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!

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