As I teach my class, The Raven Innovation Lab (ROHS iTeam), I find many similarities that overlap with my own day-to-day activities on the job. I am tasking these students to be collaborative and team together in productive ways. What does that look like? How do we do that in order to get a result that meets their goals? How do we know we were successful? What are the success indicators? Then, of course, students have to practice effective communication skills- giving everyone a space to voice their perspective and making sure each member is heard. Practicing Empathy. Mindfulness. Understanding that 'failing forward' is ok, there may not be a "right" answer (there rarely is) and there aren't many careers in which you aren't managing multiple projects at once. We are working on many of the Approaches to Learning Skills. Honestly, by the act of just teaching, we are utilizing the Approaches to Learning Skills (at least some of them). However, I have to constantly remind myself to explicitly teach them to students and essentially tell myself to 'slow down.' It may be silly, but since I'm visual, I need visual reminders. I not only have to explicitly teach these skills... I feel like I need to lead by example. The things I ask of my students are the things I am constantly working on as well. Some of them will come naturally, but others I know I need to work on.
I not only have to explicitly teach these skills... I feel like I need to lead by example.
The Raven Innovation Lab is built on the foundation of Design Thinking. It's actually a big connector to design, engineering, science, and quite honestly I can make a case for its connection into every course that targets project based learning (PBL) in some way. It's a process, and in part, it's really a thinking process. I'm not educating students on memorizing the steps. I am educating them on intuitively navigating through problems and finding solutions. Would you say that all teachers do this? I totally would! As an instructional coach that moves around the PLC circuit, I am finding that we all have a different language. Why is that? This may be my own naivete, but why is 'thinking like a scientist' different than 'thinking like a writer,' or engineer, designer, artist, mathematician? The piece of the ATLs that I love is that it gets us to develop a common language. I started with the basis of Design Thinking because it's a cycle that I personally go through with all of the projects and problems I encounter, either at work or in my personal life.
So for example, when sitting down with a teacher I use empathy. I am trying to see what their needs are. Look at things from their perspective. Then we have to define the problem and set goals. Ideate and come up with a plan. The two of us may have to prototype items (this can look so many different ways if you are not linear about your definition of prototyping.) Then you test it out and fully implement to affect change and reach the goals. What happens if it doesn't work? Do we pack up and go home? Or continue doing something that doesn't work? Nope. :) It's back to the drawing boards! To me, this is the exciting part about teaching. It's not about perfection or the 'right way.' There are so many ways...
It's not about perfection or the 'right way'. There are so many ways...
I said previously in this post that I need to slow down and explicitly teach some of the ATL skills. I would like for the big area of focus for the iTeam to be reflection. I think reflection is a huge part of learning and it's something I do every single day. I would like to think that I do a decent job about leading by example with regards to reflection. As I'm writing this blog post, I am hoping that my students are also reflecting on their week and their learning. I can't ask students to be reflective learners without being one myself.
Now with that said, as I continue reading my students' blog posts, I am realizing they are giving me a recap of what happened in class. A rather surface level response to 'get points' or fulfill the requirement. That to me says, I didn't do a great job modeling and teaching what reflection is. I should preface, there isn't a right or wrong way to reflect. However, I do want them to go deeper and think deeper on their process. So maybe I should rephrase: I didn't do a great job at modeling and teaching the depth of reflection I was looking for. As I look at the list of ATL skill indicators under reflection skills I can't help but think- 'Man, why didn't I start off using some visible thinking routines?!?' This would have helped us develop a routine and also an understanding of the level of reflection I would be looking for on the blog. I think I may just slow down... be flexible... and change it up... possibly tomorrow. :)
The design process I am asking students to go through is challenging for them. Mostly it's because they have to team and direct their own learning in some way. When asked to select a problem and address it with the given resources I was met with, "This is hard! If you give me the problem I could solve it." Yes, they totally could. We have students who are excellent writers, readers, designers, etc. In public education we give them many things and sometimes I think we forget that frustration and failure is not bad. They have to work through it. My philosophy professor would always tell me, "Alyssa, frustration means you're learning. You're stretching your mind." I can tell you that every time I left his class, my brain was entirely stretched and I didn't always feel awesome about it. Thanks Chris Bocklage!
As we move into the marking period, the students are working on multiple projects at one time. Again, they are having a tough time because they aren't sure how to navigate and balance these projects even though we have gone through multiple smaller scale projects which modeled the various steps and approaches. The format for the course is structured, but not in the way that I give them a task in which I already know the end result. The hard part for them is honestly the scary part for me... I have no clue how it will turn out. But what I do know is there is going to be a lot of learning forward and failing forward.
Beyond the Design Thinking approach, I want the students to start working on skills they will be able to use in the real world. Being balanced (LP characteristic) and managing workload (ATLs) is a real life skill. I am not asking students to do something that I am not doing myself. Students see that I am constantly juggling several projects at once. From being someone who addresses inquiries to working on building goals with teachers. It's a lot of work. Good work. I'm passionate about building relationships and helping to provide rich experiences for students. As I am leading by example in my efforts to try to be balanced and project manage... I am hoping that they see something more important than being efficient at balancing and managing tasks. I hope that they are developing an understanding that the work becomes more meaningful when you are passionate about it. Because when you love what you do and are doing real meaningful work it gives you a different perspective. The job becomes less of a 9-5 and more of a piece of who you are.
I know I only highlighted some of the skills in which I am either indirectly or directly modeling for students that come naturally to me. There are many that don't come naturally for me. I am deeply aware that there are many things I need to work on. I know I will have to dedicate extra space and time to work through those. Maybe I'll talk about those in another post. :)
I will leave you with a few questions to reflect on:
Every time I leave a Jay Marks session I'm competely exhausted... in the best possible way. I've said this before, but Jay really creates thoughtful activities where it's impossible for you not to be 'in' the session. This time around I was prepared to be 'in the moment,' share information about myself with people I have never met before, and reflect heavily outwardly and inwardly- the latter being the most important as it leads to growth and possible new perspectives.
I have written posts about the Social Justice cohort sessions that many of our Royal Oak Schools teachers attended last year. A lot of the topics and activities were ones we did before, so I won't repeat that information in this post. However, as I said to a fellow colleague: "In my opinion, you really can't think about these topics enough." Even though I've done many of the activities, I find that I have new thoughts and ideas as I work through them again a second or third time.
Let me just dive right into this post and give a little background for new teachers and readers. This year I am part of a four session learning experience about Culturally Responsive Teaching. Much of the time of the first session was dedicated to getting to know ourselves and our own cultures, coming to a definition of what it means to be 'culturally responsive,' and for some of us, maybe even identifying some of our own biases in the process.
Before joining these workshops with Marks, I may have had a narrow view of culture. I have always attributed culture to ethnicity, but I really didn't take into account the whole picture or person. One of the activities I love is the cultural portraits (and it's not because I'm a Visual Art teacher <3 :) I love the activity because it's personal, you can see where people are in their own journey, and it's visual. There's something powerful in the gallery walk. Looking, reflecting, discussing and ultimately seeing similarities and differences. Recognizing where we are and where we need to go in our own process.
I really tried to think of categories that formulated the foundation of who I am as a person. Totally easy right? Yeah... totally... Interestingly enough my categories really had nothing to do with my race/ethnicity. Though it's a part of me, it doesn't define who I am. Even though it has shaped me as a person and affected pieces and moments of my life, I don't base everything about me on the color of my skin. However I am very aware that this may not be the case for someone else. If I'm being honest, I have been afforded certain luxuries and privileges based on my upbringing and the color of my skin.
Another activity that we did at the social justice cohort (last year) was the group activity where we linked arms (privilege walk). Jay would ask us all questions and if it applied to us, we would step forward. In the end, you could see the levels of opportunity with each group/individual. I knew I probably would fall somewhere in the middle. Not the top and not the bottom. But I guess I didn't realize how far back I would be from the top group (which was 100% white). It gave me a different perspective on privilege. Something I always knew I had, but didn't realize the how large the gaps were.
Much of my own cultural identity has been blurred between two worlds. Since I was adopted into a Caucasian family I have certain perspectives and privileges that I came to realize as I became older. However, outwardly on the surface I am Asian-American. That is my category, but it is not that which defines me. A weird place to be in the world, I think. You're not part of any one group, but receive the positive aspects of both- and also the negative. This is something that I have had to think about and process as an adult many times over.
So how does this connect with teaching? Anyone...? Anyone...? Bueller...? Bueller...? Why does it matter to know our cultural selves? Why does it matter to know our students' cultural identities?
A simple answer is that by knowing our students cultural backgrounds, we are really getting to know our students as individuals. A lot of what I heard in the discussions were the words 'mindful,' 'appreciation,' 'perspective,' 'sensitive,' 'understanding,' 'accepting...'
To me at the very core of culturally responsive teaching is relationships. As a teacher you have to be invested in your students. It's not just supporting them academically, but helping to support their development into becoming a well-rounded individual/citizen. We know that relationships are at the center of everything that we do in school and in life. As I continue moving forward developing a better understanding of Culturally Responsive Teaching I want to make it a goal to be more mindful of...
Interested in knowing more about the Social Justice Cohort and Culturally Responsive Teaching? Reach out! :)
How to Teach Students Who Don't Look Like You