First day of school, 18th as a middle school teacher – excited, of course – nervous, a little- anxious to get started, (who isn’t?)…but something was different. Same classroom, same fabulous team, but there was a charge, a spark from administration that has allowed us to create and explosion.
Invigorating, to say the least, when we are piloting something totally out of the box as part of our Encore class period. Sure my ELA curriculum map is a bit different, and all new faces in my classes – as a veteran teacher…I got this! But Encore…gulp…model it after an EdCamp? Surely my principal wasn’t thinking clearly. Did Glenn Robbins actually say that we could design our own Encore classes as long as it aligns with the Common Core, curriculum, and standards? Let the students choose what they learn about? They will sign up on the whiteboards at the end of the hallway? Huh?
Where to begin? Lots of meetings and exciting discussions ensued. How can we incorporate the “wonder and awe” of Kevin Jarrett’s STEAM experience while creating the same enthusiasm within our own studios? Plan A turned into Plan B, then Plan C-going in many different directions. Finally, an epiphany…let’s ask the kids. GIVE THE KIDS A VOICE! As an English teacher, this is something that I foster within my curriculum, so why not incorporate this with this crazy EdCamp style Encore?
Step 1: Day 2 of School
Ask the students what they would like to learn about. Women’s history, graphic novel design, current events, stock market, anti bullying campaigns…an extensive and breathtaking list was created right before our eyes!
Step 2: Still Day 2 of School
Not what I thought Step 2 was going to be. The students were engaging with each other in the hallway, eagerly discussing what else they could add to the list. Some of the dialogue that I overheard was: “This is going to be the best year ever.” “ They are actually letting us take charge of our education. That is so cool.” “I can’t wait to get to school tomorrow!”
Step 3: Day 3 of School
Similar to Step 2 never saw this coming. I had a journal topic on my board, similar to the ones I have used for many years –”What are you looking forward to as an 8th grader?” Usually the students write about choosing their high school classes, the dinner dance, graduation, etc. This year their answers were out of the box, mind blowing, and definitive! Most of my 49 students wrote passionately about EdCamp Encore. More ideas popped up, some fun ideas (even if they aren’t Common Core aligned) like “How to prank your teacher,” some deeper ideas like current events and service learning projects, but most importantly, we had fuel to add to the already smoldering embers of this explosive plan. One of my students actually stated in his journal writing, “Before they used to teach us as if we were one brain, but now they understand that people and the way we receive information is different.” I actually asked him to write this down on a Post-It note and I handed it to my principal after class and said, “You need to read this, and you need to read this now!” YES!!! WE ARE ON TO SOMETHING HERE!
Fast forward to EdCamp sign up day. Wow! Excitement! Energy! Enthusiasm! Engaging discussions between students! Was this really an 8th grade hallway?
EdCamp Day 1: Embrace the Magic or Every Teacher’s Worst Nightmare?
Kids scattering all over the place…no class lists…no road map. Yet, it worked and it worked well because the kids took ownership. My studio was full of students, and chromebooks, and energy, and support-busy bees in a hive of success. They immediately started conversing which led to cooperating which led to creativity in minutes. At the end of that forty minutes, I had two groups: one already registered for National Mix It Up Day and one designing activities for Respect and Kindness week. Both of which floored me. Wow! Jaw drop! And this was just in my corner of the universe. I couldn’t wait for lunch with my colleagues to hear about their experiences. Each one better than the next and all with the same common theme. The teacher became the facilitator and eventually the observer. Day 1 EdCamp Encore was in the books, and for once, I was speechless.
By the end of my five day experience, I have a radio station coming to lunch for Mix It Up day, I have t-shirts designed, posters drawn…but most importantly, I have dialogue and kids participating and creating something bigger than themselves and they are PROUD! All of this happened because we trusted them with a chance.
Our possibilities are endless and the bounds of education are limitless and I am so encouraged and ready to embrace the future of education one EdCamp experience at a time. To my administration I would like to say “Encore, Encore!” Most importantly, to my students, I say “Bravo! Bravo!”
And this is just the beginning…
Up next: Literary Pumpkins