Going for Gold

Be firm on principle but flexible on method. -Zig Ziglar

Watching the Olympics the past 2 weeks, I’ve marveled at the flexibility of the athletes, particularly the gymnasts.  They can put their bodies into positions that seem almost super-human to me.  I can’t even bend over and touch my toes.  Their abilities come from intentional practice, training and coaching.

Flexibility isn’t restricted to range of movement with our joints and muscles.  It is also about being willing or disposed to yield.  I’ve been teaching for, well, forever it seems.  It is super easy for me to reach into my file cabinet, pull out a unit of study and go on autopilot…teaching the same lessons, using the same examples, smoothing out the same, wrinkled and faded artifacts and expecting the same answers from my students.  It is literally, a no-brainer.

The longer we teach, the easier it is to develop tunnel vision.  A few years ago, I found myself going through the motions of teaching.  I wasn’t happy but couldn’t figure out why.  My rigidity was more like rigor mortis. When I started using the iPads, I found a new spark of excitement that energized my teaching.  I found the joy of student-led learning and being open to the moment.  When I became present, I discovered how my students became more engaged.  I realized that being on autopilot is a death knell to the classroom.

To be sure, iPads required a new flexibility for me.  I still had an overarching goal but I learned to be not just accepting of student-led learning, I became expectant of it.  The beauty of this shift in my teaching was that my students exceeded even my usually high expectations.  My mantra to teachers in other grades who seem reluctant to incorporate iPads is “If my 5 year old kindergartners can do it, surely your students can also.” Just like those Olympic athletes, our own teaching flexibility requires intentional practice, training and coaching.  It starts from the top in administration.  When administrators create a culture of flexibility, team-work, and open-mindedness, then teachers feel empowered to try new things, reach beyond what they think is possible, and “Go for Gold!”

Are there parts of your life/career that are on autopilot?  Try to find one thing that you can change and allow yourself to feel energized by it.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious!

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And a child shall lead them…

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them”  ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

How many of you have a VCR that is still flashing 12:00?  If so, you need an 8 year old to program it. Or better yet, throw it out. I no longer have a VCR and was thrilled to move into the world of DVR.   Many of my students would be quick to ask what a VCR is. Oh the times, they are a changin’.  Take a look at this image depicting what happens on the internet in one minute.

As our students use iPads in the classroom daily, they are learning ways to manipulate this instructional tool.  They quickly share the knowledge with others and they seldom have to help the same person twice.  Kids get it. Adults, not as quickly. A colleague of mine came into my classroom to ask me a question about a particular app.  Immediately after she asked me, a nearby student jumped up and said, “I can show you.  Look…” The 5 year old quickly went through the steps and the teacher, trying to follow along, said, “Like this?”  and the child, slightly impatient, said, “No, like THIS.” Our students are digital natives.  They were born digital.  They are growing up in a life immersed in digital technologies.

The challenge is teaching them.  Because our students think and process information differently in this digital age, our teaching must change. The digital immigrants teaching these digital natives must think differently.  How many of us still print out email or print out a document to “proof read”?  With the iPads, we’ve been able to go almost paperless.  I say almost because we haven’t worked out some barriers yet.

I recently received a new student.  He had never used an iPad.  I didn’t bother showing him how to use it.  His peers took over and he was proficient by the end of the school day.  I used to demonstrate how to use new apps on the Smart Board.  Going step-by-oh-so-painful-step for my digital natives.  I thought they needed that.  They were politely restrained and gave me that condescending smile of “Yeah, yeah…blah blah blah.  Get on with it so we can do this ourselves.” I no longer torture them.  The speed in which they process new information is astounding and I had to adapt.  I love technology and think of myself as an early adopter…but even I catch myself about to print out an agenda for a meeting from time to time.  Oh Mrs. Meeuwse, that was sooo 47 seconds ago.  Old habits die hard.

With the apps we use in class, the seamless integration of technology with learning, and adaptive and flexible teaching techniques, we can bridge that digital divide.  My students would cheer, but they are blogging about the rainforest and can’t be disturbed. Cue the Rent a Crowd App in the app store.  It will clap and cheer for them for only .99.

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