Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Wow Factor!

   The greatest compliment that a teacher can receive from their students is to hear multiple utterances of the word "Wow" as students exit their room at the conclusion of that days lesson. One might even say that the word "Wow", when uttered by students is music to the teacher's ears.
  Over 17 of the past 19 years I have been fortunate to teach an Ancient Civilizations curriculum to enthusiastic and passionate sixth grade students. Traditionally the unit that creates the greatest excitement and interest from my students is the one that focuses on ancient Egypt. There are many reasons for this, but one stands out above all others.  The development of their culture and history is full of "Wow" moments.  From the construction of the Pyramids! To the role of the Pharaoh's! To the mummification process!, this civilization is one that continues to fascinate.
    This week in an effort to launch the unit on ancient Egypt in an "engaging and exciting" manner,  the first annual " Day of Wow" was born. Prior to the launch of the unit, students were asked to contemplate and then record moments that they considered "Wow" worthy.  They could have been events of the distant past, the recent past or something of a personal nature that the students considered remarkable. While the students were busy constructing their moments, I was busy contemplating an environment that would help ensure what I hoped, would be an inspiring and engaging learning experience.
     Upon their arrival on the "Day of Wow", tickets were handed out at the door along with a welcome greeting for each individual student. Festive music was played. Balloons were placed throughout the room, and a starry background  spanned the length of the back of the room. The highlight though, was the "red carpet',"where the students would deliver their " Wow" moments. (Watching various students strut up and down on this staging area was priceless)  The reaction from the students was awesome as I heard the word "wow" echoing throughout the room for the first several minutes of class that day. Needless to say they were impressed, engaged and ready to learn.  There was an exciting anticipation awaiting the next moment.
     Next it was my turn to be "wowed" by them.  They did not disappoint. The moments that they presented over the course of the next two days reflected a passionate effort in both preparation and presentation.  The presentations were varied and rarely were duplicate moments presented. Some of the moments were inspiring, some were of a tragic nature and some reflected a personal triumph. All were meaningful! Throughout the two days, we all learned a great deal about each others, passions and interests.
     The last presenter in each class held a secret that successfully and officially launched the unit on Ancient Egypt . They delivered a story that would " wow" the students yet again, leaving them wide eyed and fascinated.   After launching the unit we reflected upon the ability of humans throughout history to create these "wow" moments and how engaging and exciting history could be if we viewed it from this perspective.
     The last thing I told the students was the story of the Pharaoh's, the "living gods', in an effort to leave them with one final " wow" moment as we brought the experience to conclusion. I have every reason believe that they left that day "hooked" on what they had learned and on what was yet to be learned in the upcoming days.  As they left I reflected upon the tremendous success of the past two days with great pride, recalling the progress that they all had made in developing into more passionate, enthusiastic and mature learners.
     When asked about words that would be synonymous with "wow" my students used words like, awesome, spectacular, overwhelming, fantastic, tremendous and phenomenal.  Isn't that exactly what we want all learning experiences to be?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Answering the Call

     Our lives as educators began many years ago when the actions of  a special, gifted professional  touched our lives on a personal level.  Maybe it was their use of humor to make learning fun. Maybe it was their storytelling that made the content engaging.  Maybe it was their compassion that made us feel safe and willing to take risks.  Perhaps it was an unending feeling of inspiration when we sat in their classroom. Maybe we don't even know when or how it happened, just that it did. Make no mistake about it though, there was a defining moment for all of us when something inside of us revealed that we were destined to become teachers.
      Over the years we have become those special, gifted people who inspire and engage and have even influenced those "defining moments." for others.
      As leaders of learners we remain cognizant of the potential impact of our words, attitudes and actions upon the lives of our students. The impact can be positive or negative. However, that judgement is reserved for them based on our influence, on any particular day.  We must prepare not only to provide a quality instructional experience but  the experience should leave our students inspired and motivated and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the next day.  We must be careful when infusing our personal opinions within the learning environment to remember that they carry influence, even if we preface our statements with " in my opinion."   We become their "role models".  As a result, our responsibilities require us to guide and nurture them in a manner that will allow them to flourish rather than wither.
     How many times have we said, "We are here for them?"  When we establish and build strong relationships with our students, and create a positive learning culture with them, then we begin to fulfill that promise of " being here, for them." Whether you are a veteran teacher, a student teacher or a teacher navigating through your early years, our mission is clear. We must prepare today's learners to become productive adults and enable them to make meaningful contributions for their communities. For the mission to be accomplished, our approach must be varied according to the strengths of the learner and the learner must be challenged. Furthermore the learner must be actively engaged in the learning process and the learner must be invested in the outcome. Successful accomplishment of the mission allows for the prosperity of both the learner and our society.
     In the 21st century, the landscape of learning continues to change and the expectations of the teacher and the learner continues to change as well.  These changes are based on the implementation of state and national reforms that elevate the anxiety levels for both the student and the teacher due to the uncertainty of achievement.  However if we are to continue to advance as a society, on a national and global level, then the foundation of learning must continue to be the imagination of the learner. Moreover, the teacher must continue to cultivate a culture of learning that inspires and allows the imagination of the individual learner to evolve to its fullest potential. For those of us that have already "answered the call" we will continue to adhere to and adapt to institutionally mandated reforms but we must never lose sight of the the reason that we "answered the call" to begin with.