Ice-cold lemonade. Delicious bar-be-que. Pool time and family vacations. The season synonymous with these things is upon us, and although I eagerly look forward to it, I view the Summer as just the off-season. Like a dedicated athlete, I spend the majority of the Summer training for the next school year. Training may include attending a workshop, participating in Twitter chats, doing some curriculum planning, and/or reading professional texts.
I just finished reading Shift This by Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr on Twitter), a book that in my opinion should be required reading in all pre-service educator programs in America. The ideas (or "shifts") discussed in Shift This must reach a novice audience of educators if instruction in America is truly going to be student-centered and innovative. While reading the book, I realized that Joy's ideas are not about buzzwords. Her ideas are about common-sense best practices for learners. Her ideas can help a veteran teacher like myself to be at the top of my game.
Here are my top 3 take-aways from Shift This:
1. I need a mission statement, one that sincerely speaks to my core beliefs as an educator and boldly states what I will dedicate myself to providing for my students. Once I have crafted my mission statement, I should share it with my students, their parents, and perhaps also my colleagues. My mission statement should be the light on the path ahead, keeping me honestly focused on my professional promises.
2. I need to teach my students how to have productive discussions in class, and doing EdCafes is one avenue by which to reach that destination. EdCafes also present choices to students, allowing them to choose topics of interest on which to meet and confer with their peers. After modeling, practice, and support, I see EdCafes becoming an integral part of how we'll learn together in the coming school year.
3. I need to change the what and why of how I grade. I should be assessing the transfer and application of skills to complex tasks--not how neatly notes are written and objectives that do not align with curricular standards. This will no doubt be the toughest shift to make, but I have to do what is right for my students instead of what is easy for me.
Joy Kirr's book Shift This has so much to offer to both the novice and the veteran teacher. I am better for reading her ideas and reflecting on my practice. Shifting gears not only to a new grade level but also to best practices are changes I want to make. Change starts with each one of us in classrooms...one "shift" at a time.
I've always been the type of person who is content with having a few true-blue friends rather than having an army of so-so acquaintances. Over the past year of my life, I've had to make some tough decisions about friends who changed into strangers. I now find myself not only starting over professionally but also socially, and I've decided on a vibe that will hopefully continue to attract my tribe: Be a fountain, not a drain.
It's easy to be pessimistic in today's world. It's also easy to feel discouraged after being burned in relationships with others. But didn't someone famous once say that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react? I choose to move forward with a renewed purpose...to be a resource to those I meet, to be a positive, supportive voice in their ear, and to be life-giving in new friendships to come.
Have you ever seen a Give A Penny/Take A Penny container near a cash register in a store? The idea behind one is simple: Leave a penny or two that you receive back as change or take a penny or two that you need to cover what you owe. Give. Take. Just pennies, right? No big deal.
But let's zoom out and look at what is going on in the world around us right now. On a daily basis, I am shaken by national news I read on Twitter, by words people choose to use towards others, and by acts of violence occurring in my country and in other nations. Hate is being broadcast live, spewed from mouths, and used as a weapon to hurt and kill. So much is being taken and not much is being given. One has to look hard to find the good, to find the givers in the world instead of just the takers.
It is an incredible challenge to be an educator in times like these, to teach students objectively about both the givers and the takers and to help students determine where they stand regarding an issue, be it political, economic, or cultural. As I think ahead to my future 7th-graders and to the topics I know we'll discuss, I feel...nervous. I'm nervous that my students will have the same information that I do about a current event, that they will have the same questions that I do, and that they will need just as much help as I will with understanding the world and how its citizens are behaving.
There are some silver linings in the clouds, though. I am thankful to have a smart PLN (just a tweet away) to advise me. I am blessed to have supportive family and collegial friends. And I am hopeful that there will be deep learning in the struggle as my future students and I academically grapple with the givers and the takers together.
Those who know me well know that I am NOT good at navigating. You can hand me a street guide, a GPS device, and a donut, and I'd only know what to do with the donut. That being said, it's pretty ironic that I'll be a Geography teacher come August. If it weren't for the awesome squads of colleagues I've met on a curriculum writing team and on Twitter, I'd literally and figuratively be LOST. These new-found colleagues have become my roadmaps, and they are helping me to navigate not only my curriculum but also the multitude of incredible resources available to Geography teachers these days. Allow me to elaborate...
I joined my district's Social Studies curriculum writing team in March, after being assigned to Antonia Middle School and being given the opportunity to teach 7th Grade Geography. Since the grade level and content area would be new to me, joining the curriculum writing team was a smart move. I now have a good grasp of my content area and am starting to visualize teaching the 6 units that my team and I are designing. I find myself paying way more attention to international news and human rights issues. Certain topics really matter to me now, and not just because the topics fall under a Geography unit umbrella. The topics matter because I'm a global citizen, in charge of educating other (much younger) global citizens. The colleagues I've met and work with each month on the curriculum writing team have helped me come to this epic understanding.
Right about the time that I started writing curriculum for my content area, I started participating in the weekly World Geo group chat on Twitter (@worldgeochat). The chat has 5 moderators, each of them gifted in their content areas and knowledge of instructional resources. I have been diligent about participating in their chat (almost) each week since March because a) the moderators and other participants are SMART, b) the chat has widened my net of great edus to follow on Twitter, c) the chat topics are interesting and relevant, and d) I always come away with resources to explore further on my own time. The World Geo group chat on Twitter and its moderators are now precious roadmaps to carry with me into the new school year and beyond.
I've seen often on Twitter posts about finding your "tribe". Now that I know where I'll be come August, and what I'll be teaching, it's safe to say that I've found my tribe. If you haven't found yours yet, there's still time. Look around you at the next staff meeting or at the next Summer PD workshop you attend...or hop on Twitter and use the right hashtags to find your tribe...to find your roadmaps.
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