One Word That Inspires Me in My Classroom – “Grace”

When I teach I strive to do it with grace. No, I’m certainly not a ballerina floating about the classroom. When I think of grace I think of a deeper meaning – one that goes with words like favor, good will, mercy, and honor.

Do I have a favorite student? Honestly, I believe that if I’ve done things right they all think they’re a favorite. My goal is to be a safe spot for the kids – a place where they can check in and feel connected. Middle school kids move all day and crave a place where they are unconditionally welcome. I truly believe that if I can make that connection, then I have a chance at growing a passionate learner – which is even more important than any curriculum or content.

Competition in the classroom that makes learning fun and supports healthy motivation is one thing – but I draw the line when it starts looking like sorting students. Good will for me means that I am going to do my best to ensure that all my students learn at high levels, and I will hold myself accountable to that. When the kids know that’s the goal, then the collaboration and support grows as well. We become a community of learners.

Mercy. My own kids are the same age as my students and I can attest that they really don’t have a ton of control over their own lives. Things go wrong– they run out of time – organizational skills fall apart – there is a game or extra practice that they didn’t expect– or even worse I ask them to babysit or insist they actually practice that instrument—there are rarely enough hours in the day. Mercy, for me is recognizing when a student is not there yet – and the reason for the “yet” may or may not sound valid to my ears – it doesn’t really matter. I’m trying to get over the need to judge or snap back with a “got-cha” and instead help them to make a new plan.

Kids learn differently. They occasionally sweat the small stuff and overlook the big stuff. Each comes to my classroom with their own story to tell, their own baggage, their own disappointments, and their own dreams. When I honor them as individuals and their work as precious pieces of learning evidence the tone of my day changes. There is an investment that we are willing to make in each other and the work we will do together. I feel and act more like a coach than a boss and I’m more willing to celebrate their individuality even if it does make record keeping and lesson planning a greater challenge.

This is where I am right now as a teacher. It’s a reflection on my vocation in this moment – a snap shot of my thinking. I have not always been here and I hope that a year from now I am further along on the journey. For me in 2015, I’m feeling the gifts of grace.

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What makes integrating technology worth it?

We are  two years into the 1:1 iPad program. At the start, and even more so today, I believe these are seven things that makes the integration of technology worth the effort:

Enable independence
This has been the biggest “teacher transition” for me. They don’t need me to lecture to them what I know. They have the tool(s) needed to find it out and “know it” for themselves. Instead of a sage I have become a “learning coach.”

Improve communication
Through email, blogs, social media etc. they can create conversations that go well beyond our four walls.

Problem solve
There are plenty of apps and tools that help them problem solve  and the intuitive nature of today’s technology encourages them to “push all the buttons” until they figured out how to get what they want.

The real excitement begins when you have four other students gathered around a desk saying “show me how you did that.” Followed by, “I wonder if we can get it to do…”

Provide storage
We are still looking for the perfect tool, but even with plain old email we can create a place to hold things. This becomes their portfolio of work and can be used to illustrate growth in a skill or subject area.  This is a tool used by lots of teachers, but when the product is digital; It’s not limited to paper, It’s not clutter that I we have to keep in storage, and we can each keep a copy. My need to be organized is fulfilled!

Assist with time management
Their calendar, planner, timer etc. are all on the iPad. It looks a lot like “real life” as we all put due dates on the calendar, set goals, and share events.

Inspires creativity
Students are constantly creating presentations, composing music, viewing art, reviewing literature, conducting research, editing for publication. They become photographers,
movie-makers, and authors instantly.

Makes learning fun
When they don’t know they are learning, when middle school students think they are “playing,” when they get excited to try something new – than learning and teaching are a whole lot of fun!

What am I missing? What makes technology worth integrating in your classroom? Leave a comment – I’d love to hear from you!