Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Guest Post: What I Learned In Summer School

My friend and former colleague, Kaitlin Popielarz, just started taking classes to earn her Master's Degree. Ever the eager educator, Kaitlin offered to guest post here because she wanted to talk about all she has learned in the short two classes she took this summer. If only we could all embrace learning with such enthusiasm! 
What I Learned in Summer School 

This summer I began my Masters in the Art of Teaching and Curriculum through Michigan State University.  The program is completely online which makes it more manageable for me.  I took two courses this summer, Professional Development & Inquiry and Learning Communities & Equity, in a quick six weeks!  Before classes began, I was a bit nervous and hesitant because I honestly was not in the mood to start classes again.  But I soon realized that after this past school year and amidst my job search, my classes could be some much needed motivation for me.  They ended up being incredibly inspirational and really filled my teaching spirit for the school year ahead.  Here is a gist of what I learned this summer and what I hope to share with my students, colleagues, and peers.

  • Our schools should be an extension of our ideal home.  This idea is an extension of what I read in John Dewey's School and Society.  In essence, our schools should not be a place set aside for learning and where I students leave their lives behind them.  Our schools should resemble what we love most about our homes – inviting, warm, encouraging, inventive, failing, trying, loving, fighting, and always learning. 
  • It is okay to be a “positive deviant”.  Some of the best teachers are those that stray away from the “norm”.  Teachers that think outside of the box, try new lesson plans, and engage their students in unconventional ways can be seen as “deviants”.  We must remember though that deviants are not supposed to be a bad thing if we see them in a positive light and if we are open to new ideas!
  • Don't be scared to imagine or think outside the box.  For example, this school year, I would really like to invest in a high top table with high chairs.  I cannot sit all day in a desk so why should my students?  Trying out some different ways to sit, or stand, during class is something small that could make a huge difference in the classroom.
  • Involve the community.  Our schools should involve the community our students live within. Invite parents, community members, and local businesses into the school community!  Good things can happen when schools are involved with their community.
  • The teacher does not always need to be in control.  I am a control freak with a type A personality.  Sometimes it's hard for me to give my students total control in the classroom.  It's mentally and emotionally challenging for me depending on what my students are doing.  This school year, it's my goal to loosen up on my reigns and let my students be in charge more often. 
  • I really like writing papers on teaching and reflecting on where I am in my career!  I highly recommend taking a moment to write, journal, discuss, or contemplate about your life as a teacher.  It is my goal to do this more often.
  • Be open to others’ ideas and let it inspire you.  As teachers, we have the immense gift of being lifelong learners.  We must embrace this head on and savor what it can give our lives.
  • Cross-curricular action is exciting!  We should be working more with our colleagues that teach across the hallway.  Science and Social Studies, Math and Language Arts, Art and Spanish. Let's come together!
  • Colleagues are everything.  With my colleagues, I am by far and away a better teacher.  Period.
  • Differentiated instruction is crucial.  We teach all different learners and we must embrace all of their varying strengths.  But we must do this without tracking our beautiful students.
  • Be observed and evaluated.  Have your work critiqued so you can grow and learn as a teacher!
  • Admit to failure, learn from it, and move on.  Plain and simple.
  • We must be culturally responsive.  As teachers, we must embrace and teach other cultures.  Even more, we must be role models to our students on what it means to be a global citizen.
  • Technology and social media are your friend!  Seriously, are you still teaching without being on Twitter, using Pinterest, or obsessing over Evernote?  Get in the game!
  • You get out of it what you put into it.  Immerse your soul into your passion and what you love to do.  It will be challenging and painful at times but you will always be grateful you gave it everything you had.

“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” - John Steinbeck

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