September 21st, 2016
He presented his “Me” Poster to his 23 classmates yesterday.
“The teacher told me I had to speak up,” he said.
“Your friends wanted to hear you.”
“I did it. But I was nervous,” he said.
“It’s totally normal to be nervous for that,” I coached. “But you were brave.”
“I was brave,” he concurred.
And then we high-fived and he ran off to do the brave work of climbing on wooden structures that call silently to 5 year-olds.
Earlier that day at work, we had started a meeting with a quick share out of recent moments where we had done something brave or kind or when we had failed, inspired by a colleague having read this post. After calling out Miles’ brave moment from his day, in true teacher-nerd fashion, as he played and climbed I began to philosophize, as I often do, on the purpose of school and why I am driven to work on creating innovative classrooms.
As a parent, our role in building the character of our kids is obvious. I can help my child call out those brave moments in his day, to realize that he is braver than he might think he is. I can preach kindness and model it in my own relationships. I can fail in front of them and show them how to move forward with grace.
But as a teacher? And how does technology factor into bravery and kindness and learning from failure?
I believe it is a teacher’s job to create learning experiences where kids feel safe taking risk, where they practice kindness towards each other, where they learn from failures as much as, if not more than, successes.
I also believe that in a connected classroom, these practices are amplified.
The connected world of technology has made me brave. Every time I hit publish, I feel that mix of anxiety and adrenaline. A connected classroom can offer our students these same brave moments. Whether it is hitting publish on a blog post that will be read by those outside of our classroom, giving a speech to an audience about community-based research, or testing a model that they’ve designed and built themselves, students in tech-infused classrooms have countless opportunities to do brave work.
Technology has shown me again and again the kindness of people and the need to do the real work of creating kindness where it might not already exist. Teachers today have the opportunity and responsibility to teach students about fair and kind treatment online. Instead of being so quick to act out of fear and turn off the comment features of so many of the tools we use, let’s teach students what it means to be a part of an online community. We might not teach them how to use snapchat, but we can show them the power of words and meaningful dialogue. From kindergarten classes using seesaw to share work and give each other a thumbs-up, to middle school students having online discussions in google classroom, to high school students learning how to collaborate and critique each others’ work in digital spaces, these opportunities give students a chance to learn what it means to be part of a digital community.
Technology has made me resilient, as I fail and learn and fail and learn in a never-ending cycle always moving towards creating something significant and valuable both in my online space and in my classroom. Building time to reflect into our lesson cycles ensures that students can take the time to process their failures as well as their successes and plan to grow from them. Students can quickly reflect using a community tool such as answer garden or create a math portfolios using google slides writing in reflections as comments. Each opportunity we give students to think about how they are progressing and not just what they’ve mastered, we give them more and more power as learners.
As a parent, I care that my kids are learning at school. I want them to be able to read and solve math problems, understand history and conduct experiments.
But I care more, really, that their learning pushes them to grow as people, that the knowledge they gain propels them towards bravery and kindness and resilience.
As a teacher (or a coach of teachers) I care about making classrooms safe places for that growth to occur.