My Learning Manifesto
Everyone Can Learn
I strongly believe that every student can learn if they are provided the optimum opportunities and learning conditions. Carol Dweck’s research and teachings state that because of brain plasticity, learners can grow through challenges to learn new concepts and skills (Dweck, 2016). This requires learners to have a growth mindset, be willing to expend effort and not stay discouraged when facing a setback. If teachers blend growth mindset training and beliefs with learning experiences designed based on the UDL principles, then they are setting the stage for student success (CAST, 2018). Because the learning needs of students vary a great deal, the Universal Design for Learning principles indicate that teachers should provide flexible options for how content is presented to students, how students engage in that content and how they demonstrate their knowledge.
Technology is a tool, not a cure
Technology is amazing, and provides limitless opportunities for students and teachers and society in general. In classrooms, the focus should be on the teaching, the learning and the experiences. The applications and hardware should be integrated with instruction to influence and support the learning. Technology can be naturally integrated if teachers and leaders are focused on creating learning experiences that are irresistibly engaging, steeped in learning, and include real-world problem solving. Micheal Fullan’s work on the 6C’s suggests that learning with technology can motivate students and have a powerful impact when it includes elements of citizenship, character, in addition to communication, critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. (Fullan, Dr. Beth Holland, has very effectively and creatively outlined these ideas in her book and blog series in Book Creator.
Student success relies on connections
Connections and relationships across a school will provide a breeding ground for student success. This means relationships between students, teachers, parents and leaders. Teachers set the climate in the classroom, and with just a few words, they can tear down a child or build them up. If students know that their teacher believes they can achieve and wants the best for them, they will be willing to stretch themselves more and work harder. Also, a good relationship between a teacher and student can give the student room to feel comfortable to take learning risks, which will in turn build up the growth mindset in students over time. Rita Peirson says it best in her TED Talk Every Child Needs a Champion. There are so many ways that teachers can build connections with students. My top 5 tips for building connections with students are:
- Get to know the child by starting the school year or semester with getting-to-know-you and team building activities
- Share stories about yourself
- Be a listening ear when needed
- Encourage students with growth mindset support, praising the process and urging students to aim high.
- Reach out to parents with positive contact.
Equity and access to instruction and technology is an emerging issue in digital learning
All students deserve high-quality instruction to learn and succeed, no matter their race, gender ethnicity or socio-economic status. it is the responsibility of federal, state and school district leaders to ensure equity for all students. Equality is not the same as equity, as the image by Alonzo Maguire depicts. Some students need specialized learning opportunities, information provided in different ways or instruction tailored specific to their needs. Teachers can ensure equity by incorporating the UDL principles mentioned earlier in the book. Another key for ensuring equity is professional learning. Teachers may not even realize if they are not providing equity, and may present content in a biased manner in their classroom. The Achievement Network is an organization committed to building equity and provides resources to leaders and teachers. (Achievement Network, 2018).
In addition to equity of instruction, federal, state and district leaders must consider how access to technology can be equitable. During the school closure in the spring due to the pandemic, a lack of equity became painfully evident across our city, state, country and world. Her school district responded the following school year by issuing thousands of devices to students including laptops for high school students, iPads for middle school and Wi-Fi hotspots for those in need. Although organizations like SEDTA are working to shrink the digital divide by providing information and resources, it is clear that changes are still in order.
I am an agent of change
As an educator, I see daily opportunities to make changes, innovations and powerful impacts. John Hattie directs in Visible Learning for Teachers that to “Know thy Impact.” If teachers are aware of the impact they have, or are not having, then they can adjust their instruction accordingly (Hattie, 2019). He demonstrates in his research that feedback is powerful. For feedback to be effective it needs to occur as students are learning and provide strategies for improvement.
As I am no longer in the classroom, I have the opportunity to bring about change and providing learning experiences among groups such as:
- Curriculum Specialists
- Campus Techs
The efforts that I make and the beliefs that I share have a far reach in my school district. I take that responsibility with great care, at times being very choosy about what to share, for say or do. The most thrilling part of my job is when I can see a positive change take place. Some examples of positive change I have been driven are:
- Summer Library Stream Camp
- Blended Learning Initiative
- Digital Wellness Initiative
Learning environments need to be inviting
To ensure flexibility and to meet the needs of various learners there is a trend in education around flexible seating. The idea is that students shouldn’t have to sit still in rows of desks all day. They may Need tables on casters that are shaped to be rearranged for collaboration. They may be able to sit on wobbly seats or stand up if they choose and have flexible desks that adjust the height.
In her ISTE Blog post, Kendra Grant refers to the classroom as the third teacher. In addition to the design of the furniture and other classroom features, the teacher may also post curriculum content and learning targets on decorative bulletin boards (Grant, 2018).
Beyond the physical design of the classroom, there is the instructional and emotional culture of the classroom to consider. Teachers also should foster a positive climate in the classroom by making connections with students. The classroom needs to be a safe place to fail forward, in turn providing more opportunities for deeper learning. If teachers are designing learning experiences with the COVA approach, then the environment is absolutely inviting as students have choice, ownership, voice and authenticity with their learning. (Harapnuik, 2018).
Life-long learning is key
In order to avoid stagnancy and continue growing, professionally and personally everyone, and educators in particular, need to continue learning daily. I make it my mission to learn at least one new thing every single day. It might be some new technical skill, news about world current events, a new fitness strategy, or maybe a lesson about life that I have had to re-learn. Each night before bed, I add to my journal what I have learned that day. I believe we can learn something from every single person that we encounter. One of the keys to learning is listening. Sometimes we think we may have all the answers and we forget to listen for the lesson.
One of the high points of my role is that I get to provide professional learning for teachers. Lately that learning has been a little too centered on the technical skills of specific applications because of the way this school year had to start. I also had to learn a new process for professional learning this year as we have provided mainly virtual learning. Whatever sort of training I’m providing whether it is self-paced in a learning management system, a virtual session on Zoom, a face-to-face learning session with one teacher or fifty teachers, I always try to keep in mind what will be of value to them and their students. My hope is that I will continue to learn something new everyday of my life and that I will encourage others to do the same.
I intend to inspire everyone I encounter to recognize their strengths.
Another joy of my job is getting to help people, whether that is in person or on the phone. Very often this help is related to a technical skill. Frequently teachers or others that I support may say, “I’m not techie,” or “I’m afraid to mess this up.” I make it my daily personal mission to try to help them understand that they are not going to mess up their document, course or computer or that perhaps they are more techie than they believe. Sometimes people just need encouragement in general. I try very hard to point out observations of their positives and strengths just in case they are not able to see them. I truly enjoy helping people and inspiring them to recognize their strengths. I am hopeful that if I model the behavior of pointing out the strengths of others, that will create a ripple effect of inspiring strength observations!
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CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
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Fullan, M. (2014, January 20). Michael Fullan: Technology, the new pedagogy and flipped teaching. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCvwtiOH0co.
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