on a regular basis.
Ah yes, the comfort zone. That place we work within, many of us 100 percent of the time, because we are comfortable there. It’s a familiar place where we understand how things work and we know what to expect. But it’s also a place where we rarely take risks or try new things. It can be a place where we become stagnant and, in the worst case scenario, oblivious to the needs of our students.
I’ve been pushed outside my comfort zone on a regular basis as a new coach. Whether it’s modeling lessons for teachers, providing tough feedback following an observation, or leading meetings to discuss student performance, I’m doing things that are new to me. And at times, these new things are uncomfortable, well outside my personal comfort zone. And as a result, I’m learning more about teaching and learning than ever before.
This has certainly gotten me thinking about the value of operating outside of ones comfort zone. Trying new things, even though it can be scary, intimidating, and nerve-wracking, helps us grow. And in the world of education, our growth as educators of children is crucial to our students’ success.
So even though it can be frightening, I challenge you to think about how you can step outside your own comfort zone. Here are three ways that might help you get started…
Another set of eyes
Some teachers enjoy the fact that, much of the time, they get to close their doors and teach within their own little classroom community. No prying eyes. No critical observers. Our classroom’s four walls become our comfort zone. It’s time to open the door and invite others in. What if you worked it out so that a colleague could come watch you teach a lesson? You could give them something to focus on and watch for, such as teacher talk to student talk ratio or quality of questions. Or, you could just have them take notes on what they notice. Then you could debrief afterwards. Teaching is such an “in the zone” kind of profession. While we’re leading a class, it’s very easy to overlook our own mannerisms and behaviors. Without someone observing us, we might never notice that we are only calling on three students or that our questions are all at the bottom of Bloom’s taxonomy. It can be slightly unnerving to have someone watch you teach, especially someone who never has before. But if you choose a close friend or teammate, that will make it easier. And when you return the favor for them, you will both benefit immensely.
Take a Deep Data Dive
You’re constantly collecting data. Formative assessments, summative assessments, exit tickets, anecdotal notes…the list goes on and on. But all too often, this data isn’t put to good use. It comes to pass that we end up collecting data for the sake of…collecting data. Numbers in a spreadsheet or notes on a page are nothing more than that if we don’t take the time to do a deep analysis. Why don’t teachers do this more often? Because it requires us to think about what we didn’t do well and where our weaknesses lie. It requires us to answer the questions “Why didn’t they do well on this?” and “What could I have done better?” It is very tough to look within ourselves and conversely it is much easier to make excuses: “My students were tired” or “they aren’t ready for this topic yet” or “last year’s teacher dropped the ball.” When we take a cold, hard look at the data we’re collecting and step outside our comfort zones to ask ourselves “What is this data telling me about how I taught them?” Then we can really grow. It might be uncomfortable to look ourselves in the teaching mirror and analyze our practice, but it’s yet another example of how a little bit of discomfort can pay off big time in terms of student achievement.
Try a Different Approach
The tried and true. When it comes to teaching, the tried and true involves all the practices we are familiar with. Our “go-to” methods, our favorite activities, and our typical daily routines. We thrive on the tried and true. The tried and true is comfortable, we are used to it. It’s like a calm lake on a mid-summer day. It’s blissful. But even if your own personal “tried and true” is consistently stellar, you may want to consider trying a new approach in at least one area of your teaching. Why is this uncomfortable for many teachers? Well, it will probably involve some research and it might involve a teaching approach that you are completely unfamiliar with. But a little bit of discomfort on your part could pay off big time for your students. What should you try? Start by thinking about your most common teaching practices. Do you frequently lecture? Do you use a lot of math worksheets? Do your students only read novels? Then, look into other approaches. Perhaps it’s time to try some project based learning, math centers, or do some poetry reading. Maybe you’ve been ignoring critical 21st century skills for too long and you should attempt to integrate technology to facilitate communication, collaboration, and creativity. I could list ideas for days, but it’s up to you to find the ones that work best. One great place to start looking is Twitter. If you aren’t hooked on Twitter yet, I can remedy that…just go to search.twitter.com and type in “#edchat.” There is no shortage of inspiration being shared there. There are also some amazing blogs out there that provide a wealth of information. I’ve bundled some of my favorites here: http://bit.ly/EEblogbundle.
There are certainly other ways to step outside your teaching comfort zone. Even though it seems unnerving, if you take a leap and try something new or different, great things can happen, for you and for your students. The key is to push your own limits and to never stop trying to improve.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to our blog, following us on Twitter or Pinterest or liking us on Facebook. And check out our book from GHF Press, Learning in the 21st Century: How to Connect, Collaborate, and Create, coming February 18 to Amazon and BN.com in both print and eBook formats.
From time to time, I’ve been known to tease some of my more Pinterest-minded colleagues. I make tongue-in-cheek comments about recipes and crafts and the abundance of Teachers Pay Teachers pins. Furthermore, I make it seem like it’s much too trendy of a web tool for [...]
From time to time, I’ve been known to tease some of my more Pinterest-minded colleagues. I make tongue-in-cheek comments about recipes and crafts and the abundance of Teachers Pay Teachers pins. Furthermore, I make it seem like it’s much too trendy of a web tool for someone like me to bother with.
However, it’s confession time…Pinterest is pretty cool. And not only that, but it’s actually growing to be quite useful for educators. Most of my Pinterest use is one-sided…I pin things for followers of Engaging Educators. (Check out our pins HERE!) I don’t, however, use the site very often to search for and find resources that have been pinned by others.
That changed last week when I needed resources to help teachers with Guided Reading instruction. Googling wasn’t getting me what I wanted, so I hopped onto Pinterest to try it out. Much to my surprise, I had a great deal of luck…not only finding what I was looking for, but also finding extra stuff along the way. It really is amazing the impact that a thumbnail image has on your searching and filtering process. Some of the things I clicked on, had I found them through Google, I might have passed over. That little pinned image, more often than not, really helped me decide what was click-worthy. As a result, I discovered new things I might have otherwise never found. (Granted, I will say that the nature of Pinterest makes it better suited for general browsing, rather than targeted, specific searching. You have to separate a lot more wheat from the chaff with Pinterest than with Google, if you know what I mean.)
In my weekly newsletter to our staff, The Coach’s Corner, I highlighted some of the instructional resources I discovered, including a way of practicing sight words using ping pong balls, instructions for making your own Guided Reading stools out of Home Depot buckets, and an app that allows you to inventory, level, and check in and out books from your classroom library. Great stuff, indeed.
The lesson here, I suppose, is not to be so high and mighty that you rule things out just because they’re trendy. Not that that’s what I was doing at all. Really.
If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to our blog, following us on Twitter, and liking us on Facebook. Please also check out the details of our new book, Learning in the 21st Century, available February 18 from GHF Press.
It can be challenging to locate resources on critical thinking. Also challenging to find info on questioning and close reading. This is a good article regarding the topic of close reading.
When talking about learning and learning resources, I don’t throw around the phrase “veritable cornucopia” very often. Granted, I may be prone to over-using “treasure trove,” but I save “veritable cornucopia” for only the best of the best. Keep that in mind when I say this…EdSurge is a veritable cornucopia [...]
When talking about learning and learning resources, I don’t throw around the phrase “veritable cornucopia” very often. Granted, I may be prone to over-using “treasure trove,” but I save “veritable cornucopia” for only the best of the best. Keep that in mind when I say this…EdSurge is a veritable cornucopia of knowledge and information for teachers on all ends of the ed tech know-how spectrum. Whether you’re just starting to dabble in tech integration or you’ve been innovating in your classroom for decades,EdSurge is something you’ve just got to know about.
My friend Jessy (who, let’s be honest, is pretty much a walking veritable cornucopia herself and is pretty much both the unofficial 3rd member of the Engaging Ed team as well as our Fan Club’s president pro tem) introduced me toEdSurge, literally and figuratively, at ISTE last year.
What isEdSurge? Here’s how they describe themselves (too modestly in my opinion):
EdSurge is an independent information resource and community for everyone involved in education technology. We aim to help educators discover the best products and how to use them and to inspire developers to build what educators and learners need.
EdSurge offers two weekly newsletters which provide links and information that are always brilliantly informative. The original EdSurge newsletter focuses on the world of Educational Technology on the business, research, and development side. It’s great for teachers like me, who like to nerd out on that sort of thing.
The newsletter tech-minded educators will really appreciate, though, is EdSurge Instruct. In EdSurge Instruct you get links to recent EdSurge articles as well as links to articles from around the web about teachers teaching with technology, innovative schools, current educational research, upcoming educational events, and more. Trust me, you will not be disappointed with EdSurge Instruct. Sign up for this newsletter or the original one HERE.
Just as an example, here are some of the great things I learned about in this week’s edition, which came out today:
- An article about a “Maker Dad,” who encourages parents to not just build robots with their kids, but rather help their kids become true Makers themselves.
- A blog post (from a blog that’s new to me…score!) about a school that decided the best way to help another school learn how to do PBL was to travel there and engage in a day-long project.
- A report out of Stanford that explains that it’s possible our nation’s test scores lag behind other countries because America has so many socio-economically disadvantaged students.
- A blog post (from ANOTHER new to me blog!) about how kids in Japan learn to multiply.
- A link to an amazing site you’ve just got to see, Google Treks.
Love it! Trust me…this is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll find that you need to carve out a good number of minutes each week to explore EdSurge Instruct. On top of that, it’s an easy read. Their conversational tone really makes the info easy to digest and fun to read. You can tell that theEdSurge team loves their work and loves helping people learn.
The EdSurge website is also pretty cool to explore, too. It features information about products, a collection of education news articles, and resources and information organized by topic.
I wrote a piece for Education Week Teacher in the fall about student blogging. (It was pretty good if I do say so myself. Check it out HERE.) in prepping to write it, I sent out a couple tweets to find out what types of student blogging projects other educators were [...]
I wrote a piece for Education Week Teacher in the fall about student blogging. (It was pretty good if I do say so myself. Check it out HERE.) in prepping to write it, I sent out a couple tweets to find out what types of student blogging projects other educators were running. I got some helpful and exciting responses, but none as intriguing as the one I got from ICT Coordinator and Class 1 teacher Camilla Mercer of Norbridge Academy in Nottinghamshire, England.
— Engaging Educators (@engaginged) November 14, 2012
So intriguing, in fact, that I extended a rare guest blogging invitation to Camilla to describe her school’s 24-hour blogathon, which is pretty much as amazing and awesome as it sounds. But I’ll let her do the telling…
Norbridge Academy (norbridge.org and norbridgeblogs.net) has recently invested in 30 iPads, theoretically 6 per class for y2-y6. This is in order to more easily enable children to blog as a way of improving standards in writing, as detailed in our school development plan. As ICT Coordinator, I wanted teachers to be able to plan the iPads into lessons across the curriculum, so that there could be either one iPad per table or a whole group of children using them, primarily to blog, at any one time. We already have laptops which are fine but must be shared and timetabled across the school and I prefer the immediacy and accessibility of iPads for blogging.
As a way of raising the profile of our school blogs, which were created a year ago, the head teacher George Huthart decided to hold a 24 hour blogathon, inviting all year 6 children to sleep in school and to be blogging virtually (sleep-allowing!) continuously from 9am Tuesday 13th November to 9am today, Wednesday 14th. The year 6 class teacher and 2 teaching assistants volunteered to stay in school to staff the event. (It is possibly worth mentioning that we do camping nights every months, where children bring tents & camp on the school field. These events are staffed by teachers & TA’s and are always well over subscribed, staff at Norbridge are happy to volunteer free time for events such as these). All 4 staff then worked as normal throughout the day today.
For the blogathon, all 30 iPads were pooled together. Children were given some freedom as to what to blog about as well as some directed/suggested topics or themes. Each child had 1:1 access to an iPad, as well as laptops if/when an iPad need charging. The class 6 blog, like most of our school blogs, has a visitor and flag counter, and children were motivated by tracking the visitors to their blog. On a very large world map in class 6, children stuck pins showing where visitors were based, frequently excitedly seeking out staff to inform them of a ‘hit’ from a new country or region.
During the blogathon the 4 adults who stayed in school were kept extremely busy moderating and approving both posts and comments. Staff including myself logged in from home to try to ease the backlog as children’s writing kept stacking up. The majority of school staff are on Twitter and we all used this as our primary mode of publicity. Many individuals and organisations have been extremely supportive.
Considering the duration of the event I was astounded by the quality of much of the writing being produced, and certain posts rightly received some quality and thought-provoking comments from around the world. Comments and flags are still rolling in, 21 countries at last count.
Huge thanks to Camilla for sharing her story. What an amazing endeavor! Be sure to check out the students’ blogathon posts (and their posts from a SECOND blogathon!) and leave comments as well. And follow Camilla on Twitter @CCMercer.
Last week, I was lucky enough to chat with literacy consultants Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. In one of those great 21st Century stories, Jan and Kim “met” via Twitter and combined forces to create a blog about the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts. You can read it at www.burkinsandyaris.com. It’s [...]
Last week, I was lucky enough to chat with literacy consultants Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris. In one of those great 21st Century stories, Jan and Kim “met” via Twitter and combined forces to create a blog about the Common Core Standards in English Language Arts. You can read it at www.burkinsandyaris.com. It’s a terrific source of information and insight. If you are affected by the CCSS and you teach ELA, you simply must subscribe. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
During our chat, which was recorded and broadcast as an episode of Engaging Ed Radio, we talked about the challenges teachers face and the important things teachers should keep in mind in the CCSS transition. We also spent some time talking about the hot-button issue of Common Core assessments. It really was an excellent conversation. I encourage you to take a listen. I’ve embedded a player that will allow you to listen directly from this post (although if you’re reading this via subscription, you may have to click through to the blog to do so):
Huge thanks to Jan and Kim for taking the time to talk and for sharing their tremendous knowledge! I think I need to go back to it and listen again myself…there was so much good stuff there, it was hard to keep up!
Now’s also a good time to remind you that the previous episode of Engaging Ed Radio featured Darren Burris, a math teacher and Common Core curator extraordinaire. We talked in depth about the other side of the CCSS–mathematics. His takes are brilliant, too, so if you missed it the first time around, you should listen to that one, too:
Be sure to stay tuned to our blog as we work to keep you up to date and informed with what he hope is a Common Sense approach to the Common Core. Click HERE to subscribe and HERE to follow us on Twitter.
As soon as I posted Monday about what I believe will be the hottest trend in education in 2013, I thought of an even more brilliant prediction. There’s something on the rise in the world of connected educators that I think might be just as powerful in the [...]
As soon as I posted Monday about what I believe will be the hottest trend in education in 2013, I thought of an even more brilliant prediction. There’s something on the rise in the world of connected educators that I think might be just as powerful in the coming year. I’m talking about the number of regional hashtags and Twitter chats that are popping up everywhere.
I’ve noticed that more and more educators are seizing on the popularity and brilliance of the larger twitter tags such as #edchat and #tlchat and starting tags with a more local flavor. I’m talking about groups of educators from states who are holding their own versions of #edchat, with their own hashtags, on an increasingly regular basis.
There’s #miched in our home state of Michigan. #NJed in New Jersey. #edchatri in Rhode Island. #TXed in Texas. #nebedchat and #iaedchat in Nebraska and Iowa. And don’t forget about #BCed and #abed in British Columbia and Alberta. The list is growing. It’s even getting more locally focused with tags like #ocprincipals for administrators in Oakland County, Michigan. (All the hyperlinks will open a Twitter search tags so you can check out the amazing conversations that are happening and follow along. Oh, and I’m sure I’m missing some. If you know of one or more that I haven’t listed, tweet me @engaginged.)
The EdCamp movement really got this going, I think. Those regional get-togethers of passionate educators are truly an amazing phenomenon. Their only drawback is that they are only annual affairs. They leave attendees wanting more (they’re that good), and they aren’t always at a time that works for everyone’s schedules. These Twitter hastags allow for 24/7 discussion, and those that feature regular chats turn into hour-long virtual EdCamps…once a week!
If this sort of thing is the wave of the future, I’m all for it. The more connected we become, not just globally but locally as well, the better we become. Check out the tag for your location. And if you can’t find one, start one! (And let us know about it so we can help promote it for you.)
Oh, and before I go, I’m compelled to share this photo from the #MichEd tweet up held January 2, which was attended by some amazing Michigan connected educators: @blocht574, @thenerdyteacher, @dreambition, @mr_abud, @falconphysics, and @MarquinParks: