Sunday, February 23, 2014

Let It Go!

If you follow my blog, you know that I am often looking for signs and symbols to guide or inspire me. Perhaps it is the English teacher in me, but it often feels like the universe is working in synchronicity to put me on the right path.

This year I have been working to elevate my transformation as a 21st century teacher by focusing on integrating skills in addition to technology.  It has been a messy process causing my anxiety levels to spike to unknown heights and leaving me with many questions on how to transform the learning in my classes.

This past week the universe started to give me some answers.

The first sign came on Valentine's Day.  My staff had the opportunity to hear Eric Sheninger, principal at New Milford High School and social media guru, speak about how his school is transforming for the 21st Century.

There were several key messages in his keynote and as I look back through my notes three jumped out at me.  Teachers need to change. Our role has to be different in the 21st century, we can't and shouldn't control all the information.  We can't fear failure, in fact failure is where learning happens.  It needs to be embraced and celebrated. And finally we need to give up control and trust students to be partners in the learning process.  These weren't new ideas, but the timing of them seemed to set up my aha moment.

The next day my family ventured out to see The Lego Movie.  If you've seen it you know, everything about it is awesome.  The story centers around Emmet, an ordinary Lego guy, who works hard to follow the instructions, fit in and be average. Emmet is mistaken as the "Special," who is destined to save the world despite being unremarkable.  Emmet is mentored by several master builders who have the ability to create without instructions.  Through his quest, Emmet and the audience learn that the only thing you need to be special is to believe you are.

But what really moved me was one of the final scenes.  Lord Business, the bad guy, realizes his need to be in control has blinded him to his son's needs and creativity. Light bulb moment!  To me, the entire movie is an analogy for education.  When we have one instruction book for every kid and we force them to follow it, no one is special and no one is innovative.

But giving up control is not easy.  This year alone, I have compiled a list of control issue failures.  The first came when I began the year trying to focus on collaboration, so I broke up my rows and created collaborative clusters.  The result was a lot of distracted students and more disruptive chatting.  My need to control overrode my collaborative goals and I quickly moved my students back to rows claiming they weren't mature enough for this seating arrangement.  In truth, it was I who had failed to create the right learning environment. Simply moving the desks didn't transform the learning process, if I was still doing the majority of the talking and teaching.

Digital Learning Day was perhaps my most epic fail.  I wanted to integrate technology into my lesson, so I decided to backchannel my discussion by using Today's Meet.  I knew this would be giving my student's control of the discussion, so I tried to control the situation by setting up the parameters for the discussion, reviewing the rule for posting and emphasizing digital citizenship.  The result wasn't inappropriate posting, but rather meaningless posting which seemed to derail the discussion.  In fact it was almost a power struggle between a few students and myself to see who could command control of the class.  I ended the lesson by shutting down the discussion and my need for control has stopped me from using this tool again.

Again, I gave the excuse that my students weren't mature enough to use this tool, but the real the problem is that giving up control is messy. I grew up in classrooms that were quiet and neat.  I spent the first half of my teaching career creating a classroom that ran systematically like a well oiled machine.  Embracing chaos does not come naturally, but it can happen.  The signs keep pointing me to the philosophy a 21st century teacher must embrace: Let It Go.

Let go of the need for each lesson to be perfect, let go of the need to control the answers and let go of the fear of failure.  Failure must be embraced.  Each time I try to shift control to the students is a learning opportunity and it may take hundreds of messy moments to find a balance.  This year I will take my lead from Legos.  I will encourage them to create their own instructions.  I will look at every student as special and I will find ways to provide students with the blocks they need to become master builders.


  1. It was nice meeting you the other day at the TILT meeting. I am new to Westonka, but it was so fun to see how well the TILT team is working together to create the Westonka Tech Academy. It was impressive! I thought you were all a very good example of cooperation and collaboration, for sure! :)

    As I am reading and catching up on the 21st Century Skills concepts, (I come from a corporate technology background and have not been a classroom teacher for many years), it occurs to me that this challenge you are talking about in this post is probably shared by many, if not ALL teachers right now struggling to incorporate both 21st Century Skills and technology integration. These are big changes you are talking about here...fundamental changes in how schools are run.

    What impressed me about that talk by Eric Sheninger is just how advanced our little district is. We are taking this on full steam ahead and it is exciting to be a part of it. Good luck with your challenges!

    1. Amy- Welcome to Westonka. I think you are right about all teachers struggling with change and technology. Glad you are a part of this journey.

  2. Excellent points! My biggest fear is giving up the control! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Sabrina- it is comforting to know others share this fear.

  3. You are a great teacher, I hope you can share us more of your techniques and ways. Thank you for sharing this post.