Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Blast from the Past

     Tomorrow I will spend time visiting with and drinking coffee with a former student. She was in one of the first classes I taught at Community14 years ago. She's popped into school on and off since then, and it's always been a pleasure getting caught up with her.
     Tomorrow I suspect may be more of the same but with a twist. She's in the process of launching a new online business so I think talk may be centered around that. At least, I hope it is.
     Yesterday a former student from a few years back stopped in to say hi. Brett was there picking up needed paper work for his college application. As we talked, the name of a friend of his who was a former student of mine came up. When I asked how Nick was doing, Brett beamed, telling me how much Nick loved school and his chosen field of study. He continued by telling me how much homework Nick does and how he loves it all.
      Nick is a success story. He came to CHS clearly not that interested in school. Learning, yes, school, no.Seriously, he is one of the smartest kids I know. He let me challenge him with an AP style English class and wrote one of the best analysis papers I've ever read. Entering that paper into the Scholastic Art and Writing Award contests earned him honors at the state and national level.
      He has a soft spot in my heart. Quiet and bored most of the time, my challenge was to dig deep and create a syllabus that would help him grow as a student. I think I did that. I hope I did.
     Anyway, the point of this rambling post is this: what we do matters. It makes an impact on kids. They may not see the importance at the time, but eventually they'll see the power you bequeathed to them--the power of thinking critically, the power to question, and the power to be curious and grow.
    I love seeing former students and do so fairly regularly. It's not unusual to have 4-5 kids stop in and say hello during the week. For me it's affirmation that I'm doing something right. And that something has made all the difference.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Innovation? Nah

     The buzzword in education, at least in the realm I'm in, has been "innovation" everything--mindset, classroom, thinking, lifestyle. And I'm not complaining. I think education has been far too long on the uninspired and unimaginative road and needs to shift into a higher and different gear. But what about kids who don't embrace innovation thinking? Who want to muddle along in the old ways because they are comfortable and known? I don't have any answers...I'm asking the questions.
     My class set up is made for project-based learning. It's as perfect for it as I've ever gotten. I have a three-hour block of time itching to be used for hands-on learning. But what happens when a class of anti-hands-on learning students fill the seats of your classroom? What happens when every suggestion or idea of innovation gets met with frustrated, bored looks from students who "just want to get done"?
     I have no idea. Although it's only day 2 of our current block, the hostility I sense in the classroom every time I mention projects or innovation is palpable. It's a good thing I don't bend to how my class feels about me otherwise, they'd run me out of school. Okay, maybe it's not that bad, but truly these students are just not interested in "innovation."
     Will I continue to try to interest them? Sure. But in the meantime I'm reverting back to my back up syllabi. They could make all the difference.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Wanna Be in My Classroom?

     On an edchat tonight, the question was posed: Would you want to be a student in your classroom? Thought provoking for sure. When I'm on my game, definitely! When I'm not? Well, let's just say I understand bored looks. I get bored, and I'm the teacher. So what can I do to make sure my classroom has active learning taking place coupled with curious inquiry? That, my friend, is an excellent question.
     I try to be student centered, always, in my class. It's not always easy adjusting the curriculum for each student and trying to find ways to convey content but engage students. More often than not I fail to meet the mark. But sometimes I hit the mark. And that is what makes all the effort worth it.
     Today a student wrote a course evaluation. This was about a class I had reworked in the spring/summer and thought I had a home run on my hands. Far from it. It was a total swing and a miss. Instead of subjecting my kids to what wasn't working, I switched things up midstream and revamped my curriculum, offering them more project-based work. The result? Here's what a student said today in his reflection:
         "Mrs. Zygarlicke was very flexible and helpful in this class. She changed the whole thig pretty
          much from one boring thing to a more interesting thing which was researching an author and 
         writing our own stories. 
         5 words to describe this class: I learned some cool stuff."
     He learned. Those two words were all I needed to read. I took a risk, failed, and changed. It was that simple. I asked myself if I would want to be doing what my kids were doing. The answer? No chance. If I wouldn't want to do it, why would I ask my students to do it? 
     Lesson learned. Reflect on teaching often, daily. Put myself in my student's place. Is it a comfortable spot? Or does change need to happen. Take a risk. It could make all the difference.