November 23, 2016
For thirteen years, I was in my box. Literally, in the rectangular prism classroom, every inch was dedicated to fifth graders mastering math and science objectives. Unfortunately, my mental approach was somewhat in a box, too. The classroom was a safe place for specifically planned events to occur year after year. Even though I welcomed each day as a new opportunity to be adaptive, enhancing learning experiences through inquiry, technology, and hands-on activities, lesson plans were embedded in my long-term memory. I [still] have the curriculum memorized down to the exact objective number, and I enjoy tweeting these in hopes of exchanging ideas with fellow educators to improve student learning. Students were active in meaningful and memorable experiences.
It was our world. We were in our box. And I loved it.
Then, along rolled an opportunity, and I took a risk.
One cart. Forty iPads. Specials Class: All K-5 grade levels every day. Enhancing science learning with technology and hands-on activities. GO!
Classroom teaching—effectively—is hard work. Then, I learned that teaching on a cart is quite another animal. Now completely outside of my comfort zone [box], a journey of professional and personal growth takes root.
Professionally, I rediscovered some simple truths of teaching and learning.
Learning Is Student-Centered
Even in the context of curriculum, providing student choice is great. But providing student voice—therein lies the heartbeat of an engaged learner. When you hear a first grader yell, “Hey! Look what I made!” And while you’re on the floor, you feel a tug on your arm from a kindergartener so excited to show you what he or she has created—Your heart melts—and the experience can change even the most traditional, veteran teacher’s perspective. In contrast, when a fourth or fifth grader too frequently begin questions with phrases like “Are we allowed to” or “Can we work together,” you realize that too much teacher structure and micro-management may be limiting student learning opportunities.
Learning Can Happen Anywhere
When you have no classroom space of your own, flexible learning spaces become more apparent. Learning can happen anywhere. Sometimes during the day, it depends on the weather. Other times, it depends on the resources available. The role is physically demanding, and some educators are not as eager to roll their classroom over cracks in the sidewalk; up and down ramps; into multiple classrooms and trailers, each with varying layouts, technology settings, teacher preferences, and shapes and sizes; or in changing weathering conditions. Educator flexibility is key—in every opportunity and space.
Personalized Learning Is Priceless
One of the best strategies for personalizing professional development is educators learning from each other. Growing in popularity, edcamps are a step in the right direction. Twitter, Voxer, and Google Hangouts are platforms for personalized learning galore. But even with all the technology in the world, nothing beats learning face-to-face.
Teaching on a cart paved the path for me to be in every K-5 classroom and learning space on campus. I was able to observe several fellow educators, learning about their daily activities and classroom management strategies. I saw first-hand how they use spaces, integrate technology, and address core disciplines. Opportunities for vertical alignment throughout K-5 grade level curricula became apparent. Above all, seeing how several different variables fit into the big picture was a priceless experience.
There is so much learning potential and value in observing and visiting other educators. The school down the road from you may have an invaluable treasure trove of ideas, but educators would have no idea unless they made the effort to make that connection. Even from one most passionate about virtual connections, I challenge you to make it a goal to visit–face-to-face, exchanging ideas–with another educator or school today!
Learning Is A Journey With People
Personally, I reignited some simple truths about the human side of teaching.
As I circulated campus every day, I was shocked to discover that the Earth continued to rotate outside those four classroom walls I once knew so well. Beyond the classroom, many other professionals also work together to ensure student success. The world, technology, curricula, and times in which we live change frequently, but nothing matters more than building relationships with staff members and especially with students. These learners are the ones owning their journey. Stay focused. Start with learning. Start with people. Professionally judge how you integrate other variables into learning, and carefully evaluate if they’re getting in the way, substituting, augmenting, modifying, or redefining the experience. Always begin planning by first asking: “Is this what’s best for my students?”
After teaching on a cart last year, I have a classroom space once again. Looking back one year later, I can’t believe how my perspective has broadened. I marvel at how my entire vision of education has forever changed. In many ways, I learned and grew more in one year teaching on a cart than I ever did in my thirteen years as a classroom teacher combined, and I am forever grateful for that opportunity.