Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why not take a risk?

This morning I took a big risk with 430 students.  I shared my idea with colleagues and my PLN (Professional/Personal Learning Network) before moving forward.  Sometimes as educators, we take risks but keep them to ourselves.  I understand why.  What if it's a complete flop?  What if the kids don't learn what was intended?  What if the kids don't understand the purpose of the activity?  What if the kids don't participate?  But those are negative questions.

I would prefer to focus on the positive question.  Why not share my idea with colleagues and my PLN?  They are bound to have a myriad of suggestions, dos and don'ts, and things to think about.  They became my cheerleaders and support system since I first began planning my idea on October 29th.  I even saved a vox from Scott Capro (@ScottCapro) of #BFC530 fame who got me thinking more clearly about the risk I had promised to take with our students at Merton Intermediate School.  (If you don't follow the #BFC530 hashtag on twitter, you don't know what you're missing.)

So here's some background.  The second Wednesday of every month I have an assembly in the gym with all 430 of our students.  Two instructional assistants and I are alone with them for 30 minutes.  This 30 minutes of time provides an extra hour and 15 minutes total for staff collaboration time.  It costs the district nothing and has had a limited impact on me, mostly involving less sleep than normal due to being nervous.  I share personal stories and motivational stories and review school procedures.  Most of the time, however, I spend talking with little interaction for the students.  So I decided to take a risk this month and many of my colleagues offered to help me out.  I laid the ground rules and my colleagues (Mr. Rheineck, Mrs. Oppermann, Mr. Binney, Mrs. Niemczyk, Miss Luberda, Mr. Pomeroy, Mrs. Behnke, and Mrs. Clague) started with me.  Many others joined during the event.  I cannot thank them enough.  They certainly helped to reduce my stress (see yesterday's post entitled "Are you scared by risks?") and made for an even better experience for our kids.

Here is what I did this morning.  I had the students come into the gym and sit on the floor.  They are used to coming in and sitting in the bleachers so this was the first risk.  I had a short presentationwith minimal directions on the screen in the gym.  Then I sent them to work to design their ideal learning spaces whether they be classrooms, outdoor learning spaces, or in their own homes.  They were able to pick groups and some of the groups had a mixture of all four of our grade levels (5th-8th grade).  Then they spread around the gym and the commons, which is the hallway outside of our gym, and they went to work.  I have not had a chance to see all of their ideas, but what I have seen is fantastic.  Once I have a chance, I'll put these ideas into another blog.  Before they left, they turned in an exit slip which asked them three questions-

  1. What should we keep doing as a school?
  2. What should we stop doing as a school?
  3. What should we start doing as a school?
The responses to these questions will also be a future blog post.  With both activities, I told the students I would be meeting with Student Senate to discuss the results.  Anyone can be a member of Student Senate so everyone can attend the meeting.  I'm really looking forward to these follow up conversations so that the students know that their voices are being heard.  I have shared some pictures from this morning on our Twitter page, @mertonint.

This morning was awesome!  The kids were great.  They were creative.  They shared their voice in designing learning spaces.  They were honest answering the questions on the exit slip.  They cleaned up after themselves.  There was only one thing I would change and I'm sure someone had reminded me to think about it.  I laugh about it now and even said to a colleague, "I forgot that when I had students get paper in my class that I only had about 30 students, not 430!"  Next time, I'll remember to have the paper ready in advance, that's for sure.

My message to you, whether you are a principal, a teacher, or a superintendent, is this.  Don't be shy about taking a risk.  Share your ideas with one another.  You may not be able to replicate an idea in your own school or classroom, but it sure can provide some excellent ideas and conversations.  So go ahead, take a risk.  Take a chance.  Share an idea.  Your students will thank you for it.

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