#IMMOOC Week 5

What is one way that blogging has changed your practice or thinking?


Blogging has helped me out of my shell.

It is more than just looking around at my surroundings too.

I have slowed down, I am no longer rushing from thing to thing and glorifying being busy.

Blogging provides a quiet time for me to reflect, to look at my learning and my practice.

I’m no longer scared to share what I think, I do not feel isolated in my practice, and I am amazed at what I learn from others!



Two Perspectives, One Vision, Leading to a Student-Centered Classroom (#IMMOOC Week 4)

8 Things To Look For (1)

Teri Bauerly

My first year of teaching middle school I thought I was “in charge”. I thought I needed to have control over my students for them to learn. What I really wanted was for my students to complete the things I told them to, within a given time frame, while being respectfully quiet.

I was always nervous for evaluations and observations. I thought I had to prepare a special lesson for my administrator to observe. I was worried about what they would think and how I would do. Whenever an administrator walked into my classroom I wondered what they wanted and worried about what my students were doing.

The way I was trying to ‘run’ my class were at odds with my desire to engage my students in learning and wanting to build relationships with them. The next year I began teaching STEM courses as well as “Educational Technology”. I spent a lot of time thinking about how I could better reach my students. The STEM courses were the spark that lit a fire in me, and that fire was student engagement.

My thinking shifted from “What am I expected to do as the teacher?” to “What purpose does this serve for the students?” “Is this going to help my students learn?” “Why would students need to do this?” That fire within me also burned down the mental platform that was in my head. I had this idea that the teacher was supposed to be the tallest person in the room, standing on a platform front & center. Students should have to look up to me, that I should be stationary and imposing.

With that idea gone I was thinking of myself less and my students more. I started by asking students what they thought about projects, assignments, and how class was structured– and I listened. Whenever I could make a change to an assignment that would make it more interesting for my students, I would do it. As students started to have more choice and voice in class it became a more exciting and interesting place to be.

Listening to my students and providing more choices is what really set me down a path to building relationships. Being open to conversations with my students about the learning and teaching happening in our classroom was the first steps towards my understanding that we are all learners together. The STEM curriculum that I use provides a lot of opportunities for students to develop their critical thinking skills, to find problems, and create their own solutions.

Students often complete self-reflections or self-scoring after projects in class. The only person who sees these documents is the student and myself. The areas I hope to improve in next year are Connected Learners- providing the opportunity for students to connect with a global, authentic audience and Opportunities for Innovation- focusing less on close-ended questions, right or wrong answers, and memorization of information and more on creation.

The professional learning community that Twitter provides has given me the encouragement and information I needed to foster a more innovative classroom. Reading the Innovator’s Mindset helped me realize that the learning experiences I expect for my students I should expect for myself, and vice-versa. If I think social media is a powerful learning platform then I should be helping my students learn how to leverage that tool as well. If I think that my students should spend time reflecting and self-assessing then I should be taking the time to do that as well.

Now, I see my students and myself as learners and that the classroom is our shared space. I am no longer nervous or anxious for evaluations. The project my students are ready for on the day my administrator wants to observe is the project my administrator observes. The conversation with my administrator has shifted too. We talk about the opportunities for students and their levels of engagement. We also talk about my goals as a professional and what I will plan to do as a teacher leader to help others in our school.

Some of the best things that have happened in our classroom these past few years has been deeper relationships with students, conversations focused on learning (I don’t get asked how many points something is or what grade someone earned very often), and the development of learning spaces that are student-centered. Learning about and being intentional with trying to build an innovative classroom has made me a better educator. At the center of it all I keep my students, they are my inspiration and foundation.


Matt Arend

Interesting perspective through the eyes of a teacher. Agreed? The beauty in this week’s #IMMOOC Blog Buddy Challenge connected me with Teri Bauerly a middle school educator in South Dakota. Throughout IMMOOC Season 2, we have helped hold one another accountable. I have appreciated her insight from the classroom as I view innovation and the 8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom through the lens of an elementary school principal in Texas.

If you are familiar with education in Texas, you may recall hearing about a new appraisal instrument being used in most school districts this year. T-TESS or the Texas Teacher Evaluation & Support System. While I may not agree with all of the educational platforms we have adopted within the state of Texas, I do believe our new evaluation and support system for teachers is a step in the right direction. A big step.

As I read Teri’s thoughts above, I believe she gets it, but she is the first to tell you she hasn’t always got it. There was a time when the 8 Things to Look For in Today’s Classroom would have been considered eight additional things she has “to do” in her classroom. Truth be told, there was a time in my career, that I would have agreed with her. Who has time for all of this. I have to teach. (My sincere apologies to the students I taught my first year of teaching.)

As I prepare for my end of year T-TESS conferences and continue to analyze our new scoring rubric, the 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom are no longer things teachers could be doing, they are the things teachers should be doing and are embedded throughout our new evaluation tool. Let me break this down.

(Keep in mind on our new evaluation rubric, the scale moves from right to left. The farther right you move indicates the classroom is student-centered vs. teacher centered. The essence of the 8 Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom encourage teachers to create a student-centered environment. Teachers can receive one of five scores:  Improvement Needed, Developing, Proficient, Accomplished or Distinguished.)


Domain 1 – Voice, Choice, Time for Reflection, Critical Thinkers, Problem Solvers/Finders, Self-Assessment

In just the first of the four domains, six of the eight “Things to Look for in Today’s Classroom” are referenced. As teachers are planning, long before instruction is delivered, students should be on their mind. Not on their mind in regards to it’s who they are teaching, rather “How can I empower students through these modern learning approaches.” Student voice, problem solving and critical thinking should be on display as highlighted with this statement: Opportunities for students to generate questions that lead to further inquiry and promote complex, higher-order thinking, problem solving and real-world application. Who is asking the questions in your classroom? As you can see, teachers can support students in the development of questions that lead to new lines of inquiry rather than the teacher needing a lesson plan full of level one, two and three questions. Additionally, students should be setting goals, reflecting on their progress and evaluating the effectiveness of their plan to achieve their goals, holding one another accountable along the way, taking ownership of the individual choices they are afforded. Speaking of taking ownership, how about self-assessment. Self-assessment by itself can be a valuable tool but when utilized you embed student voice and choice into your student centered classroom. Sound like your classroom as a student? Not mine. Sounds like a student-centered environment to me.


Statements in Domain 1

Opportunities for students to generate questions that lead to further inquiry and promote complex, higher-order thinking, problem solving and real-world application
The ability for all students to set goals, reflect on, evaluate and hold each other accountable within instructional groups.
Instructional groups based on the needs of all students, and allows for students to take ownership of group and individual accountability.
Guidance for students to apply their strengths, background knowledge, life experiences and skills to enhance each other’s learning.
Opportunities for students to utilize their individual learning patterns, habits and needs to achieve high levels of academic and social-emotional success.
All activities, materials and assessments that:̊provide appropriate time for student work, student reflection, lesson and lesson closure
Formal and informal assessments to monitor progress of all students, shares appropriate diagnostic, formative and summative assessment data with students to engage them in self-assessment, build awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses and track their own progress

Domain 2 – Voice, Choice, Opportunities for Innovation, Critical Thinkers

After planning instruction follows, which is the focus on Domain 2. Teachers interested in receiving a score that reflects a student-centered classroom need to do more than just plan for it. They have to make it happen. In Texas, there are up to 22 students in a classroom and each of those 22 students have a voice, which means as teacher, we should be gathering input from each of them for their instruction. Interest surveys, relationships and getting to know your learners support the types of experiences you can design for them. By utilizing their input, teachers create differentiated learning opportunities meant to empower learning, not just engage the learners. Easy? No. Can it be replicated year to year? Students change and their interests will too. Pinterest and TPT have ideas, but guess what? Your students do too. Start with them.

Statements from Domain 2

Systematically gathers input from students in order to monitor and adjust instruction, activities or pacing to respond to differences in student needs.
Establishes classroom practices that encourage all students to communicate safely and effectively using a variety of tools and methods with the teacher and their peers.
Skillfully provokes and guides discussion to pique curiosity and inspire student-led learning of meaningful and challenging content.
Always provides differentiated instructional methods and content to ensure students have the opportunity to master what is being taught.
Consistently provides opportunities for students to use different types of thinking (e.g.,analytical, practical, creative and research-based)

Domain 3 – Voice & Choice

Domain 3 focuses on the learning environment. So let me ask, “Who is the learning environment for?” Is it for teachers to learn or for the students to learn? Recently I was in a staff development session in a room full of principals and we were being led by teachers. Specifically teachers who had transformed their learning environments for students. Their classrooms were not set up to accommodate their own needs. The teacher at my table shared how she had turned the reigns over to students through a design challenge with the winning design being how the classroom would be set up. Ultimately, two different student groups projects were selected and collaboratively, the two groups worked towards one design for the classroom learning environment. Just imagine how empowered you would be each day walking into your place of work knowing you designed it for your learning style. Talk about ownership.

Statements from Domain 3

Students and the teacher create, adopt and maintain classroom behavior standards.
Establishes and uses effective routines, transitions and procedures that primarily rely on student leadership and responsibility.
Students take primary leadership and responsibility for managing student groups, supplies, and/or equipment.

Domain 4 – Voice, Time for Reflection, Self-Assessment, Connected Educator

The final domain, Domain 4 is all about the teacher and their responsibilities and professional learning. The statement, for things to change I must change, comes to mind. Transforming a classroom from a teacher-centered learning environment to a student-centered learning environment may begin right here. George Couros talks about the difference in a school teacher vs. a classroom teacher and in this domain the teachers find their voice for ALL students within their school. As a building leader, I will not ask my teachers to do anything I am not willing to do myself and I believe the same should be said about teachers in regards to their students. You want students to reflect? Do you? Do you share your reflections with them? As a professional, reflection in paramount to growth. Through reflection, do teachers self-assess? This year in Texas, teachers each had to write a specific goal for themselves and map out the action steps that will help them accomplish their goal. Sounds very similar to the goal setting process we highlighted in Domain 1. As a part a teacher’s goal, they are empowered to reflect, assess and connect. All things we want to see in classrooms.

Statements from Domain 4

Advocates for the needs of all students in the classroom and campus.
Consistently sets, modifies and meets short- and long-term professional goals based on self-assessment, reflection, peer and supervisor feedback, contemporary research and analysis of student learning.
Leads colleagues collaboratively in and beyond the school to identify professional development needs through detailed data analysis and self-reflection.
Seeks resources and collaboratively fosters faculty knowledge and skills.
Develops and fulfills the school and district improvement plans through professional learning communities, grade- or subject level team leadership, committee leadership or other opportunities beyond the campus.
Initiates collaborative efforts that enhance student learning and growth.

My hat goes off to Teri Bauerly. She is on her way. She along with many other teachers have realized these 8 Things to Look for in Classrooms are not eight additional things they need to be doing, but they ARE the “8 Things” students/teachers should be doing in classrooms. I’m also excited to be in a place (State of TX) that we realize this is what teachers should be striving to accomplish with their students. Remember, we are all on the journey. To quote Amber Teamann,

“Sprint, walk or crawl…let’s go.”

Week 3 #IMMOOCB3

Ideas for Building Relationships with Students

  • Spend your first day of class with students doing a building challenge, group activity, or team-building activity- don’t read over the ‘rules’ or ‘syllabus’
  • Stand at the door and greet students for each class, every day
  • Say hi to students when you see them- in the halls, in the lunchroom, at the grocery store, on bus duty
  • Go to their events- games, matches, performances
  • Be excited to chaperone or be a part of their events, students can tell if you are happy to be there or not
  • Ask questions about student hobbies and interests, share about your own so students realize you really are a human being who exists outside of school
  • Do the things you expect your students to do
  • Admit when you make a mistake
  • Apologize to your students
  • and my favorite- laugh with your students. daily.

Week 3 #IMMOOCB2

Reading through the “What If” questions and which challenged my thinking on p. 117, I came up with the following:

What if we believed that everything that we had to make great schools was already within our organization, and we just needed to develop and share it? ”

What if we hired people who did not look at teaching as a “career” but as a “passion”?

I know that the first statement isn’t just talking about people, but all parts of the organization that is school.
However, when I got to the next statement that I listed above, about hiring people, my thinking kind of stopped.

In reading the blogs of others, some have shared that you have to stop holding onto status quo, we have to move forward. What do you do when part of your organization is teachers who view teaching as a job? They aren’t going anywhere, they hate change, and they don’t believe in your vision?

Is it possible for people to change, to go from ‘just a job’ to ‘this is my passion’? I know I know, “all you can do is share the message and connect with those who want to change”. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Week 3 #IMMOOCB1

“School vs Learning by George Couros” image illustrated by Sylvia Duckworth.

Reading the descriptions for school, I related to many, it educational experience up through my Sophomore year of college. I knew how to play the ‘game of school’: show up, memorize, regurgitate, follow the rules, sit still, and be quiet.
So what changed my experience of School to Learning? A college professor who was passionate about learning, service, and authentic experiences. She expected us to have conversations, not unit tests, and we worked on a service learning project for the community based on our class content.

That moment in my educational career was like someone turning on a light bulb in a dark room. I could see things I never could before. Once I had experienced that, I was more inspired and self-driven. After that, even in traditional School classes, I was pushing myself to learn more on my own, to make it more applicable.

I also wonder what sets apart school from learning…. Is it the educators or administrators? Their mindsets? The students? The relationships?
Through whose lense are we looking?

IMMOOC Week #2

I would like to reflect on the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset and how I exemplify this in my work… (teaching or leading).

The 8 Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset are:
1. empathetic
2. problem finders
3. risk-takers
4. networked
5. observant
6. creators
7. resilient
8. reflective

I feel that the characteristic I exemplify the most is that I am empathetic. I would actually consider myself an empath, someone who maybe has a little too much empathy. (I have a hard time not clapping for the other team when I’m at a game. I have a hard time attending sporting events because I feel awful for the team or player that isn’t doing well.)

I feel that being empathetic is my greatest strength & my biggest weakness. I relate really well to my students, I am kind to people I meet, and I am slow to judge. The reason for that is I am always thinking about how that other person feels. I think it is a strength because empathy helps me be a more observant and reflective educator. I say it is also my biggest weakness because I am always worried about the needs and feelings of others over my own. Since I have started working on being a more reflective & connected educator I have realized the bad habits that I have. In the past few years I have actually gotten better at saying “No.”even when I think about the stress or feelings of the other person.

In Chapter 2, page 49 of Innovator’s Mindset, I highlighted the following “Empathetic teachers think about the classroom environment and learning from the point of view of the student, not the teacher”. I really like this quote, and I can really relate to it.

Iteration #IMOOCC Week 1


In April 2016 I had the opportunity to see George Couros present at the TIE conference. I purchased the Innovator’s Mindset and read it. I highlighted and sticky-noted so many things while reading. As soon as I finished reading I shared the book with my administrator.

Some of my favorite quotes include “We choose whether or not we will grow, change, or innovate. But in schools, where we focus on our students as the future, growth can no longer be simply an option.” & “In a world that constantly changes, if our focus is to only maintain what’s already been done, we are bound to become worse. The innovator’s mindset is necessary for all of us if schools are to move forward.” p. 27
“…the question that must be asked every day is, ‘What is best for this learner?’ Individualizing education and starting with empathy for those we serve is where innovative teaching and learning begins.” p. 21

When I heard about the first #IMMOOC I was so excited! I registered… and I never participated. I started a blog, and have a few posts, but have not been consistent. I’ve been struggling with feeling that there is a hole or gap in my professional aspirations. Here is a little bit of writing I did last week:

to learn or to grow you do not always need a new location or a new seed to plant. sometimes you just need to improve the care you provide to the plants you already have, let their roots expand and their flowers bloom, give time for the fruit to develop. pay more attention to the circumstances that limit or enhance the growth. slow down and smell the flowers, observe your surroundings. it may not mean covering as much ground as possible in a given amount of time, but rather that the time spent on something is meaningful, slow, deliberate. 

When I received the e-mails that the 2nd #IMMOOC was starting I had a light bulb moment. Here was a book that I was so connected to and so interested in, and I had an opportunity to enrich that experience and challenge myself, but I didn’t do it. As I was re-reading the introduction and the first chapter there were new things I was highlighting that I hadn’t the first time, and I found myself reflecting on the things I was still doing that did not line up with my belief about teaching.

Part of an innovation is the design process, which I teach all year long. It is not a quick solution. It is an iterative cycle. I need to stop rushing from task to task and objective to objective. I need to start being innovative. To do so, I need to set some goals, make a specific plan, work with others, reflect on my progress, and repeat… not move on to something new.

I am so looking forward to the opportunity to revisit this book, to reflect on my learning and beliefs over the course of a year, and connect with other educators who are inspired by this book and this author.


Share the Positive!!

On #sdedchat this month we talked about Random Acts of Kindness, and activities we can do with students and staff.

I really like the quote from George Couros “We need to make the positive so loud that the negative becomes almost impossible to hear.”
“Not Waiting for Tomorrow” by George Couros

What are some things that are happening at your school that help spread positive messages, encouragement and kindness?

In our staff lounge we have a bulletin board dedicated to above the line and below the line reminders and lots of positive quotes.

A staff member recently started a “You’ve been mugged” activity. Someone puts a mug full of treats into another teacher’s mailbox, with the directions and a note that says ‘you’ve been mugged’. The new person does the same thing, choosing a mailbox that doesn’t have the sign in it.
You’ve Been Mugged! {Spread Staff Sunshine}

At our school when someone is nominated for, or wins some type of award, there are staff members who send out e-mails to congratulate them.

Our administrator even sends out e-mails about things that went well for students and staff. For example, our students rocked the Science Fair recently, and admin thanked everyone involved for their work and effort.

What are things that you do at your school or things you’ve seen/heard about at other schools that help spread positive messages and kindness? 

More Questions Than Answers

I have been neglecting blogging. I could attribute it to ‘being busy’, but honestly, I think I was under the impression I needed to have something profound to say. So I waited…

Throughout high school and part of college I would journal and blog frequently, not because I had profound things to say, but to help clear my head and work through my thoughts.

A co-worker recently posted a great blog, and gently nudged me about the lack of attention I’ve given my own. Combine that with some recent events and I realized I didn’t need to have something profound to say!

The climate at my school has felt very divisive lately. Rather than celebrating our successes together it feels like we are becoming islands and declaring our singularity. This  concerns me because it seems we are focused on adult happiness rather than student success. The reason I am an educator, the reason I go to school even on the hard days, and the reason I strive to continue learning every day is for the students. I hope that the decisions we are making are always about what is best for the students.

When groups of adults start the battle of who does more work than someone else, or who does work that is more important than someone else… the students lose. Every person who is a part of our school is important and valuable. The time that these people invest in the educational opportunities we provide is important. The clean school impacts student learning. The breakfast and lunch provided impacts students learning. The qualified teachers impact student learning. The opportunity to engage in art, music, physical activity, Spanish & STEM impact student learning. All of it matters.

So what do you do when there are some who seem to create that battle, maybe they don’t see the value of all parts of an education? Some people probably wonder why anyone would even bother to worry about it. I’m sure I could shut my door, avoid communal areas in the school, and do my own thing… but does that solve the problem? At this school & at others I have tried ignoring the issues and just being alone.. but we are better together.

I’m an overly empathetic person. I am always worrying about how other people, including students and staff, feel. Whether I get along with them or not. I’m also an overly anxious person. The constant divisive comments and disconnect have me spending hours worrying. I go from anger to sadness to concern and back again.

I can’t make another person see life through my eyes, nor can I make them care about learning the way that I do. Still I have more questions. How can we make it better? Do we always have to rely on some outside source, some guest speaker, some interference from administration to finally make a change? Do we just ignore the toxic people as they bubble and spew all over our work environment? But I wonder, if our community is dealing with these difficulties, is student learning really at the heart of all we are doing?

I’m not sure if the disconnect at work has given me this unsettled feeling, or if it is unrelated. It is almost like I’m searching for another piece of the puzzle, as far as my career goes. I’ve been thinking about what time commitments I would like to keep next year. I’ve also been wondering what areas I would like to grow in, what to add. I have the opportunity to be more involved in our local education association, but I’m not quite sure that is where my passion in education is. I’ve been offered a teaching position in another location, but Aaron and I aren’t ready to move. A part time position with a company that provides professional development and training to area teachers opened up, and it was on my mind for quite a few days. However, I’m not really willing to get involved in something that would take away from my current position. I really love learning with my middle schoolers every day. I just feel that I am missing something.

Even while feeling the negativity at work, and wondering exactly what it is I’d like to do to grow as a professional, I am thankful. Our school district is growing, we have dedicated and qualified educators and administrators, our students are outstanding. I wonder how we can leverage all of the amazing things we have going for us, to improve the areas we need to? I wonder how we can make sure that the students are at the center of all we do? I wonder how we can value the time of others, the perspective of others, and the educational contribution of others? I wonder how I can better serve my students? I wonder how I can continue to learn and grow as a professional and as an educator?


Student Input

Today was one of those days. I had more things to do than I had minutes in my morning. I was trying hard not to be negative, but I still felt very rushed and unprepared.

It was my first opportunity to co-teach with the amazing Leslie Wangeman. In my hustle and bustle I still didn’t know what I wanted to do for my 6th graders at the end of the day. I’m waiting on materials to be able to start our first design challenge…

I had finally decided that I wanted to do a brief introduction to STEM and engineering and then practice the design process while watching Design Squad. Whew. I could NOT decide how I wanted to cover this introduction.

While my 7th graders were working hard I was talking to them and thinking. I sat down next to a student who was telling me jokes, the laughter helped me relax a bit.
and it hit me. ASK THE STUDENTS. Duh. This particular student had taken the course in 6th grade that I was currently struggling with.

So I asked him, “do you remember *this* unit in Design & Modeling? I’m trying to decide what is the best way to introduce the unit.” and we had a short conversation about his thoughts on what we did last year.

I was really thankful for the conversation with the student and it made me realize I need to spend more time on collecting student feedback on lesson and teacher effectiveness.

As I was thinking about it this afternoon (and the lessons with the 6th graders went really well) I was happy that our classroom culture is at a point where I ask my students for help and they feel comfortable and safe enough to share their thoughts with me.

Do you ever ask your students what they thought of a lesson? When you’re stuck on how to approach something, do you ask your students for suggestions?