The Spring of 2017 was the time in my professional life that I started hearing yes many times in a row.
Take Down the Wall
The first yes that I heard was by asking my administrators if I could co-teach with a passionate professional and my friend, Mr. Eric Terrell. I have a room that has a removable wall. The wall was folded up and pushed away only a few times in my first four years of teaching and this bugged me. I, along with Eric, started to question why we teach math, social studies, English, science, computer science, art, music, PE, family and consumer sciences all in separate areas so that the students get the sense that they are separate. The obvious answer for some of the classes is because of the resources involved, but that still is not a good answer to me and I will address that another time. The second yes, I/we heard was that Eric would be switching classrooms so that we could take down the wall and have a large space for our students and start changing the thinking that subjects are separate because they are in separate rooms.
The third yes happened as a result of consuming my Twitter feed and coming across a tweet promoting #Grow17 organized by TeachThought PD (#Grow18 is happening July 9-12, highly recommend attending). I was interested in project-based learning but I had no idea how to implement it. I knew I needed to learn and talking with Eric we were excited about what this learning could do for our plans for the 2017-2018 school year.
We had no idea what this learning would do!
We submitted a plan for professional development funds from our district and received approval for the registration and our Airbnb in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. We viewed this event as essential to help us be successful in our vision for the students and were okay with paying for the travel expenses and food. We decided to drive the 17 hours because we both enjoy seeing different places and knew that we had too many things to discuss to jump on a plane and have the learning end because of the convenience of a short trip. On the way there we were talking about big, extravagant plans to create this whole world that our students would navigate and level up throughout ancient civilizations and thinking about how we could dress up and make ancient history relevant for the students.
I took away so much from this professional training from Dayna Laur (@daylynn) and Drew Perkins (@dperkinsed) and knew that what I was going to be asking the students to do would be looking very different. This was essential because I did not want to fall back into making changes cosmetically but not changing what I asking the students to do.
Project-Based Learning Components according to TeachThought:
1. Rich inquiry
4. Meaningful Assessment
Each of these components play into each other and are constantly going through a cycle many times within one unit. This opened my eyes to creating something that would actually build up the skills that students will need as they get older instead of going through information that they may or may not use again in their life.
An Abbreviated Yes List
****I am counting not being told no when observed by my administrators, as a Yes!
1. A yes from every expert that has been contacted about presenting to the class about their specific knowledge.
2. A yes from every expert when asked to evaluate the students work at the end of the unit.
3. A yes from Rapid City Public School Foundation when applying for a grant for resources that students were asking for.
4. A yes from administration when talking about working with students schedules to get as many back to back classes for our students.
5. A yes from administration to take students off campus to present their ideas to experts.
Hearing "Yeses" turned into Student "Yeses"
I have heard yes so much from my administrators and I am truly thankful. It is really is true for our administration that if what is being asked is for the students there really is no limit. The transition to doing project-based learning has been really special for my educational career.
All the yeses that I have heard have had a direct impact on all the yeses that I say to students when they ask if they can do something. I am still trying to get my students to challenge how far I can come through on and how far out we can go for what can and can't be done because it is "school."
I am not at the end of the trail of yeses yet!
My wisdom is very limited.
Thank you to everyone who shares their knowledge and passion for education and how do be the best for the students they work beside. My teaching practices have drastically changed since I started looking to others in an authentic way to learn.
I have learned too much to not share my journey with the hope that it could help someone else.
My name is Dylan Wince and I have a passion for creating opportunities for students to engage in relevant learning. I believe I now have a foundation to build on that will be solid for what will have a positive impact for my students. This foundation was only just built after going through my first four years of being an educator.
I am in my fifth year of being an educator. This year, 17-18, is very different in so many ways. I can contribute this to reflecting on the following "Why am I doing what I am doing?" This question led to my honest of answer of "I am doing what I enjoy." I have had students come up to me and say they liked my class but my take away is that it was because of the positive relationships that I had and not necessarily how I prepared them to be successful. I do know after having a few more conversations their are a few who did actually learn some positive skills but I would say honestly it would not be a majority.
To my past students, I am sorry I did not learn the answers to the questions below until now.
The students would walk in to the classroom and I would have the desks in a different arrangement. I liked creating an environment that was different but only cosmetically because this did not change any of the thinking I was asking the students to do. We would still get out the textbook and I would call on the students to read. Thinking about it makes me cringe. We would read, maybe just me and the person reading, and then we would have a discussion, or maybe it was just me talking. Too much of me.
I struggled but was determined to create the best seating charts to make sure everyone had the best spot for them, determined by me. I made sure everyone had their binder and pencil in order to take the notes that I would write on the board. I would talk down to students who did not seem to understand that they needed a pencil for class. I would call on the students who seemed like they were not paying attention. I really do not know why any students would like me for how I was. I definitely was not inspiring students to own their learning.
I made sure to get as many grades as I could to show everyone that I was spending time grading and that I knew how much my students knew. I made sure to assign homework because the students would need to get use to it because it was going to come and come fast as they got older. I took it upon myself to get my 6th graders prepared for their future! I wish I believed what I believe now for the sake of my past students.
I was really good and establishing who was the boss and I would demand the respect because I was on top of everything. I was tired all the time. The students would create exactly what I wanted and I would be happy for myself because that showed that they could follow my directions.
After my first year, I started doing simulations. This brought up engagement because the students were now dressing up and doing more activities like wearing togas for the Greeks, competing in the Olympics, participating in knighting ceremonies, building castles and living a day as a monk in a monastery. I have had conversations with former students and when I ask them what they remember from the year they were with me they can usually bring these events up but after that not very much. What did my year of education do for those students?
I love history. I like reading about history. I like watching movies that deal with history. I can look at events happening today that have their roots in ancient history. I am also a thirty year-old that has had time to connect globally and to see how this is relevant to my life. I spent the first four years of teaching trying to convince an eleven and twelve year-old that they would want this information when they were adults. All the time wondering what of our "learning" could not be Googled by the students to find the correct answers.
I received good evaluations in my first four years of teaching. I have great respect for the administrators that I have worked for. I received good feedback of working on my questions that I asked, impressed by my classroom management skills and the students were having fun with all the different activities. I did everything I could to make sure the students understood that they needed to know the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. I made sure they read as much about ancient Rome as we could during classes. I made sure they knew the Roman Catholic Church had all the power in the Middle Ages.
Something was off. Coming back to the conversations with former students, when asking probing questions about all of the content that we went through, there was little that could be talked about. This was not the students fault but only a reflection on my practice as an educator.
I NEEDED to question everything that I was doing and nothing was sacred! I have placed my questions in categories. The answers that I have found to the following questions have shaped my current year of teaching in such profound ways.
What skills do my students need to be successful in their futures?
How do I get my students to ask good questions?
Why do my students look like zombies and have little drive to do their own learning?
Is reading out of the textbook and answering questions really teaching my students? What is it teaching?
Is there a better way than simulations to make the learning relevant for my students?
How can I connect my students to their community?
How can I get my students to be creative?
Do students need a seating chart to be successful?
Why are my students not bringing their materials to my classroom?
Would I like sitting in the desks that are in my classroom?
Should students need permission from me to go to the bathroom or to get a drink?
Is a teacher-driven classroom really what drives student learning?
Do I need to be the boss in unquestioned control of my classroom?
Would I want to be in a class taught by me?
Are letter grades necessary? If they are, for who?
Do I need to be have ______ grades in the gradebook to know if my students are learning?
If I do not have grades how do I show my students progress?
General School Day
What should school be for my students?
Is the classroom the best place for learning to take place?
Are the students using all the spaces in the building for their education?
Does the schedule work for the students and their needs?
How can I inspire students to go beyond the minimum requirements?
Should I be creating masters of content or masters of learning?
I will address these questions in my future blogs. I am excited to share my journey and what I believe about these questions based on the experts that I have found. The changes in my educational practices have led to my best year of being an educator. I do not know everything and I am not perfect at what I do. I do know I have a lot to learn and I will continue to learn. The students that enter room 191 each and every day are far too important to fail.
Mr. Dylan Wince
I am not a writer but I am writing. I have learned too much to not share my journey.