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Re-Energizing Teaching by Igniting Your Imagination

by Pam Koutrakos

Little actions create ripples. Those ripples have helped me find motivation and build momentum… which feels especially needed as we hit the one-year point of teaching and learning during COVID. The shifts shared in this week’s short blog series represent how I strive to reclaim joy in what I have the opportunity to do with educators and students each day. In the first two blogs, I discussed actionable ideas for changing the view and widening the lenses used. Today, I share how embracing imagination energizes members of a learning community. By considering new and different opportunities, daily work takes on a tinkering persona. Preparing for teaching feels more playful. Learning becomes more relevant.

Shift 3: Ignite Imaginations

Teaching is not something teachers do to students, learning is not something that happens to them. Last spring, EdWeek hosted a conversation with Zaretta Hammond and Peter Dewitt where they talked about engagement during these challenging times. Among the many timely topics and ideas discussed was the reminder to reclaim learning as doing. Trusting classroom relationships enable students to activate their own learning and grapple with complex and personally relevant ideas.

PERSONAL WELLNESS

Get inspired. Watch the mentioned EdWeek conversation or check out another podcast, blog, or professional text. Use your reading or listening to get inspired to try something new. Get caught up in the excitement of a “first” that works right here and now.

COMMUNITY WELLNESS: INVITING COLLEAGUES ALONG

Collaborate with colleagues to expand access and ignite interest around current learning topics. One entryway: multimodal text sets. When we layer different texts, we build a more complete and nuanced understanding of a topic. Moreover, students are presented with choices in what to access, how to access, and processes of learning. There are a variety of ways to do this. Some of my colleagues like to curate resources on online platforms like Padlet. Others use hyperlinked Bitmoji classrooms, Google Slide book baskets, or QR code documents. An easy starting point is to create resource choice boards on Word or Google Docs. You are welcome to use this template. Remember that anything started with colleagues could be enhanced with students.

COMMUNITY WELLNESS: INCLUDING & INVOLVING STUDENTS

Continue to rethink how students access information. Build the infrastructure for learning by prioritizing time for students to explore materials and activate learning by doing. You might decide to find, curate, and use open-ended materials (loose parts) to help students explore new concepts. Consider creating individual-sets so that students can choose materials to safely reuse again and again. Share recommendations of free and readily available items that can be found outdoors and in many homes (twigs, pebbles, paperclips, cardboard, anything safe and stackable, etc). Kristie Mraz and Stephanie Parsons are both go-to resources for practical and actionable ideas for this kind of exploratory learning across grades.

FOR US ALL…

Move away from “this or that” options and toward informed and intentional decision making. When choices are narrowly outlined, it rarely feels like there is any choice at all. Stop thinking of teaching as a list of “to-dos” and instead ground decisions in intention. For example, there’s a difference in using interactive writing because you are supposed to be using different components of balanced literacy and choosing to use interactive writing because you want to collaborate as a community, co-composing a letter to persuade district leaders of something that feels important to students... while simultaneously providing low-stakes vision for what it looks like to remember and apply certain spelling patterns!

Model making reflective and thoughtful decisions and then trust students to do the same. Sometimes, it is as simple as adding a “because statement.”

  • I am choosing to view a video today because I want to focus on thinking work and I do not need to decode in order to think about the ideas in a text.

  • I am choosing to sign up to attend a small group seminar today because I feel like I could use some support in making sense of all this research before I start writing.

  • I am choosing to present my ideas through spoken word poetry because this format will appeal to my intended audience and help them to understand and react to what I am sharing.

By constructing learning spaces where students interact with resources and one another, driving their own experiences and contributing to the success of others, class communities are more likely to feel deeply engaged in the creative process of learning.

The shifts shared in this week’s blogs counteract the doldrums and ongoing frustrations, helping to affirm a proactive and engaged stance. And while I am all for a lofty reimagining and refinement of the status quo, I also hold tight to the idea that tiny yet mighty steps also make a difference. Because the ideas listed in each of these blogs do not intend to be universally appealing or appropriate, I would love to hear how you (and others in your circle) have found ways to continue to model intellectual investment and cultivate emotional engagement. Please share your insights here, with colleagues, or on the social media platform of your choice. Your contributions are bound to inspire others.