Push Me… Gently

new push button

I don’t like to be pushed.  Who does?  But when I look back at the big professional changes I’ve experienced in the last year, I find that this is how they happened…  I got pushed.

When left to my own devices, I work hard, but hesitate to make really big changes.  Let’s face it.  Big changes usually involve a huge amount of work, time, and discomfort – Sounds like fun, right?  As teachers, we are busy people.  We have after-school coaching or clubs to sponsor, grading, lesson plans, and often children of our own with extra-curricular commitments, homework, etc.  If we are involved in church or community activities, we may have meetings, rehearsals, or events to organize as well.  Making a fundamental change in what we do and the way we do it is something we don’t even have time to get our heads around… unless we’re given no choice.

I tend to be strong-willed.  Opinionated.  Ok – a control freak.  Sound familiar?  These are common traits of educators.  So when I’m pushed… I push back!  That’s my initial reaction, anyway.  Then I take a deep breath, step back, and acknowledge that I can’t ALWAYS be in control.  That’s when I’m finally ready.

As part of our PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) professional development this year, our team was pushed – Before the kick-off event, we had to complete a “pre-game” activity that involved 13 activities to set up a PLN – A Personal Learning Network.  This involved creating a Gmail account, an RSS reader, a Twitter account, a blog, and joining a Ning.  We had very little time to complete these activities before the kick-off.  I did them ALL over the Labor Day weekend!  I felt I had been pushed into the deep end without my first swimming lesson.

What happened?  I struggled to tread water for a while… but then I started enjoying the water, and the new challenges of the deep end.  I tested my abilities a bit more, and found new ways to grow and learn.  I whined and complained a bit, but I kept swimming (click on link below).

\"Just Keep Swimming\"

I had a similar experience this year when we got a new Head of School.  He was excited to bring new practices to the school, and pushed our faculty to start changing our methods – to incorporate a Morning Meeting, use less paper and pencil, more workshop-style lessons.  AGAIN, I felt I was out of my element.  My confidence was shaken, but I refused to go under.  I started learning, and doing – My job depended on it.

Now our Digital Learning Team is getting ready to prepare an Action Research Project as part of our PLP experience.  It’s our turn to push.  I am conscious of this as we think about the professional development project we want to prepare for our faculty.  We are excited about what we have learned – how far we have come – but I don’t want to push so hard that the faculty pushes back.  We will make them uncomfortable – that is unavoidable.  But hopefully we will help them, support them, and encourage them as they learn.  Together we need to first BECOME 21st century learners, and then use our skills to bring 21st century learning to the classroom.  It will happen.  If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to read NAIS’s document “A 21st Century Imperative: Becoming a School of the Future”

Even though it’s not fun to be pushed, it is often the way we are forced to move forward.  Change is uncomfortable, and we naturally avoid things that bring discomfort…  So sometimes we need a little shove in the right direction…  🙂

The Times, They Are A-Changin’

I haven’t felt inspired to blog in a while, but a number of things have happened in the last few days that have given me much cause for thought…

I spoke in an earlier blog, about my new principal this year – how he has been encouraging us to slow down and focus on process as opposed to content – to go deeper instead of wider.  I was honest about my skepticism, ready to see another educational fad come and go, and was rather frustrated to be “put through the hoops” as we jumped onto the latest gimmick.

I wish I could spend the next few paragraphs bragging about how right I was.

Let’s just say the good thing about my skepticism is that it forced me to educate myself on the subject.  My participation in the PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) program this year taught me to develop and keep up with an RSS reader.  I need to be honest and admit this…  I had no idea how ignorant I was of current practices and theories in education.  I think as teachers, we just “do our thing” year after year, and figure if it has worked in the past, why change?  But do we really look at whether it has worked?

My principal has also provided some interesting insight from folks like Alfie Kohn (, Chip Wood (, information from the book Best Practice, Today’s Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools,

and the Responsive Classroom program (  All of this has been enlightening, challenging, and frankly, overwhelming.

In a recent faculty meeting, we discussed grades.  We talked about how to provide authentic instruction, how to focus on the progress of each child, and finally how best to assess our elementary students.  These open discussions enable us to throw the big questions out there, and talk through them as a team.  One of our biggest concerns as an independent college preparatory school is the effect on our students as they move forward into middle school and high school.

Today I read the New York Times article on the upcoming redesign of the A.P. Program.

The revised exams will focus on application of concepts and critical thinking skills as opposed to memorizing huge amounts of content.  This Connected Principals blog addresses the article as well – (

The fact of the matter is this:

As Bob Dylan sang, “The Times, They Are A-Changin’”

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Do you want to be the last on board?  It’s no longer about the content.  If we refocus our teaching and our students become strong critical thinkers and problem solvers, they will have no problem applying these vital skills to every subject area in middle school, high school, college, and beyond.

Lost in the Jargon of 21st Century Learning

In the past few months, these buzzwords have taken over my life…

21st Century Learning
Paradigm Shift
Web 2.0
Project-Based Curriculum
Global Citizens
Digital Learners
Social Communities
Culture of Inquiry
Outcome Based
Active Learning
Multiple Literacies
Best Practice

I found this video today and was mesmerized…

Is it any wonder I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed as an educator??  I am not a young 20-something fresh out of school.  I am a mid-40s mom with 2 teenage daughters, who changed careers almost 10 years ago, and found my passion in teaching.  I have always embraced technology – It does not scare me.  But I entered teaching in a very traditional environment – one that was very textbook/testing/paper-driven.  Now I’m trying to adjust to a new environment, and make sure my students are prepared for today’s world – not the one I entered when I graduated from college in 1985.  If this “shift” overwhelms me, I can only imagine what it does to my colleagues who are 10 years older than I, who are not tech savvy, and who have been teaching the same way for 30 years…

My stress comes from feeling as though I have to change everything at once.  I need to use more technology.  I need to use less worksheets.  I need to teach without textbooks.  I need to provide “authentic assessment”.   I need to assign more projects.  I need to assign less homework.  I need to differentiate more.  I need to start using “workshop” style lessons.  I need to rearrange my classroom.  I need to provide more hands-on opportunities.  I need to provide more opportunities for collaborative learning.  I need to facilitate, not teach.  I need to determine which content is really important, and spend more time helping my students become critical thinkers and problem solvers.

I do think I have already begun to take important steps in this direction.  But I know that change is hard, and many teachers struggle with changing the way they have always taught.  I don’t believe in “throwing the baby out with the bath water” – I don’t believe everything we have been doing is wrong.  I think a certain amount of paper and pencil/drill and practice is necessary in some content areas to help “lock in” basic skills.  I believe that we should not throw out what works  – But we must look for ways to reduce what doesn’t work, and improve our methods and strategies to meet the needs of the changing times. 

This means that I am beginning to question the things I have always held dear, and it is an uncomfortable feeling, to be sure.  If we are focused on collaborative learning and problem solving skills, and differentiating to meet students where they are, is it still appropriate to assign grades in elementary school?  If we are embracing the whole child and encouraging our students to pursue their passions on the stage or the playing field, should we still be assigning homework in the same way??

I feel an obligation to my students to do the very best I can for them.  This means taking part in the Powerful Learning Practice program, and spending more hours reading, researching new methods in education, and finding creative lesson plans than ever before — and trying not to get overwhelmed and discouraged in the process!  It’s all for the very best cause… our future.