An Open Letter to My Pre-Service and New Teacher Friends

Dear Friends,

I’ve finally learned a few important things about teaching that I’ll never let go. I wish I could have put into practice all these things from the start, but I’m offering them now to you. PLEASE spend some time reading about and considering these priorities in your classroom. And, even more importantly, if you are not willing to consider them, please get out of the field now while you are young and can still find meaningful work. We need only the best teachers for the work that needs to be done in education.

Today, I offer these four priorities:

Bring whimsy.

Laugh and invite your students to laugh. What teachers do you remember? I remember a few of the crabby teachers who made life miserable for students. I don’t think I remember the insipid teachers who didn’t care. However, I do remember many warm teachers I loved, the teachers who loved life, loved me, and were just pleasant to be around.

I was excited when I found my name on the class list of Mrs. Rhodes, the “best” first grade teacher. (Even at that age, we all knew who was best.)  To our delight, this grey-haired lady did things to surprise us and make us smile, like pulling out of the closet a giant plastic Tweetie Bird mask to wear in our Halloween parade.

I have images of Mr. Golji folded in half with laughter, snorting. I don’t remember why he laughed, but I know his love for life was contagious to us normally cynical eighth graders.

Mr. Thornburg, goofy high school business teacher, delighted in making us laugh with his quiet and silly antics.

I do know those teachers didn’t laugh at the expense of other people. They laughed with us and often at themselves.

Make your classroom a fun and safe place to be, and don’t forget to give them opportunities to laugh at you.

Recognize your colleagues.

Your fellow teachers are your colleagues. You will learn much from them. You will laugh and cry with them. Make friends with the positive ones. Don’t get bogged down with the negative ones. But work collegially with all of them.

However, you have colleagues far beyond the teachers you work with in your district. You have more colleagues than you could ever count in the wonderful world of your online Personal Learning Network. (If you haven’t met them yet, join Twitter and give it time to make connections. Twitter is not an end — it’s a means to find and get to know your friendly and helpful, yet distant, colleagues.)

Your administrators are on your team, and they are your colleagues in casting vision for what is important for students. (In my experience, administrators are not autocrats, most want to work WITH you, not above you.)

Most importantly, your students are your colleagues in learning. Work collegially with them, which is defined as “the power and authority vested equally among colleagues.” Learn WITH your students; don’t just try to give them knowledge, which brings me to the next priority…

Be chief learner.

You must be the chief learner, learning every day. Let your students see you learn. Say “I don’t know” often. Say “Let’s find out!” and “Look what I learned!” MORE often.

Do not begin to think that you have already learned enough content and teaching strategies to carry you through a career. You don’t know much. (I don’t either.)

If you do think you are done learning, please just leave teaching now. We do not need any know-it-all teachers who think professional development is a waste of their precious time.

At this critical time in education, we need lifelong learners who relish opportunities to become better at their craft and grow in their understanding of the world. If you love to learn and are never satisfied, we need you to join this precious club called education!

Find and nourish genius.

Find and nourish your students’ genius. I could write a book about this one, and many people have. Please know that all your students are lovable, capable, creative, amazing, talented, gifted geniuses. THEY. ARE. RIGHT. NOW. Each of them.

You need to get to know what makes them tick, what floats their boat, trips their trigger, tickles their fancy, flips their pancakes, razzles their berries, tosses their salad, flies their kite, sizzles their bacon, bakes their cake, lights their candle, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera! (OK, I’ll stop with the bad metaphors.)

Everyone loves to learn something, and you must invite your students to learn the things they are passionate about as often as possible.

I am finally passionate and unwavering about these priorities in education, and, if you haven’t already, I pray you will study and learn these and other important educational priorities.

Here are some experts I’ve read and watched (search for them on YouTube) who have helped me grow:

What do you know? The following link came in a tweet today: Ten of the Best Ted Talks on Improving Education. So I’ll check those out later. Always, always, always learn…Please join me!


Denise Krebs

P.S. To my PLN, what other priorities have I not listed?

I’m Presenting about Genius Hour at ITEC!

Hello, PLN friends!

On October 15, I am going to present a session about genius hour at ITEC (Iowa Technology and Education Connection) Conference. I hope you will help me prepare my session by sharing with me your suggestions and successes.

My plan is to present it by answering these questions: Why? What? Who? When? Where? How?

These 5 W’s and an H are typical information-gathering questions, but I thought I’d take Simon Sinek‘s advice and start with why.

Here are some of the specific questions I would like to answer for the participants at my session. I need your help, though.

  • Why? – Why spend time doing genius hour with your students? Why is it important?

  • What? – What is genius hour? Can you offer a concise definition? What are some other names you call it?

  • Who? – Who does genius hour in your school? Does it work with all ages?

  • When? – When do you do genius hour? How often? How long?

  • Where? – Where are some interesting places students have participated in a genius hour project?

  • How? – How would someone new to genius hour get started?

Do you have any stories, photos, videos, or advice to share with me in answer to any or all of these questions? I want people to see how Genius Hour works! You can add information to this Google Doc or in a comment below. Thank you, in advance!

Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk about Starting with Why

My Journey to a PLN

For Connected Educator Month, Sheri and I are leading a webinar called “Extend the Conversation.” We will be sharing our own stories of how we became connected educators. Becoming a connected educator for me was a steep learning curve, but it was well worth it. I’m a slow and steady learner, but like the tortoise, that is sometimes a good way to be!

As a teacher, I have always been a lifelong learner, but since I became a connected educator, I now have the joy of learning and growing with an incredible group of people in my PLN. Not only am I learning and growing from them, but I am also now a contributor and collaborator. My PLN has given me courage and confidence to be a leader in my classroom, my school, my state, and the world. I am no longer afraid to “share my genius with the world.”

I made this timeline to show my journey to a PLN. (Click on the speech bubbles for more information.)

Chief Learner

One of my favorite education quotes is “The teacher is the chief learner in the classroom” by Donald Graves.

I heard a remnant of another quote by him recently, so I was searching for it. It is about encouraging students to bring their obsessions into the classroom. While I didn’t find the source or exact quote, I did run across this — the philosophy of education by Mrs. Wilson, primary teacher at Minds in Motion Academy in Ohio, and couldn’t leave it without sharing it. She said it exactly like I believe it!

If we are truly to build on children’s natural creative abilities, we need to create a classroom of the possible in our program….a classroom where it is possible for children to explore their obsessions, take risks in their thinking and apprentice themselves to many other learners; a classroom where there is a shift in the focus of control from teacher to student, where students take more responsibility for the problems they chose to solve; a classroom where it is possible for children to create personal inventories of their knowledge and their stories.where they aren’t expected to check their cultures at the door; a classroom where there is time for students to be the learners that they are born to be, and where we as teachers appreciate and delight in the extraordinary creative abilities of each child.

Beautifully said, Mrs. Wilson! I want to go to your school!

Now I’m still looking for that obsession quote by Donald Graves. I need to read some of his work!

Researcher’s Workshop

I have been trying to figure out how to make our daily experience at school more like genius hour. In my science and history classes I have wanted to experiment with “researcher’s workshop.” I want to allow students to choose their topics, based on the essential concepts and skills in the Core, and then let them loose, exploring and researching topics of their choice.

My idea is different than a typical research paper. Students have always had some topic choice when they write a research paper. So, what was different about my new idea?

I asked my students to find a topic ala Carl Rogers, who said:

“I am talking about any learning in which the experience of the learner progresses along this line: ‘No, no, that’s not what I want’; ‘Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need’; ‘Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!'”

My request was simple: Don’t start your research until you get to that third point–“Ah, here it is!” Then enjoy asking and answering questions about that topic.

They were then given three hours to research their self-generated essential questions. Not three hours to write a research paper. Three hours to immerse themselves in the learning that they assured me they really wanted and needed to know. I had to keep reminding them to not start their final project yet. “Just learn now. Become an expert.” “You may change your mind later.” “The game you are planning may take an unexpected turn during your research phase.”

I was really pleased with the level of engagement. They watched History Channel DVDs, Learning 360 clips, and an occasional YouTube video, taking notes. They moved from website to website, noting the URLs of their sources. They read children and adult nonfiction. They noted the conflicting information between sources they were reading and viewing. And perhaps the best part? As they learned something amazing, they spontaneously told someone sitting near them. (Or the most enthusiastic told the whole class!)

As I watched them work, I realized most people aren’t often given time (or for adults, take time) to do research just because they are passionate about the topic. Oh, to be sure, we all do research. When we or a loved one have a stake in the learning. When knowing it will get us what we want. For instance, years ago, prior to a job interview, I looked at the web site of the school. It seemed to me, they were overly-interested in reciprocal teaching. It was new to me, so I read everything I could about it before the interview. I just knew it would come up, and it did. I do research sometimes to help myself or another person, but less often for the pure joy of learning.  What I wanted for my students was joyful learning.

I told them the project at the end was less important than the research itself. I wanted them to have time to learn what they wanted to on a topic of interest. However, I did want them to use what they learned to be productive and creative (genius attributes), so there was a product due too. Some of the project ideas I floated:

  • a web site or wiki
  • a Fakebook page
  • a narrative or documentary movie
  • a poetry collection
  • a photographic essay
  • a Twitter account of a personality tweeting
  • an illustrated children’s book
  • other
One group made a slavery simulation that we participated in around the neighborhood.

As we finished this two-week unit and the presentations began, there was quite a variety. We had an iMovie with music created on Garage Band and a web page. We had a simulation activity, a board game, and a Fakebook page, which really showed her learning. There were two paper posters and one of my favorites, an animap of Sherman’s March to the Sea. In addition, there were several Google Presentations. For the most part, students were creative. I’m sorry to say, though, given the excellent experience with the research, I was a bit disappointed in the quality of some of the products.  Some were exceptional, but many were mediocre. (Maybe part of that is the fact that school is out for summer in three days!)

The exciting part for me, though, is that I can honestly say during the research time, 100% of the students were engaged for the majority of the time.

In addition to the Social Studies standards we were working on, there were many English Language Arts Common Core Standards introduced or practiced:

  • RI.8.1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.8.2. Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RI.8.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
  • RI.8.9. Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
  • W.8.6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
  • W.8.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • W.8.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • W.8.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
      • Apply grade 8 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced”).