End of Year Reflections

This year has been incredible. In both good and bad ways.

Unlike any other year we faced extreme challenges in education. My students were split between distance and in person learning. They were masked for the entire year, which seemed normal at a certain point, until you realized you did not know half of your students did not have braces! I have students that I never met in person(!) and others that transitioned between virtual and in person as was needed.

I know this was incredibly stressful for many teachers, but in all honesty this was my best year ever.

I know this sounds like bragging, trying to get attention with some outrageous headline, but honestly here my classroom has never been more collaborative, reflective and adaptive.

Let’s deep dive into what I truly mean with this statement.

Students First

This year I implemented EduScrum and Agile into my classroom. Not because I needed more to do, or felt that I did not have a large enough challenge, but because the challenge of hybrid teaching was looming before me and conventional solutions were not going to cut it.

After watching students be isolated and lonely during the initial lockdown in the spring of 2020 it was clear that returning to school was about creating healthy social emotional connections, keeping kids talking and collaborating and giving them opportunities to be kids.

The fundamental basis of agile is collaboration, communication and reflection. This hooked me immediately.

In order to work through this “system” students must be in self-selected teams. They must work together to decide how they were going to plan their unit, solve their problems and answer the essential questions. They could work through breakout rooms in zoom, or on FaceTime. The groups could all be mixed with students in person and at home. There was no limits to how they could connect. Fundamentally the priority as students have been isolated and desperate or connections with peers and teachers.

Students are given agency from the beginning. They evaluate their skills, build their own groups, plan their projects and manage their work flow.

In an agile classroom all work is done by the students. They take control of their education, communication, collaboration and learning flow.

A teachers role transforms from the leader to the guide. The standards are still achieved, deadlines shared, curriculum mapped. Instead of leading students down the path of learning, doling our nuggets of information as we deem necessary we stand back and watch the students navigate their path from the launch of the unit through “solving” the essential question. They engage with the necessary material, but source their own information as necessary. They work on the skills that must be taught, but in a way that holds meaning to them. They take an open ended question, filter it through their own lens and problem solve hitting both highs and lows through the learning process.

Students are empowered through learning. They can choose how to apply their learning, control their learning flow and build connections that are authentic to their real life.

Work Load

We have all been to enough professional development that when a new idea is introduced it means an expanded work load. No matter what the great facilitator says during the presentation we all know that when curriculum shifts work is added and the effects are not always sustainable.

Agile is different.

The educator is still scaffolding, laying the framework and setting the curriculum. When beginning the educator must set specific learning goals in terms of content and skills. “Students must know……. “, “Students must be able to….” is how all planning begins.

Essential questions then are formed. How can student take the knowledge that they must learn and apply it to a real problem or situation? What is the challenge they must solve?.

From there educators must lay the ground work of the lessons. I create a grid that with videos, reading and lessons that student must complete to build the “must have” knowledge that is the foundation of the unit. Making videos that explain instructions, rubrics, requirements, etc… that students can view at their own pace or repeatedly, helps clarify questions and allows students to work at their own pace.

All of the hard work is front loaded. The challenge is set. The standards are being met. The deadline is on the calendar.

The work from there on out is relationship building, coaching from the sidelines, authentic and real.

After the groups are made, the requirements are clearly explained and the students launch, the work moves from the teachers responsibility to the students. They are now tasked with planning their projects, breaking down a large assignments into tasks and activities and navigating their learning.

No. This is not easy, but instead of leading the class through these road bumps with some students already formulating a plan, others needing extra explanation and all students in between the educator pull students together for a mini lesson, work with groups or pull out students. Teachers are no longer leading students down the path, but teaching them to problem solve, working in small groups on their individual needs and addressing each students learning and understand meeting them where they are.

The class is busy. Teachers are still teaching, but efficiently. They are building relationships because conversations are one to one instead of whole group. The educator is not the leader of the parade, trying to keep everyone paying attention as the entertainment at the front of the room. The teacher stands back and watches the work. They move around the classroom to work with small groups. They answer questions that students are generating based on the work they are doing.

The dynamic has changed.

Teach six sections a day, I am no longer exhausted at the end of the day. I am not reciting the same facts over and over while trying to keep kids engaged.

The work has been delegated to the students. I am the support.

Learning

At the beginning I stated that this was MY best year ever, but what did the students feel?

From an educators perspective the 8th graders have never lead deeper or richer conversations. Learning was intrinsic because they were developing their own questions and finding their own solutions. The questions that were asked were thought out. They reached deeper levels than the basic questions that educators are peppered with daily.

Group conversations blossomed organically. One group may ask another for advice, a third becomes involved and soon we are all sharing.

I could spend all day telling you about how students in masks, behind plexiglass or in their living rooms made deeper connections, understood content and developed real life skills, but it is always more powerful to hear from them.

Below are just a few examples:

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