Go Big or Go Home!

My New Student Partnership

As the first full month of the school year comes to a close, the partnerships in my classroom are flourishing, and my students continue to teach me and help me grow.   We have spent much time building our relationship and creating a positive class environment that challenges us, but also supports us so we can be brave and take a risk.  It was my students who encouraged me to post my first blog “The Game Changer”.  It is these same students who are the inspiration for this blog: “Go Big or Go Home!”

As part of our relationship building, my students write affirmations during the first month of school.  I asked students to tell me two or three of their most important values and explain why they are important to them.  As I read about the things they value most and why they are important to them, I was moved and inspired by their candor and their wisdom.  The students focused on having compassion for others, and making a connection with and having a positive impact on the world. They also talked about facing fears and pushing yourself beyond your comfort range. They summarized with words like “Go Big or Go Home!” and “Be brave and take a risk and then you can learn new things”.  Their communications to me have been a big focus of my reflections this month.  The focus on being brave, going big, taking risks; however is not always easy for me.

Here’s my confession:  I am a shy introvert.  I spend a lot of time “in my head” and I like familiar routines.  If I do decide to venture into unfamiliar territory, I like to plan my journey.  New situations with unfamiliar people can be difficult for me.  After reflecting on my student affirmations, I realized however, that with my reinvented passion for learning through partnerships, I have become empowered.  In a lot of ways, I feel like the world has opened up for me a bit.  Maybe I can “Go Big”. So the question arose: What does “Going Big” look like for me?

New Professional Partnerships

In addition to developing new partnerships with my new students this school year, I have started two new collaborations that will definitely be big “Game Changers”.  In the spirit of being brave and modeling what I am encouraging in the classroom, I have reached out to two professionals: an educator and a scientist turned entrepreneur.  Both of the initial conversations were the kinds of experiences that leave you saying WOW that person is amazing; I could learn so much from him/her. In those conversations you feel understood, lifted, inspired, and challenged.  You leave those conversations excited to reflect and begin learning.  You want those people as partners.

My new partnerships are beginning.  I am even more excited to get up and begin a new day of learning. One thing that both partnerships have in common, what makes them so energizing and terrifying at the same time, is that that they are going to stretch me beyond my comfort zone.  I am going to have to be brave and “Go Big”.  According to my students and my new partners, the best way to do that is to set specific goals, but then be open to all possibilities because I never know what great opportunities and connections lie just around the corner.

This blog is a platform for me to articulate my goal of impacting education by extending the classroom beyond our four walls as well as  allowing my new partners and others into our world.  For the students and I this means finding new ways for us to collaborate as a class and share our experiences with the world.  We are going to work with one of my new partners on using video as the platform for extending our classroom, collaborating with others to communicate and grow our learning, and to inspire others to extend their own classrooms through the use of technology. For me as a professional, this means finding ways to share what my focus has been since the original “Game Changer : to continue to refine and share the “thinking products” that have had such a tremendous impact on students acquiring deep understanding of content and communicating sophisticated thinking.  My goal is to work with my other partner to find ways to share my “Thinking Products” and Constructing Explanations and Engaing in Argument from Evidence Practices (NGSS) around the Patterns of Organization work with others through presentations at conferences, submissions of writing to publications, and the use of technology.

With my emphasis on learning with my students, being brave, and setting goals to “Go Big”, I hope that this journey will inspire others.  I know the students and I will learn so much through our shared experience, reflection and collaborations with others beyond our four walls. My new partnerships with my students and my amazing new collaborators will be a celebration of learning. I’m not sure of our path, but I will be brave. I am going to let go and trust my partnerships and these broad goals for direction.  So the shy introvert is walking down an unfamiliar path, but I trust my partners.  That trust always leads to the best learning.

How will you and your students “Go Big” this year?  We would love to hear about it and collaborate with you.  Contact us on Twitter at @tdishelton.

The Game Changer

As a lover of all that is learning, nothing makes me feel more alive than working with students in the classroom.  I am always thinking about how I can better engineer the classroom experience so my students can grow, explore, reflect and learn.  For almost twenty years, that desire to be more effective for my students fueled my own study.  My path was typical:  Masters and Rank 1 classes, then online webinars; reading, resources, and the Internet; and the intermittent professional development where I had the opportunity to collaborate with other educators in a very prescribed way.  I thought that was enough. I was learning and I was changing my instruction as a result so my students could learn.

That continued attention to learning paid off when I was given a great opportunity to work within and beyond the four walls of my classroom.  At the end of the 2011-12 school year, my students and I were asked to participate in a project with the Marzano Research Laboratory.  With that partnership, my focus moved from a “research-based” to “evidence based” journey with my students as partners.  It wasn’t just about me learning and planning experiences for them; it was about us learning together through experience and reflection. This is when I went from using data to inform the learning of one class of students, to using data to drive my own learning about my practice in both an immediate and long-term way. I carried my new passion for gathering evidence and combining my two loves of education and science into the next school year.

I have always been obsessed with how the brain works and how to help students become thinkers and problem solvers.  In the culture of the responsibility for “teaching” an enormous list of content standards, finding time to teach thinking alongside the content had been a struggle that most of my colleagues did not want to share with me.  In that arena I was pretty much alone.  Until, that is, I found the partnership that led to the learning that has changed me as a teacher more than anything else in the past two decades.  More importantly, it has changed the learning of my students more than any other classroom experience I have engineered.  Working with two brilliant colleagues and three classes full of incredible students, we developed a “thinking product”  framework.  My colleagues brought their tremendous scope in instructional best practice as well as their backgrounds in Math and ELA.  I brought my Science background and “Thinking” obsession.  Together, we sought out to build something specific to the science classroom.  Creativity flourished, the most lifting conversations ensued, and we were challenged.  It was amazing; I couldn’t wait to work with my partners.  After much discussion, we were ready to “test it out” with students.  The students brought their enthusiasm and desire to learn and their feedback was the key component.  Their work and feedback drove our reflection and refinement of the framework.  Without them, we would just have another strategy that came from research; we had a package and now evidence that it moves student thinking and learning forward, and leads to deep understanding of content.

My partnerships with my amazing students and colleagues have led to the biggest learning of my life.  I couldn’t be more excited about going to work every day.  It turns out that game changer was just the beginning.  That “thinking package” incorporates all three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards. From interest in using “thinking products” to help implement the NGSS,  many more partnerships have developed.  My students continue to teach me about how to refine the package in the classroom, and we are adding new elements all the time.  The game changing experience was an impetus for me to organize PLC work at my school in a way that truly captures the spirit of professional learning instead of professional development; using student evidence and reflection to drive instruction.  The “thinking products” PLC work has now extended beyond my building to other schools in the district.  Seeking new partners to share learning with has also led me into “twitterverse”.  With this blog, I hope to open up even more opportunities to grow new partnerships. This year, we are all going to learn together—in partnership.  This blog will chronicle that journey.  I hope to communicate our journey implementing the NGSS standards and “thinking products”, and I hope to receive feedback from others to move our learning forward.  It would be great to form new partnerships in learning along the way.  You are welcome to join us!

Tricia Shelton