Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Leading from the Classroom

I just finished a leadership class at my church entitled, "A Leader Worth Following".  It was a shift to the conventional look at leadership.  What I liked most was it focused on leadership as influence rather than title. Just because someone has a "leadership" title, doesn't mean they are necessarily a leader worth following. There are people that have a leadership title that are, indeed, worthy of being followed.  But, I was challenged to understand that I am a leader even without a "title".  I'm a leader in my house, and I'm a leader in my classroom.  Many times, teachers miss this.  We know we are impacting and influencing the lives of so many students far beyond the walls of our class, but we miss that this is being a leader.  I loved the facilitators take on leadership, and it is so relevant to the classroom, I knew I wanted to share.  He said all leaders worth following have to focus on three areas: Authentic Character, Exceptional Competency and Relational Connections.

1.  Authentic Character-  Being authentic in the classroom is something that pulls students in and makes them want to learn and participate in the classroom.  Having great character means that all students are treated with respect and know that they are valued in the classroom.  Having authentic character also means that all students can feel safe in the classroom.  Also, it means that we do what we say we're going to do. Students appreciate a teacher that is consistent with everyone.  I try my best to be an encourager, a safe place for all students, and consistent.

2.  Exceptional Competency-  This is one that I think is of utmost importance in the classroom.  There are so many great and new strategies out there, and we need to be looking for the best ways to engage our students in the classroom.  Also, we need to be constant learners of our content.  I have learned so much Human Geography over the past 7 years, that it makes what I thought I knew my first year teaching the course laughable.  I keep thinking if I never attempted to learn more about the subject matter, how pathetic my class would be.  My students would hate it!  I would hate it!  I would probably want to quit.  I am very proud of the fact that my course and my teaching style isn't the same as it was 7 years ago or even 2 years ago.  Over the past year, I've learned more about teaching and learning through engaging on Twitter than I have in the previous 11 years teaching.  We NEED to model what it means to be a learner.  Our students don't know what it takes to be a true learner.  So many of them have perfected learning for the grade which will only get them so far.  They need to learn the importance of exceptional competency as well.

3.  Relational Connections-  We all remember those teachers that made the biggest impacts in our lives.  They are the ones that took the time to create a connection with us.  I've seen the importance of relationships.  This year, I decided I would write every one of my students a note and stick it to their answer sheet prior to the AP exam.  This was born out of this class I took.  It was very time consuming to write 110 individual notes, but when the students saw me after the test, they were so thankful.  They recognized the time it took to write each of them, and they were impressed they were each individual.  Many of them even posted pictures of them on Twitter, tagging me to show their gratitude.  I'm not sure if the notes will help them do better on the AP test, but they knew their teacher thought enough of them to write them a personal note.  One girl said, "Mr. Parker, did you really mean what you wrote?"  I said, "Of course I did!"  She almost started crying.  She told me it was the nicest thing a teacher ever said to her.  I know I'll remember the reaction these students had to such a small gesture.  It made me want to make this feel this special so many more times throughout the year.

So, teachers, you are a leader!  You have influence over a group of young people for a given time.  What will they take away from your classroom?  I want my students to learn as much geography as they can, but I want to instill in them a love of learning and a new perspective they've never before seen.  So, no, I have no official "leadership title", but I am a leader.  I hope that I can be a leader worth following to my students!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why is there so much resistance?

Last month, we held our annual Curriculum Celebration.  Working with the Curriculum Resource Teacher, I suggested that we use it as a time to focus the faculty on educational technology.  I teach at a school where many seem focused on not letting technology become a part of the culture.  You go to meetings and hear all the excuses why we shouldn't bring tech into the classroom ranging from not every kid has a device to it is way to distracting for the students.  There is even a teacher that has a basket in front of his class and expects all the students to place their phones or devices so they don't use them at all in the classroom.

How do you work to encourage the use of technology more in the classrooms?  After using it in my classroom frequently, I know the benefit it has in making the classroom more engaging.  Now, this isn't to say that there are days where I still do a lesson without technology.  I am just tired of meeting resistance from the classroom and the administrators about the use of technology in the classroom.  My school is slipping further and further behind so many schools in the area and state because so many refuse to even try to see the importance of technology in the world outside the classroom. We used to be a leader in the district, but we are from it now!

So, if you're facing a school full of resistance like I am, here's my advice to you.  Stay the course with your integration of technology.  I have found I get more teachers on my side when I invite them into my classroom to see how a specific technology is being used.  This shows them how they can use it in their classroom as well.  Sometimes it is hard to sit at a training or read an article about technology and bring it to life in your classroom.  After inviting people a few times to my classroom to see Augmented Reality in use, one of our English teachers decided she would try it out in her classroom and created an amazing lesson for her Shakespeare unit that everyone else in the department loved so much, they used it as well.  I have now won over the English department.  Slowly, but surely, I know I'll have a majority of teachers on the side of technology that the others will feel alone in their complaints.

Be prepared to have a lot of questions from teachers as they start using various technology in their classroom.  I welcome the questions because it means they are trying to use it.

Hopefully, that will happen soon, for the sake of our students!

My First Experience with Augmented Reality

  I was relatively new to Twitter.  I was trying to build my PLN to see the effectiveness of the tool.  I found two guys, Brad Waid and Drew Minoch.  They have a blog, 2 Guys and Some iPads.  I started looking around there, watching their web show (which is awesome!), and I quickly learned about Augmented Reality, specifically Aurasma.  Seeing this in action on the episode made me think, "How can I use this in my high school geography classroom?" So, I decided to give it a try.

  There was a lesson that I've done a few times dealing with Population Pyramids where the students analyze a pyramid to determine what is going on in a country based on the size and the shape.  In the past, I've had the students analyze the pyramid and then come to me and see if they were correct.  This is a great activity, but it lead to a lot of standing/waiting time while I discussed with the students about their answers.  There would be times that there were 5 or more students standing in line waiting for me, which meant they weren't working. So, I decided to augment the lesson.

  It took a while for me to get used to the whole process, but by the end of the preparation, it was so much easier!  There were 10 pyramids they were to analyze.  I wish I had a picture of my students faces the first time they saw the purple swirl appear on their smart phones and then the video pop up describing what they saw in the pyramid.  I still remember the shocked looks and the cries of "WOW!!!"  and "THAT'S AWESOME!!!!"  This is definitely something I knew I had to use more than once in my classroom.  After they all got to working, the room was full of a great excitement.  I was now free to walk around and talk with each pair independently.  This allowed me more time with the work with students that didn't understand what one of the pyramids was telling them about the country.

  After my first AR experience, I was a total believer.  It made me want to learn more and more about a variety of EdTech out there.  It inspired me to be a better teacher and to integrate more technology into my classroom.  Just trying this has made me a totally different teacher...
for the better.

So, if you haven't tried or even heard of Augmented Reality, give it a try.  You'll become a huge fan just like me!