Everywhere I turn I find frustrated teachers. These words echo in my head from bits of conversations I hear...
...they want to be entertained
...they don't show up on time
...they are entitled
...they lack focus
...they are lazy
...they don't meet deadlines
...so much pressure
...too many initiatives
...too many students
...too many hoops
...not enough time...
This week was an extremely difficult one for me. I just started a new semester with new kiddos, and have half of the energy I started with at the beginning of the school year. It took everything in me to fight these thoughts from creeping into my mind. I'm exhausted, frustrated, and overwhelmed. I pushed the negative back by taking some time to reflect on what I do and how I do it. The words "innovate inside of the box" came to mind, so I picked up one of my favorite books, Innovator's Mindset, and began reading...
"Let’s not kid ourselves. In education, especially the public sector, schools are not overloaded with funding. Innovating in our schools requires a different type of thinking, one that doesn’t focus on ideas that are “outside of the box” but those that allow us to be innovative despite budgetary constraints. In other words, we need to learn to innovate inside the box." -- George Couros
Many of us in education can say our schools are lacking either funding, resources, time, technology, or support... It's the box we live in. However, it's how we innovate inside those constraints that make the difference. Do we focus on all the limitations we have, or do we get creative and think about how we can do something new and better within the box we are given.
George Couros talks about the following 8 Characteristics of an Innovator's Mindset in his book and now as I read them again, I realize the extreme degree my mindset has shifted over the past few years and how it truly has saved me from the frustrations and burn out that so many educators face.
1. Empathetic - I am continuously asking myself the George Couros question, "Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?" We can't expect our students to respond to the same methods of learning that we did. They are growing up in a different era. When we put ourselves in their shoes and see the world as they do, we will create learning experiences that are powerful. Inspired by Tara Martin’s BookSnaps idea, my students create FoodSnaps to reflect on their creations using Snapchat; a tool that speaks their language. This is just one example of finding ways to create learning experiences that meets students where they’re at.
2. Problem Finders/Solvers - I spend a lot less time on posing problems to students, and let them find the problems instead. So much learning happens when we get out of the way and encourage our students to find their own solutions. They become empowered and truly make learning their own. Instead of feeding students tons of information to consume, I now have students find this information on their own as well as find and solve their own problems. To take it further, creating authentic audiences by inviting in restaurant owners and staff for students to share their learning with takes it to a completely different level as the relevance and meaning skyrockets.
3 . Risk Takers - For many years, I waited for perfect before I launched a new idea or lesson. The reality was, more often than not, perfect never came and I just continued maintaining the status quo in fear that my new idea would fail. Since embracing an Innovator’s Mindset, I don’t fear risk taking anymore. I am continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to create amazing experiences for my students. Those ideas and lessons do fail at times, but the wins far outweigh the losses and I’ve grown leaps and bounds in the iterative process of refining my practice. I also have found that modeling that risk taking with my students is so vital.. Students get used to my crazy ideas and embrace them as we learn together. Experiencing my boldness in teaching gives them the freedom to risk boldly too. So much growth happens when we take big leaps.
4. Networked - There was a time that I lived in a culinary silo. I went through my school days feeling isolated and alone. How could anyone relate to my world of Chef’s knives and saute’ pans? I was so wrong. Once I discovered Twitter and began developing a Professional Learning Network, a whole new world opened up to me! I realized that that it was ridiculous to remain in a culinary silo when there were educators from across the educational spectrum from Kindergarten through Higher Education that I could not only learn from, but collaborate with! I begun to share the learning that was happening in my class and found ways to integrate the ideas I was learning from other educators into my class as well. I started participating in and even moderating Twitter chats to develop deeper connections. I joined in Voxer communities to discuss books and topics that I was passionate about. Without a doubt, I’ve grown exponentially as an educator since I’ve become globally connected.
5. Observant - George Couros says, “Sometimes the most valuable thing you get from the network ins’t an idea but the inspiration or courage to try something new.” I find this to be so true. I have become so much more courageous in my teaching as I’ve been inspired by my PLN. I look at my world through a new lense now as well. When I read, run, hike, watch TV, people watch, and go through my normal day to day life, I am continuously looking for inspiration to bring into my classroom. It is amazing how many ideas are just waiting for us to grab hold of them and make them our own brand of awesome!
6. Creators - Learning is powerful when students go beyond consumption to creation. My classes are creation-based by nature; students are collaborating on a daily basis to create amazing food. However, creating has taken on a whole new meaning as students are not just following recipes, but taking the skills and techniques they learn to make something entirely new. Empowering students to make learning their own by coming up with their own creations is one of the most powerful things to experience as an educator. To see their face light up with pride as they present their unique and delicious dishes makes my heart leap with joy. Learning becomes so much more rich and meaningful when we give students opportunities to create and connect at this level.
7. Resilient - This past week my students reviewed safety and sanitation by working in teams to solve a digital breakout. I have never seen my students so engaged and immersed in learning about safe food handling practices and during my 7th block of the day! It was difficult and challenging, but they were all in! Well, all but one student whose comment made me internally bristle, “Mrs. Richmond, why don’t you just have us do a worksheet…it would be easier.” Well, yes it would be easier…much easier. Though, I will guarantee that the answers that are regurgitated from that worksheet would not be retained or hold as much meaning as what is learned from the critical thinking and collaborating that happened as students gathered around to unlock the series of digital break out clues. How often are we encouraging our students to stretch their thinking? Are we feeding them the answers, or challenging them in a safe environment where they can take risks, fail, and risk again? Additionally, I’ve come to realize that not everyone is going to agree with my approach to teaching and learning. It hurts sometimes, but I know what I’m doing works because my students are evidence of that. I have to continue doing what I know is working, even when others don’t see the value or agree.
8. Reflective - One of the most powerful things I’ve begun to do as an educator is reflect regularly. Blog writing has become a wonderful and powerful way for me to not only document and share my learning, but to reflect on it myself. The more I do it, the more I crave it. I am able to make deeper connections as I put my practice into words and truly think about what is working and what is not. I also love to sketchnote my learning. When I read a book, attend PD, or listen to a podcast, I often will sketch my learning during and after to make deeper connections and allow it to resonate. As George states, “Looking back is crucial to moving forward.” Having my blog posts and sketchnotes to look back on has been powerful for me as I continue to learn and grow as an educator.
I can’t express enough how powerful these Innovator’s Mindset characteristics have been in my EDUjourney. They have helped transform me as an educator as I embrace “change as an opportunity to do something amazing”! As I hit the midyear mark this week, I can tell you, I am EXHAUSTED! Teaching is extremely hard work. We invest so much of ourselves in the lives of kids. There are days I am frustrated, tired, and feel like I do not have an ounce of energy left. All that to say, since developing an Innovator’s Mindset, those days don’t define me as an educator. No matter how strong my feelings of frustration or exhaustion gets, my passion for teaching and learning is stronger. Innovation is contagious! Don’t get stuck in your box….find ways to do something amazing within it. The more you innovate, the more you’ll crave it!
Every conference I attend, I return home feeling like my life is richer. My mind could burst with all of the new ideas that I can't wait to bring back to my classroom. The sessions are great, the keynotes fantastic; however, what makes each experience so amazing is without a doubt, the people. To be surrounded by like-minded educators who share the same passion and zeal for education is energizing and inspiring to say the least.
This past week, I flew across the country from Medford, Oregon to Orlando, Florida, eager to connect with friends that I met through Twitter and Voxer conversations; close friends that I experience life with even though many miles and time zones separate us. In fact, some of these friends I had never even met face to face. For those who are not connected via social media, I know this must sound strange....maybe even crazy. However, it is absolutely true. My experience at FETC was made richer because of the meals and rich discussions we shared, sessions we facilitated together, long walks and Uber rides to sessions, and evening events. Spending time together not only strengthened our friendships, but also allowed us to expand our connections as we met others each were connected to. It was the hallway conversations, the evening discussions over dinner, the fun and laughter, that took my FETC experience to another level. I wonder how many people have conference experiences that are limited to the sessions they attend, the keynote, and the EXPO Hall wanderings? How many attend and only connect with the people they came with from their district?
There was a time when my conference experiences were limited to that as well. I didn't know any different. So what makes my experience different now? I have a Personal Learning Network....no, I have a Personal Learning Family. My PLF is made up of people from all around the world that I connect with on a daily basis through Twitter, Voxer, and even Snapchat. This amazing network of educators continually inspire, encourage, and challenge me time and time again and I most certainly would not be the educator I am today without them. It is safe to say that because of my global connections I have grown exponentially as an educator and opportunities have opened up to me that I would have never even dreamed of. I am more confident and courageous than I ever thought possible.
As I fly home and reflect on my amazing week, I am reminded of the tremendous power of being a connected educator. My life is richer because of the connections I've made and the friendships that have developed. My author friend, Aaron Hogan, sums it up beautifully in this quote from his book #TeacherMyth...
Sketchnotes of some of the #FETC sessions I attended:
If you grew up in the 70's you will recognize, "Meet George Jetson" as the beginning of a popular futuristic cartoon theme song from back in the day. You may even start singing along! The Jetson's was one of my favorites to watch on a Saturday morning. I loved this cartoon that gave us a glimpse into what the 21st century may look like. Watching the episodes today, I realize that many of those futuristic inventions from the cartoon are indeed part of our everyday life. The home computer, cell phone, microwave oven, treadmill, teleconferencing, and robotics have become essential to our existence in 2018.
Looking back on my childhood, this may have been a good indication that I would become increasingly passionate about innovation as I grew older. I've always enjoyed dreaming about the possibilities for creating something new and better. Better yet, dreaming is not enough for me, I want to make those dreams a reality. This past November on Cyber Monday, I was scrolling through Amazon for all of their special deals. I was immediately drawn to the Echo Dot that remained fixated prominently on the top of the webpage. Call it good advertising, but it intrigued me . Better yet, it's price had drastically dropped for the day, so I decided to push the button and make the purchase. My intention was to use it for playing music in the kitchen while I was making dinner and maybe to ask "Alexa" random questions as I needed it, just as I would ask Google. However, I got more than I bargained for.
This Echo Dot purchase has been more than I ever anticipated it to be. As I walk into my kitchen, I simply say, "Alexa, play James Taylor." and Alexa answers, "Shuffling songs by James Taylor". Within 2 seconds my favorite song "Fire and Rain" is playing. The volume is a little low, so I ask Alexa to turn up the volume and sure enough, the volume increases. How cool is that?! This feels like the Jetson's world that I dreamed about when I was a little girl. As I was pondering the power of this little round dot that I had ordered on a whim, I began thinking, "What else can Alexa do?" If it can shuffle my favorite James Taylor songs, it must be able to do countless more!
My first thought was, "How could I use this in my classroom for learning?" As an educator passionate about the power of play, I started to wonder, "Does Alexa play games?" Searching the app, I was left stunned! Alexa LOVES to play games! In fact, there was no end to the games available to play! The question was, how could I narrow down the games and find the ones that I could use for student learning. Knowing that I was going to be starting International Cuisine soon, I typed in "world trivia" and low and behold....136 results showed up! ...Country Game, World Quiz, My World Capitals, the list goes on! My heart started racing as I realized the potential for this in my Culinary Arts 3 The Amazing Race gamified semester where we are on a race around the world to discover International Cuisine! The possibilities were endless!
Now my wheels were really spinning and sparks were flying! I had to discover what else Alexa could play!! I searched "food trivia" and sure enough 63 results! Food facts, Food Trivia, Noodle It Out, Cuisine Trivia. Holy Wow! This is incredible! What about picking teams? Could Alexa roll a dice or spin a wheel? Yes, she can! Type in "dice" and you will find 91 results! Spin a Wheel? Yep, she can do that too!!! I even discovered she can tell "punny food puns" or choose a flavor on a wheel!
Who knew that this little white dot named Alexa could bring a whole new world of experiences into my classroom! I still love that she can play music by my man, James Taylor, at a moments notice but, she is capable of so much more! I have just opened the treasure box, so I still have so much to try and learn. However, I just couldn't wait to share my discovery! Stay tuned as I explore the magic that the Echo Dot can bring to our classrooms. We truly are living in a Jetson's world.
I love the beginning of a new school year. After a summer of reading, relaxing, professional development and idea storming, my engine is fired up and I can hardly wait to press down on the accelerator at full speed when the "start" flag drops! I race into the first quarter with a full gas tank of excitement, energy, and ideas.
By second quarter I've settled into my lane and have set my pace. The established relationships with my students refuels me when my "low fuel" light turns on. I'm tired, but I'm still going strong and I'm excited about the progress and gains we've made. My students have grown so much and classes have bonded. We have gained momentum and are making great time.
Thanksgiving gives me a little break to refuel just enough to reach half a tank. Now I know I can make it to the Winter Break when I'll get a full-blown pit stop. When it finally arrives I am running on fumes. My gas tank light is blinking "empty". I am definitely in need of this time away. With a solid two weeks off, I'm able to get the rest and refuel that I so desperately need.
I start back in January with my accelerator pressed down to full speed again and off I go into the new year! Then..... POP! BANG! POW! Just two laps (weeks) in and I get a flat tire. I start fishtailing out of my lane and barely avoid a major collision. What happened?! I was feeling good. I thought I was off to a great start? I was in it to win it. I quickly face the harsh realization that even though my gas tank was full, I am not functioning at full capacity. I like to race at full speed and the Winter pit stop wasn't quite enough to prepare me for the intensity of ending a semester and all that entails.
As a semester teacher, I get a whole new crew in 2 weeks. I am gearing up for a complete reboot. New...
All of this "new" comes without the freshness of a school year start. I haven't had a summer to get a system overhaul. I don't have a week of inservice to organize and put my room back together again. Then there's the sadness. Our classes have bonded; we are family. We have found our rhythm and have created an amazing class dynamic. We've had triumphs and struggles, shared moments of laughter and tears. We've worked hard and we've had loads of fun. To say goodbye to these students who I have built relationships with is incredibly hard for me. I've invested in them. I love em'.
So how do I get back in the race after I fishtail and find myself off course? I take a deep breath and realize that I need to take care of myself. I schedule time to "refuel" each week by prioritizing my personal passions; running, family laughter, writing, and reading. Then, I swap my tires for some with incredible tread and get back in the race. There is no other option. My new students will be walking through my door in 2 weeks excited for new adventures. I need to buckle up and get ready for a wild and amazing race because my students most definitely deserve an energetic, passionate, joyful Mrs. Richmond and a magical semester of learning.
Tonight I played a game of Mario Cart with my son on his new Nintendo Switch. He gave me a quick explanation of the remote and some new features of this latest version of the game and the race was on. I selected my ride, my wheels, and my paraglider, held down the power button, and we were off! As I dodged banana peels and earned power ups while twisting and turning through Mario's world, I couldn't help but think of the adventures I'm on right now in real life.
Sometimes I feel like I'm going mock 10 through unknown lands making quick and sudden adjustments left, right, left, reacting to the crazy curves that come my way. There are games when I navigate those turns with precision and come out of the turn gaining a power up or coin, and other games I fall off a cliff, slip on a banana peel, or run into an angry mushroom. At times I spin out of control or get splatted with ink, and other times I fly gracefully over a canyon and collide into a magic box that launches me far further than I would have landed on my own.
This adventurous life has moments of victory and defeat, but we have to keep getting back in the game. Yesterday was a paragliding day, today I spun on banana peels and got splatted with ink. It's easy to get discouraged on these banana peel days and allow myself to keep spinning. However, if I straighten out and get back on the track, usually there is a power up around the next bend that will get me back in the race. I have to remember why I do what I do and keep my focus on the things that matter. I may not finish on the podium, but if I am crushing my goals and improving my personal best, I consider it a WIN!
Culinary teacher & Discovery School Lead in Southern Oregon, passionate about finding innovative ways to make learning magical for students. Love to gamify!