Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Transparency is scary...Many of us have heard the public speaking advice to "Just imagine the audience in their underwear."  I feel like I am living that, except I am the only one in my underwear and everyone is staring.

Don't get me wrong, I actually am among the few who enjoy public speaking, and I have done large presentation on my classroom, innovations, and teaching experiences.  But, it has always been an after-the-fact, in-hindsight, results-known, all-things-in-control setting...which is definitely not this connected, transparent educator model I am exploring.  I have always considered myself a Go Big or Go Home Girl, and I have taken big risks in my classroom, but other than my colleagues and my (supportive) administrator-no one was looking.  If it didn't go well, I could privately lick my wounds, regroup, and try again. 

In putting myself "out there, in the moment," I feel a pressure to perform (and succeed).  This model calls for a public accountability for my plans and my students' learning.  It is a significant cultural (and maybe generational) shift to allow and encourage people to watch my learning unfold in the moment, live and unedited.

It has taken me a week to work up the nerve to complete this blog.  I have had a draft sitting, ready and waiting, but I was judging and critiquing myself-Do I have anything to really say? Is it going well? Am I failing?  Am I ready to share regardless?  

So an update on my Genius Hour project:

Day 1-As I made my introductions to my juniors and seniors, I was rewarded with bored, reluctant faces about the prospects of a typical, staid research project in yet another English class.  As I worked to garner interest by describing how they had (almost) total choice in topic and direction, a few faces lit up and even the most resentful soften to at least "it could be worse." However, when I got to the presentation part and mentioned "live streaming" I faced total panic and disbelief.  I was suddenly bombarded with questions and worries and, frankly, pure teen fear.  Again, loud and clear confirmation that audience matters.  I had raised the stakes, put them on the public stage, accountable for their own learning.  What was just going to be another mundane task for them suddenly became so much more.  The students actually asked me why I would do that to them, so I frankly told them that I knew many of them didn't really care and weren’t motivated what I thought, so I was going to give them an audience they did care about, and despite their anxiety, many of them acknowledged the truth in this.  I also assured them I would provide the support they needed to be successful presenters, and now instead of a "lesson" in public speaking, they were happy to know they would be given knowledge and skills to be successful, in large part because it suddenly mattered.

Day 2-I sent the kids off Day 1 with the homework to have a topic idea or two for class the next day.  Frankly, I felt they were not engaged and was worried about what they would or would not have for topics.  As usual, they surprised me with varied, original, and meaningful topics, ranging from technology in the ag industry to loss of family values because of social media to time travel and black holes.  I was reminded that often the biggest obstacle in a student's path is the teacher-we need to lay a path then simply get out of the way.

Days 3-8-Topic proposals and research are now in full swing and taking shape nicely.  They are engaged and looking for experts to contact.  They are drafting outlines and beginning to ask about presentation formats.  Rough drafts of outlines are due in a couple days, so I will have a better view of how they are all progressing.  I know not all of them are fully committed, but since they are working in their own areas of interest, I know my engagement and commitment are higher than without that choice or the presentation audience. 

My homework in the next few days is going to be feeling out potential audiences and logistics of streaming.  I also want to conference 1:1 with each student in the next two class periods to offer support and give feedback.

After reading "Creative Endurance" by John Spencer @spencerideas, and watching Ewan McIntosh's @ewanmcintosh TedX speech "Problem Finders," I am more determined than ever to push the often apathetic, overly-conditioned, just-tell-me-what's-on-the-test juniors and seniors back into the mindsets of joyous learners from their elementary years...even if I have to feel like I am in my underwear to do it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Embracing Reluctance

The past week has given me some perspective on the tasks I am facing with becoming a connected educator.  As usual, it is the "soft" objectives which often mean the most in our learning journeys.

I realized that the frustration, fear, and overwhelmedness that I am feeling is likely the same as my student feel when I throw them a new challenge or task outside of their comfort zone.  I see them become too overwhelmed to start, too disconnected to see the relevance, too afraid of failure to even try.  I truly feel their pain right now as I have to admit feeling all of those things when trying to figure out how to create and leverage an effective PLN (in addition to keeping the rest of my life on the rails).  So from this moment of empathy and sympathy, I gave myself the same "lecture" I would give my students, perhaps even a little more sternly as I should (and do!) know better.

So pity party aside, I began to focus on my genius hour project and how I can leverage connectedness both as a teacher and facilitator of these projects.  I have a clear vision of what I want and hope the students could do, but getting there is going to be another challenge.  I know from experience that I am walking a tightrope of structure and freedom, requirements and possibilities.  With too little guidance, students will get lost; with too much, I kill the essence of the task.

I initially turned to my comfort zone of internet searching, and while I did find some ideas and guidance, I knew I needed to go beyond comfort and familiarity.  So starting simple, I found the Twitter #geniushour and added it to my TweetDeck.  I also posted a tweet (cry) for help on how to implement genious hour in the high school because so much seems to be geared to elementary and middle school.  The first Thursday of the month is that hashtag's chat, and I think I will give it a try. I just might lurk, I might jump in, but I can honestly say that I am feeling better about the potential of finding a mangeable way to be connected but not be consumed.