Monday, December 28, 2015

Writing Our Own Alternate Ending #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is from Mrs. Emilie Garwitz, a kindergarten teacher at Greenwood Elementary in Minnesota.  This is Emilie's first blog post, and she is sharing it with #KidsDeserveIt and the Adjusting Course blog.  Please connect with her on Twitter @MrsGarwitz and throw some support and encouragement her way.  (Emilie and her team are doing some extraordinary work with students.) 

K pic 

We all know the endings to familiar stories: the shoe fits, Cinderella marries the prince, and Harry Potter defeats Voldemort to save the wizarding world. 

We find ourselves often thinking and talking about endings long after we have finished reading. Generations of teachers have challenged learners to use their creative talents to write alternate endings to these beloved tales. But how do we tailor this classic method to our current generation of learners - the next innovators in our world? In what ways can we apply 21st century skills such as collaboration and creativity to the learning experience and standards? And, what if the artifacts of learning lived on beyond the lesson using digital tools relevant to young students?  

Recently, my kindergarteners have been fascinated by the alternate endings to the gingerbread man story. I wanted to take their energy and dive deeper. The classic method would have been to have my students use their creativity to write a new ending. And the challenge was that kindergartners’ writing skills and stamina are still developing. So I asked myself, what motivates them? What tools can I give them to help them be successful when so many of their skills are still in progress?  

  This is when I turned to our school’s mobile Makerspace carts and challenged my students to build alternate endings to the gingerbread man. The objective was kindergarten friendly: I can create a new ending to the gingerbread man using legos. The results were astounding. My students planned, collaborated, shared, built, created, and reflected for over an hour - a long time our youngest learners. 

Their creativity stretched well beyond my highest expectations and the experience was authentic and meaningful. They changed the characters, the setting, and more. One group’s version of the story had a copy machine that the gingerbread man used to make twenty copies of himself in order to outfox the fox.   “We’re engineering!” one student exclaimed. 

This was the moment when I started thinking about the possibilities for their future. I was not just teaching a skill, I was imparting on kids a new mindset - an engineering mindset. Building their alternate endings was cross-curricular. During the planning stages, I looked up how many standards connected to this objective and was blown away.  

While learning to write and practicing writing are critically important, this whole exercise made me reflect on the choices I make as a teacher. Maybe I should not limit their tools in the classroom when it’s time to create. How could using tools that are relevant and motivating to students change the learning experience?  

After an hour of innovating, it was time to take apart the creations - such a hard thing to do for both teachers and students after so much time, effort, and creativity are spent. But what if the learning does not stop when the last lego brick is cleaned up? What if we could make time in the classroom to help students’ ideas and work live on? 

Enter, Google Drive. 

When students take pictures of their own work, upload it, and share via the Drive with their families, they truly own every step of the learning experience. Digital learning is relevant to students and the ability to share learning with families helps connect us. Every teacher savors that moment when her students achieve bigger things than she ever dreamed possible. 

Witnessing 5 and 6 year-olds upload photos of their creations to Google Drive was one of those seminal moments. Most people might hear “Google Drive and kindergartners” and think “that can’t end well.” I guess you could say my class created an alternate ending of our own.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

We Have to Believe #KidsDeserveIt via @benjamingilpin

Today's guest post is from Ben Gilpin. Ben is a Principal in Michigan.

"The future belongs to
those who believe in the
beauty of their dreams"
- Eleanor Roosevelt

Didn't they know I was right behind them?  Weren't they aware that I was "one" of them?  

I stood behind the golf cart and proceeded to clean the clubs of two male members at our local country club.  As I scrubbed the clubs clean I couldn't help but overhear the conversation that was occurring.  "The future is bleak!  Kids nowadays have no respect!" stated the driver.  The passenger jumped in, "Just yesterday I walked into the grocery store and two teenagers had headphones on and you could hear the music.  They'll be deaf by the time they're 30!"  The banter went back and forth for several minutes.  It was clearly evident that they believed the future was in rough hands.

I was right behind them.  Did they not care?  

Years later I hear the same conversations from my generation.  I hear adults talk about kids having their faces in a device.  I hear the obsession with Minecraft.  I hear the negative talk about how the future is in terrible hands.

I choose to Believe in a different future.

As a teeenager I was part of a group that took food to needy families.  I watched many of my friends step-up and support others.  I saw a bright future.

Now as an adult I see more quality than ever before.  I met a group of young ladies that were working on a variety of projects.  They ranged from knitting mittens for the homeless to collecting books for low income families.  

I choose to Believe.  

Every generation believes they are the best.  I'm hear to say, "My hope is that the next generation far exceeds us."  

Let's stop the negative talk about the next generation.  

I challenge you...
  • If you don't like it, do something about it.  
  • If you believe it is really that awful, go check out some of the kids in the National Honor Society.
  • If you fear for the future, it is time to understand that it doesn't have to be the same as it was for us.
  • If you think the world is crumbling, just google Kid Heroes.
I Believe the future is in good hands.  The next generation will be full of people that challenge norms, think creatively and see past the barriers that future generations have put in place.

If you need more proof that we are in good hands, just check out this 3 minute video.

I Believe in our kids.  I dream of a bright future.  I know that #KidsDeserveIt and that they deserve to have adults support them in being the best they can be.  Will you Believe?

Monday, December 14, 2015

KDI Minds Collide #KidsDeserveIt

Kids Deserve It! 

 Writing our last chapter!

Sometimes things just fall into place.  It doesn’t make sense all the time, but it always seems to happen at just the right time. The important thing to remember is - just go with it, there’s a reason it’s all happening!

Who would have known that six months ago, we would have met face to face and hit it off so well at NAESP?  That it would have led to the creation of Kids Deserve It and a book deal?

That the working relationship would turn into a friendship where it was like we’d found our long lost brother.  Where our world’s began to collide on more than just a work level.

This weekend we finally had the opportunity to spend some time in person together since July!  And even more than that our families got to meet as well.

Friday began the excursion.  Todd was able to spend the entire day at Adam’s school shadowing him and meeting a few of his teachers.  We even had two other principal buddies of ours, Brandom Blom and Jesse Woodward, show up!  It was a day filled with great professional conversation.

But the best part came the next day.  On Saturday our families collided and we spent the entire day touring San Francisco.  We visited the Golden Gate Bridge, rode a cable car, walked the streets, saw thousands of Santas, rode on BART,  ran to Twitter Headquarters, and even rode (yes, all 6 of us) in a Pedicab.

And as we sat across the table from each other writing the ending of our book on Sunday morning while Adam made blueberry pancakes, it all hit us.  Look at the world we live in.  A world where when we choose to connect with others and put ourselves out there, we can really find something special.

Over the last six months our worlds have been flipped upside down.  There’s so much awesomeness that has happened.  And this weekend, spending it together with our families, was only a further reminder of even greater things to come!

So please remember - take the time to connect with people in person. With Social Media we all have so many ‘friends’ and it’s the real friends that we believe truly make the difference. They make you a better person for  you, your family, your job and for those around you everyday.

Be awesome, connect with others, practice gratitude and don’t forget to smile - you deserve it!

Writing + breakfast at Adam's house!

 Pedi cab with both families, thanks to Chris for pedaling us!

 Everyone loves a cable car ride!

Golden Gate Bridge

The Welcome's

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is from Brent Clarkson, an educator in Katy, Texas.

I began my career in education in 2008 and waved my white flag at the end of the 2011-2012 school year. I had enough and was at rock bottom. I didn’t want to teach anymore. I was defeated. I was deflated. I was on great campuses with great administrators but still felt like I was on an island alone. That’s the end of the beginning of my story.

Fast forward three years. Recently, I had a cool opportunity to be interviewed on my campus regarding how building a PLN is helping me grow as a teacher. When I was done with the interview, it really hit me that the reason why we connect with other educators is not simply so we can grow ourselves. It’s because our students deserve us to be the best we can be and we can’t do that acting as a lone wolf. Here’s what came out of the interview: The first question that was asked was “What is the most exciting thing about edcamps?” I love seeing teachers step out of their comfort zones to try something new. For many teachers, edcamps are new and fairly uncomfortable at first. Stepping into a room full of people that you likely don’t know (unless you’re already connected via Twitter or some other digital medium of a PLN) could be really frightening. What an awesome opportunity for growth on so many levels! Edcamps all but force you to meet new people, connect with and learn from them. If you haven’t tried one yet, do!

The next question was “What is one way in which you have grown as a professional from building a PLN?” I couldn’t narrow it down to one thing so here goes…growing my PLN through Twitter (@BClarksonTX) and Edcamps has completely revolutionized the way my classroom is run. For years my class was teacher driven and led from the front. Lecture after lecture, worksheet after worksheet expecting students to meet me where I was and just “get it.” Was this effective for some? Maybe. Was it reaching all of my students though? By no means. Getting connected to great educators like Todd Nesloney, Bethany Hill, Dave Burgess and Aaron Hogan (among many others) has helped open my eyes to my shortcomings as a teacher. Even with my eyes opened to this, however, it was a big transition. It’s a scary thing to have had the reins held tightly in my white knuckle grip, loosen it a little and let students hold on with me. When we come to this realization that doing what kids deserve is the best thing we can do in our schools, magic happens. Students begin to experience learning rather than listening to boring lectures. Students begin to take ownership of their education. Content becomes real to them. Real world application begins to take place. Doesn’t sound so scary anymore, does it?

SOAPBOX ALERT!! I’ve also had a shift in mindset when it comes to homework. STOP GIVING IT! Seriously…students are at school for seven hours a day already. Pile on top of that three hours of homework and we’ve stolen any opportunity for family time and co-curricular activities. Is it really worth that? Why would I send my students home to work on something they may not be familiar with yet? To practice it incorrectly? To have ZERO assistance if parents or guardians aren’t available? I can spend time with my students in class and accurately assess whether or not they have grasped the material without bogging them down with more work outside of school. If we think we should go the route of “it’s teaching them responsibility,” here’s a great short read from Alice Keeler on the same topic. Bottom line is I’m learning that I’m as much a fan of homework as my students are.
The final question was, “How do you use your PLN to research and learn?” This question takes me back to the very beginning of this post. In 2012 I had waved my white flag. I quit and walked away. I gave away all of my “teacher stuff” and was done. It took about three weeks in my new job to mourn the day

I waved that flag. I sat at my desk at my new job pushing papers looking at my watch knowing what period my new students would have been in and that they were probably dissecting chicken feet. Fast forward nine months. After almost a year of being out of education, I finally had my chance to get back in: a job fair! I had a few interviews and was blessed to secure a position at one of the best junior highs in the state with an amazing admin staff, seven minutes from my house. Shortly after being back in the classroom, I discovered the beauty of connecting with other educators through Twitter (thanks, Todd). I began to build my first PLN and never looked back. I use my PLN to grow in any way that I can. I research different methods for assessment. I learn from others that are WAY better than I am. I use it for encouragement. I use it to encourage. My PLN rejuvenated my career and helps me be the best teacher I can be every day.

As my two little boys (and John Maxwell) always love to say, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” Now, get out there and build your team! Why? Because #KidsDeserveIt!

image via

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Get Your Kids Deserve It Bracelet #KidsDeserveIt

We're busy writing our Kids Deserve It book and making great progress. We've ordered Kids Deserve It bracelets for our followers/readers, please fill out this form and we'll mail you one! 

Thanks for all the Kids Deserve It support!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Evaluate and Elevate Your Why #KidsDeserveIt

Today's guest post is from Sanee Bell, Elementary Principal from Houston, TX.

I like to say that I grew up in humble beginnings. I was raised in a two parent home until my parents divorced when I was 12 years old. It was at that time of my life when I began to experience situational poverty. I didn't know that the way we were living was considered to be at the poverty level. The government sets those standards and families who are living in those conditions usually don't know that a "standard" has been set to describe what they know to be normal. Whatever the standard, I knew that I wanted a new normal, and that there was a better way to live. At the time when I most needed stability, encouragement, direction and guidance, I found it at school in the teachers and coaches who genuinely cared about me and my well-being. 

Those individuals didn’t seek me out because they knew my situation. No one at school, even my friends, knew my situation. The beauty in the story is that they didn’t need to know those things to invest in me. What they didn’t know was that I needed opportunities and experiences at school more than ever. Those experiences helped me to escape from my home life, and I viewed them as a means to a better way of living after I graduated from high school. Education saved my life and changed the path of my future generations.

I tell you this brief bio so that you can understand my why. Our life experiences help shape who we are today. I always knew my why, introspectively, but it has taken deep reflection to own it and to be courageous enough to tell my story to others.  People want to know why I chose this profession. They want to know my passions, what motivates me, and what drives me to make the decisions that I make. As an educator, I should be able to state my why to anyone who asks "why do you do what you do?" In order to do this, I had evaluate my why in order to elevate my purpose. Educators who know their influence and the power that they have in the lives of children truly understand and are able to articulate their why to others. My why is hinged on three beliefs.

- I lead because education is the great equalizer.
Where a child lives should not be a determining factor of the type of education a child receives. Each day in our country many students come to school with a privilege gap. It is our responsibility to recognize and minimize this gap. Most students don't get to pick where and if they go to school. Since attendance is compulsory, the experiences that students engage in at school should be worth it. My education opened doors for me. It allowed me to cross the bridge into another world that I would not have known if I had not graduated from high school and college. 

- I understand my impact.
Coming to your why means really digging deep and knowing your own story. Growing up we were told to never tell our family business. I learned how to wear a mask and act as if I didn't live in a home where we were struggling to have our basic needs met. It has taken me time and courage to appreciate my why. My why is bigger, bolder and better because of my life experiences. My why has helped me to know and accept my impact as a principal. There are other Sanee's out there who deserve a quality education and who are depending on us to ensure that what we promise to offer students is what is actually being provided. In the lives of some children, the school and the adults who work in it are the only icon of stability that some children know. Some students have obstacles and challenges to overcome that many adults can’t even begin to fathom. A person does not have to have the same background or experiences to relate or see a sense of urgency in a situation. Our influence is greater than we’ll ever know, and our impact on the lives of children can change lives.

- If not me, then who?
I can't expect others to give and be their best for children if I am not modeling the way. If I don't advocate for all students, how can I expect that to be the pervading culture of my building? I know that access to education can be a life or death matter for some students. I recognize the sense of urgency that we must have as educators to prepare children for their future, which is not a world of standardization, but a future where they will be equipped to contribute to our society and greater causes than any individual can accomplish alone.  I know that it doesn't matter where you came from but where you are going in this life that determines future paths. Being an educator is my passion. I find significance in this work that I have been called to do. I heard Angela Maiers describe passion as not doing what you like to do, but doing what you must do. I could not imagine doing anything else than having the privilege and honor to impact the lives of children each day. I must do this work, because someone did it for me.

If we don't evaluate our why by taking self-inventory of our story and what drives us to teach and lead each day, we run the risk of losing sight of our core business. More importantly, if we don’t elevate our why, we may minimize the sense of urgency of our calling. Our business is critical, and as educators, we should be committed to changing the lives of children. I challenge all of us to reflect, recharge, and renew our commitment to our students and our noble profession. Go change the life of a child! Our kids deserve our best and nothing less.