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.


  1. I think of myself as a very open and transparent person. After reading your post, I thought about my own blog. Nearly everything I post is something that happenED, not something that is happenING. I am not sharing the live progress, and thus I subconsciously filter like crazy. In my case, I don't think it is fear, but a desire for relevance to an audience. I don't think there is value in sharing what didn't work for me (even though after reflecting consciously on it, I DO see value in it). This course, with the high frequency of blogging required, will hopefully push me to the same level you're feeling.

    That aside, the GH projects sound awesome. I'll be tuning into that live stream!

  2. I agree on the desire to be relevant driving my choices in the past. I always try to share my "fails" and "what I'd do differently" when I present, but I can frame and control those moments in a positive (and meaningful) way. Learning to learn on stage is going to take some getting used to!

  3. Can I please come into your classroom? This is totally what I would have wanted in High School! Unfortunately, you do bring up a valid point in where juniors and seniors get stuck in the "tell me what's on the test" mode. I love how you are having them dig into their own interests, providing them a relevant audience, pushing them outside their comfort zone and providing support along the way. I would love to hear how your 1-1 conferencing goes seeing as next year in a block schedule model I really want to have time to do this with my students. I completely understand this idea of being transparent while in the process, I am not a fan of it either, however, I just keep telling myself that in the end it will have helped to reach out and gain new insight for next time.

  4. I love the idea of Genius Hour, so much so that I am creating a 6th grade elective next year... So, I may reach out to you for some helpful hints. I like the live streaming aspect of the project, although, as I read it, I know I would be freaking out if I were a student in your class. But, like you said, it really puts the students in charge of their own learning - and as juniors and seniors, this is good prep for college level learning! Excited to hear how it progresses!