Tuesday, October 13, 2015

3 Reasons to Hold Student Conferences

Today was possibly one of my favorite days as a teacher.  I have often had conversations with my students.  We've had Genius Hour conferences, brainstorming sessions, and class meetings.  But today was different.  Today, I let my students negotiate and give input as I completed their 4C Rubrics for the end of the six weeks.  I had heard Don Wettrick share how he allowed his students to do this and wanted to give my students the same opportunity.

I met with students individually and shared the rubrics that I had completed.  I explained why I rated them the way that I did and then gave them an opportunity to respond.  I could have never imagined the amazing conversations that occurred as a result of asking for their feedback.

You see, I honestly expected that students would just accept the score that I had given them or argue that they deserved higher a score with little evidence for their argument.  Boy, was I wrong!  Instead, my students did the opposite.  They listened well as I explained my decisions and then responded. Not only did they respond but they justified their responses with evidence and specific examples. They shared struggles and successes, strengths and weaknesses.

I was so impressed when I heard things like, "Mrs. McNair, I really think I need a 2 instead of a 3 for risk-taking.  It seems like I take a lot of risks but I don't like to if I feel like I am going fail" from the mouths of my fifth grade students.   Many of them shared specific examples of how they had demonstrated specific skills.  They also shared examples of their weaknesses and struggles.  This is huge in a Gifted Education classroom.

In reflecting on today's experience, I saw three major benefits to allowing my students to have a voice in the feedback process.

1.  Students see you as someone that is on their side.  I wasn't sitting behind my desk handing down my opinions and judgment.  Instead, we collaborated to come up with some of their strengths and weaknesses.  We discussed what they need to work on and what they do well.  They saw me as someone wanting to help them reach their goals.

2.  You learn so much about your students and their goals.  There is only so much you can know about your students from a parent information sheet and a stack of completed worksheets. Conversation opens doors to relationships and give us opportunities to really know our students. Knowing our students helps us make their learning experiences meaningful and know what will and will not work for them.

3.  Students begin see themselves as learners.  So often our students just see school as a place that they have to be and learning as a chore that has to be accomplished each day.  When they are given the opportunity to take an active role in their learning experiences, they begin to see learning as meaningful.  As a result, they see reflection as a beneficial and necessary part of the learning process.

Today was such a great day!  My students amazed me with their ability to assess themselves honestly.  This is definitely something that we will be doing at the end of each six weeks.  I look forward to seeing progress and watching them grow in their areas of weakness.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

LaunchMe Reflection

I finally have time to reflect on this week's experience and write about the wonderful time that I had at LaunchMe in Clearwater, Florida. 

So, a few months ago Brad Waid encouraged me to come to the LaunchMe Academy that he was hosting in Florida.  I said "sure" but honestly, was a little unsure and insecure about going.  I thought I would feel out of place, uncomfortable, and just weird around so many people that I had never met.  
However, the experience  was the complete opposite.  I flew in on Wednesday evening and hardly slept because I was so excited and nervous about what was to come.  Thursday morning I arrived at Plato Academy ready to learn.  I instantly realized that I was in for an amazing experience when I met Brad Waid, Katrina Keene, and Bryan Miller at the front desk.  They were so welcoming and helped me realize I was right where I belonged.

As the day went on and I sat in the room with so many amazing educators, I listened to their stories and their experiences.  It was evident right away that I was in for more than I could have ever imagined.  I loved hearing them share their passion for education, innovative teaching, and risk taking.  I loved having conversations about changing the world and following our dreams.  More than anything, I loved being around real people that were like me.  People that know they are on a specific path, just not sure where it's going to lead.  People that want to share their passion with others and feel like they can make a difference.  I was right at home and was so pleased to be included in such an amazing group of people.  

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Every person in the group contributed in their own special way.  Brad shared so openly about what he does and gave us the inspiration to go after our dreams.  Kevin couldn't be there but was so gracious to share videos from the airport answering our questions and offering wonderful advice.   Katrina asked honest questions and kept us laughing with her Twitter antics and fun personality.  Bryan was so inspiring as he shared his goals and challenged us to think bigger.  Mona kept me laughing and helped me realize that we all have purpose and worth.  Fran was so sweet and introduced us to the BEST Italian food I have ever had by taking us to Villa Maria for lunch.  Jen made me feel so comfortable by introducing herself right away.  It was so fun meeting Troy and hearing him share about his podcast.  Nik kept us laughing and his excitement for innovative education was so inspiring and contagious.  Adam inspired me to try something new by sharing how previews ruin movies...LOL.  I will definitely think before I watch a movie preview next time!  There were so many other wonderful people that played a role and made LaunchMe such a terrific experience.

On the flight home, I reflected on what I had learned, who I had met, and how my life was changed.   It was so much fun being around like-minded people that were passionate and believed that we could make a difference.  I thought about the words that Brad shared and the challenges that he gave each of us. In reflecting on all of these things, I came to the conclusion that life is what we make it.  We can't achieve what we don't go after and being ourselves is enough.  

I am so thankful for this experience and would not trade it for anything.   It was two days of being inspired, being challenged, and making connections. I learned so much from every single person in that room and will forever be grateful for the role each of them played in helping me find my inspiration.   I am grateful for the friendships that were made and look forward to crossing paths again in the near future!