Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Commitment to Change

Change. It's like growing old(er). We know it's inevitable, but we often fight it. We get comfortable in our habits and routines, and we dwell there–often for far too long. I have a list a mile long of various types of changes I would like to make in life: exercise more regularly, create better organizational systems at home, meditate. The list goes on.

As an educator, I think a lot about change and growth. It’s a constant focus in our work with students and guides our instruction throughout the year. We are always looking for evidence of growth and change over time. As our students explore, learn and mature over the course of an academic year, change and growth tend to be our measures of success. And when we don’t see that growth and mastery of standards, we worry–and then get promptly to problem-solving.

But what about the changes that we make as educators? Do we look for change and growth in ourselves? In our peers? In our schools? Are we expected to embrace meaningful change that will impact our students?

We must keep pushing ourselves to make change and try new things. Our students’ learning experiences deserve to be engaging, relevant and exciting–and different from the way we did things 20 years ago. Or five years ago, for that matter.

And our instruction deserves similar shifts, as well. As teachers, I believe we should be required to grow our toolboxes and encouraged to make changes to our instruction. We can’t let our fear of change prevent us from redefining the learning experiences of our students.

Brush aside your self-doubt and discomfort, and reject the notion that, as teachers, we must become “experts” before taking a leap with our students.

Change is exciting and rewarding. Change breathes life into our units and lessons. Change allows us to discover new tools to help us do our jobs better. Change reinvigorates our teaching and can fire-up our learners!

Change models risk-taking and mistake-making. Let’s demonstrate growth mindset every day for our students. Let’s show them what the learning process really looks like. Instead of feeling a need to become an “expert” before trying something, let’s partner with our students in the journey of discovery.

Change is empowering. When we go out on a limb to try something new, and experience growth and success from that effort, our confidence soars. Our mindset suddenly shifts toward “I CAN” statements, and we start to believe in the power and benefit of change.

Change is contagious. We are all inspired by the folks around us whom we see doing amazing things. Imagine if our school cultures revolved around this notion of change, and everyone began to try new things and share their experiences. That "change mindset" would sweep through our school sites like a bad cold!

I recognize that I may be on one end of the change spectrum. In high school, I lived (and schooled) on a working farm. During college and afterwards, I lived in two major cities on opposite sides of the country.

I've worked in publishing and for two internet start-ups. I've worked seasonally in the ski industry and as a wilderness ranger for the Forest Service.

I lived in the west for eight years, journeyed eastward for six, and then turned life on its head once more in a move to Montana (where we hope to stay for quite some time). Oh, and during all those wonderful, growth-filled transitions was a wedding and the arrival of two lovely children.

Clearly, I am not risk averse. I welcome and embrace change. But change doesn't necessarily have to be drastic. One doesn't have to move across the country with two toddlers to keep life interesting.

Scaffold your change. Fortunately for us, there are many ways to start. It doesn't need to happen overnight. Or all at once. There are many small changes we can make in our classrooms and instructional practices that are relatively low-risk and anxiety-free! Here are some ideas (in no particular order):

  • Introduce some flexible seating. Start with a beanbag chair or two. Add some table lamps to soften or eliminate some of the overhead lighting.
  • Grow your classroom library. Spend those Scholastic points and hit-up yard sales to buy high-interest novels and non-fiction that your students will love. And let them choose what they want to read!
  • Try the 'Hour of Code.' Curious about coding but haven’t started, yet? December 5th is the official kick-off, but really, you can do it any time of the year!
  • Start having class meetings. Take time to connect with your students in a new way. Where can you carve out 15 minutes in your schedule to build classroom community?
  • Do Number Talks. 10 minutes a day. In my opinion, it’s the best bang for your buck in building strong, flexible number sense. You will learn so much from your students, and they will learn amazing strategies from one another. So powerful.
  • Try a HyperDoc. You’ll never look back (and you’ll wonder why you didn't start sooner). Here are two great blog posts by Heather Marshall and Karly Moura to get you started.
  • Start using Twitter. What’s all the fuss about Twitter in education? How could I possibly find time to explore another social media tool? Start with 5 minutes a day: explore hashtags to hone-in on content and discussions that are relevant to you; read an article; retweet something you find interesting. Click here for some Twitter 101 resources.
  • Make an authentic connection. Connect with a classroom in another part of the country or world. You can do this through a Mystery Skype/Hangout, blogging, class Twitter account, etc.
  • Strengthen your parent partnerships. Expand beyond the weekly/monthly newsletter and try a tool like Seesaw. It's a triple-threat of wonderful: students can record their learning, reflect on their growth and collaborate with peers in meaningful ways; parents gain valuable, real-time insight into their child’s learning and what 21st century school looks and feels like; you, as the teacher, have endless formative assessment at your fingertips that you can access anytime, anywhere.

Blogging has been at the top of my personal change list for months. I’ve literally been mulling over this topic of change since August. What got me to finally commit to this change and actually start? The presidential election. No more apathy. No more excuses. For me, it was the kick in the pants I needed to begin my blogging journey.

So what's on your Change Menu for this year? What projects or ideas have you been considering as possibilities in your role as an educator? Don't delay or postpone! Get a jump start on your New Year’s Resolutions, and commit to a change (or two or three) in your practice.

After all, it's for the benefit of your students–our future leaders.


  1. Wonderful, inspiring and powerful post Rachel! Can't wait to see what you write next. Great work.

    1. Thanks for your support, Karly! You inspire me to share my thinking with our eduworld. :)

  2. I heard a George Couros keynote and he said that "Change is an opportunity to do something great!" I am constantly looking for change (that might be a bad thing though if I'm constantly doing it) but I wont to do great things with my students! Thanks for sharing!

    1. How lucky your students are to have such a change-maker at the helm!

  3. 'Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.' - Albert Einstein

    In teaching, and in all disciplines/jobs, you're SO right we need to be pushing the boundaries and experimenting with new methods.

    I love the actionable tips to start with, especially connecting with another classroom anywhere in the world. What an amazing opportunity to build students perspective from a young age, and so easy to execute!

    1. Thanks, Sam! Love the Einstein quote. Yes, there are lots of little things we can do to embrace change--and we empower our students in the process.

  4. This is a terrific post, Rachel! I am so glad to have you in my PLN! Keep blogging!

    1. Thanks for reading, Nikki! Excited to have gotten started. So lucky to have YOU in my PLN!!