Saturday, August 10, 2013

Putting Passion into Teaching (And Life)

I'm tired... a good percentage of the time.  My tiredness, however, is something I embrace as it is a reminder of a day/week/month well spent, a time lived to its capacity.  Like many educators, I have found myself filling the summer months maximizing time with family and friends and continuously working on school related projects.  This summer has been a busy one, as they inevitable are, between assistant teaching at an EdTech Conference, teaching summer school, and taking three grad classes.  As summer comes to a close, I've started to reflect on what I've learned this summer, my goals for the school year, and how I plan on approaching changes made to curriculum and technology that are being implemented within my district.  I'm rejuvenated, excited, and eager to see where this year leads.

The "back-to-school" buzz is in the air, and I've been spending time this week catching up with a few graduates before they leave for college.  They're excited and ready to venture off to their various destinations.  When asking them about their life, the biggest question they are grappling with is what to do (professionally) with their lives.  That answer often leads to where they will live and what opportunities will ensue as a result.  It such a broad yet important question, and when they ask for my advice, the best words of wisdom I can share is find your passion.

Passion is what keeps us moving when we're exhausted, it is what shines through when teaching a lesson that may not capture everyone's attention in the room, and it is what makes life worth living.  As I interact with students (both former and present), I am reminded that I have the best job in the world; I get to guide kids to their passions.  In order to do that, I have model what it means to live passionately.

One of my favorite education-related books, Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students by Erik Palmer, talks about speaking with passion.  No matter what the subject matter may be, we all have the power to embed emotions into what we say through inflections or "the life we put into our voices".  Our words are powerful, but how we use and speak them can be even more impactful.  When I want to convince students that writing a research paper is fun (or at least a meaningful experience) or that reading a certain book can inspire great thoughts, I have to speak with enthusiasm; I have to approach each lesson and learning activity with fervor.  If I want students to complete something, then it must be purposefully constructed and must truly be worthwhile to do.

Time is a precious commodity, whether it is classroom time or our lives.  Encouraging students to pursue what they are passionate about allows them to find meaning and value in what they the doing.   As Mitch Albom states in his book Tuesdays with Morrie, "The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."  I have found my purpose in helping kids find their passions, and if that means I experience a significant lack of sleep, I'm okay with that.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Genius Hour

Speech Camp this year became a week of cultivating leadership and communication skills, instead of explaining the 14 individual events in which students will actually compete during the school year.   I'd say "oops" but I could not be happier with how the week turned out.  This past week, we built transferable skills that will lend themselves nicely to the regular season and fostered relationships with students that will help us find material/scripts that reflects their passions, interests, and skills.  So we did not spend a lot of time "doing" Speech Team, but we were successful in developing their ability to use words and critically think in a 21st century world.

The theme of camp revolved around the power of words and the ability we all have to creatively and accurately express ourselves to those we encounter.  On Wednesday, I had students complete their first-ever Genius Hour, asking them only to show how they change the world they live in each day.  As a precursor to this activity, I gave them ten seconds to draw a picture, using a sheet of paper that had only a circle printed on it.  Then, they had one minute to finish/enhance their drawing.  What was most impressive was that some students started to fold the paper, write words, and even tore the paper to create something original that reflected their personalities.  They thought outside of the box quite literally.

After processing this experience and considering how we choose to express ourselves every day, students spent two minutes thinking about how they impact the world. Watching them fervently scribble their ideas, create lists, and yes, even draw to express themselves, students shared their creations with small groups of five to six people. Then, they had two minutes to decide how to combine their ideas and plan how to utilize the hour.

Once time was called, students grabbed flip cameras and ran out of the Media Center doors. One group remained in the Media Center and created a maze that students went through to emphasize the idea that "the journey is the real reward", but the rest decided to create videos. As the hour dwindled and students began to frantically sign onto computers to edit their work, the results began to take form. When given an open-ended challenge to create change, these students' originality shined through. Not only did the Genius Hour allow students express themselves, but it also taught them that they can problem-solve, create, and demonstrate high levels of knowledge in a short amount of time. They can collaborate, utilize technology, and use their voices to influence the world in which they live. While the hour expired quickly, what they did accomplish was amazing and inspiring, even though technology and time created obstacles. Their final projects were touching, funny, and reflected their personalities.

I was impressed by the quality of work that they created, but more importantly, I was touched by their comments during our reflection time. Because they had a short time to accomplish the task, they learned that they needed to be flexible, utilize listening skills, solve problems quickly, and be willing to work together. They also bonded with their teammates, collaborated, and had a positive time doing it. They had fun and shared their messages with their peers (and the world in which they live). The final projects were beautiful, but it was the process that taught them these lessons. As the students enthusiastically crawled through the maze in the Media Center, earning rug-burn like badges of honor as a team, they demonstrated that the journey really is the reward.

Resources for the Genius Hour:

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