By Bennett McKinley, West Liberty University Student
I was asked to contribute to the Fluency Project blog, and admittedly was at a loss as to what I could write. However, here I am, to start I’ll give a little background.
As a non-traditional “older” teacher candidate, I have felt as if I am in a unique vantage point for both entering the world of education, while also appreciating the work of the Fluency Project. To expand upon that; I am in my thirties and still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. Friends and family, for years, have told me that they believe I would make a good teacher. So my wife and I decided that I should follow that path which set me on a pursuit of a degree in Elementary Education at West Liberty University. Two years later, and I will be entering my Block semester in fall, followed by student teaching in spring of 2020. This pursuit has been incredibly rewarding, and any time spent in the classroom fully enforces that decision. Everything simply clicks that this in fact what I’m meant to do. Where it will take me in the future is difficult to see, I just know that I am truly looking forward to having a class and teaching.
My wife, son, and I are all avid tech fans. We may not always have the most cutting edge technology, but new and exciting toys are always on our radar. We run a small handmade artisan business out of our home, which has opened our eyes to a variety of technology to help the business grow. We own a laser cutter, various die cutters, a wide format printer, and more. On the side, we were occasional event photographers, which grew us an arsenal of photography equipment. Suffice to say, we like technology. One can understand my excitement at learning of West Liberty’s Center for the Arts and Education’s library of fun tech tools. I met Lou Karas during her Integrated Arts for Elementary Teacher class, and it was in this class that I got to begin working with some of the interesting technology. Following my world of photography, I was very eager to play with some of the camera tech that she owned, like the 360-degree camera.
My appreciation and interest affected Lou enough that she encouraged me to take part in a Fluency project at a local school. It was there that I begun to appreciate what this project truly meant. It isn’t simply encouraging technology use; it’s the idea that technology and education are fused! Educators need to take advantage of all of the opportunities presented by technology. For example, several of the cameras that West Liberty has available for loaning to educators are capable of capturing amazing 360 degree panoramas that students can view with a variety of VR lenses. This means students can experience the world visually without having to leave the classroom. Amplified upon that are the videos taken that utilize sound, so not only would the students be able to explore something out of their reach, but could hear the unique sounds of that environment, museum, etc. During one of the Fluency Project events, I was able to watch a short 360-degree video that conveyed the life in a day of refugees. These kinds of applications are incredibly impactful for me, but clearly to a student as well.
Emphasis needs to be placed on just how powerful technology can be. Students in this day and age are growing up in a world dominated by technology; to ignore it is to ignore an invaluable asset that would reach those students. This up and coming generation was born in a world where they will always have ready access to information and technology, what better way to help them succeed than to help them understand how to utilize that resource. We as educators, or as future educators in my case, owe students that much.
Knowing Why You’re Worth It
by Sydney Longworth, West Liberty University graduate student
This blog post is coming at you in the form of a reflection on an article I recently read by Karamo Brown. Karamo is the culture expert on Netflix’s series, “Queer Eye.” In the article, Karamo shares some personal insights on following his dreams as the first openly gay black reality star. Before becoming a reality star, Karamo was a social worker. However, in the article, he openly shares that a conversation with his son forced him to take a step back and ask himself if he was truly following his dreams (which he then realized, he was not). The most telling facet of this article to me, was that Karamo shares that it is not only important to know your dream, but you must know WHY you deserve it. This is very telling. How often do we look at our dreams or aspirations in this light? Karamo tells us that he decided to write down the answer to that question, and continue to repeat it to himself DAILY, as he knew this was the only way he would force these words to become actions. He also talks about seeing “no” as a gateway to “yes.”
You might be thinking, “how does this connect to Fluency?” Well, this article, and Karamo’s way of thinking, is forcing us to the type of reflection that Fluency strives to give to us; the type of reflection that we RARELY have time for. So, my challenge for you is this: ask yourself, “Am I living my dream?” and do some serious, but simple, self-reflection on WHY you are worthy of allowing all of your dreams to come to life. You can make it happen. The first step is recognizing that you can! And your dream can be anything—it can connect to your classroom, a personal goal, or a professional goal. The purpose is, that we can turn these dreams into a reality, (self-fulfilled prophecy) when we are at least recognizing it daily. This daily practice could also be used regarding your specific Fluency goals, and it also could be translated as a daily classroom activity for your students (of any grade level). This can also be used by students in a multitude of ways! If they are striving for a specific academic goal, they can address that goal, and their WHY for that goal. Why is it important for me to reach this academic goal? Why do I owe it to my future self to achieve this goal? As you can see, the WHY question can be asked in many different ways. This allows students to take ownership of their learning goals, as well as having their own voice over them. What matters, is that students are putting their goals down, habitually re-reading them, and making them apart of their everyday reality.
Here is the link to the original article if you are interested in reading it:
Implementing Systems Thinking
By Jason Hanson
Bridgeport Exempted Village School District
Upon entering the Fluency Project, I received a copy of Daniel Goleman and Peter Senge’s “The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education”. It sat in my school bag for some time before I decided to open it up and read it. As a Psychology major in college, I was familiar with some of Goleman’s work in regards to emotional intelligence, however it was not until I read this mighty, little book that the Fluency Project and my place in it began to make sense.
As teachers we are often asked to consider the stakeholders in the educational process. Identifying who the stakeholders are isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Professional development meetings end up with lists that include parents, alumni, school sponsors, teachers and school administration as stakeholders. Of course all of these groups are stakeholders, but after reading the work of Goleman and Senge and participating in the Fluency project, I realize this list is far from complete.
Early in the Fluency Project process my colleagues and I were called out into an open room with large Post-It paper placed on the walls. We were assigned the task of listing all of the groups that we could think of that had some interest or connection to our school district. We wrote these names down in a concentric model around our school’s name. What we ended up with was a huge list of people, businesses and agencies that we deemed were stakeholders in the educational process. Our list ranged from our local Sheriff’s Office to our State Representative, nothing was off limits.
As we stepped back to reflect on our newly created model, we were challenged with the task of evaluating each of those relationships and trying to determine what we, as a district, offer them and what they offer in return. This way of thinking about outside relationships is exactly what I believe Peter Senge was talking about when he discussed systems thinking, in particular the idea of interdependency. When we took the time to step back and look at our school district as a complex system with many dynamic parts we began to gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance between our school district and its many stakeholders. Furthermore, we came to the realization that these relationships are more than just stakeholders who hope for the best for our school district. They are actual resources our students can go to in order to have their voice heard. It is their audience. We were putting faces and names to these otherwise nebulous entities.
I thought it would be difficult to try this activity with my classes. I teach a Contemporary World Issues class. It consists of upper classmen and it provides me a lot of flexibility to try out new things. On my SMART board I wrote down Bridgeport School District in the center. I then proceeded to draw a series of circles “orbiting” our district name. I then challenged my students to come up with people, businesses and agencies that are connected to our district. Predictably they rattled off our nearest fast food places, the local car wash, the school resource officer as well as school personnel. I continued to prod them to think more specific and soon students started to list businesses like Nike or sports franchises like the Boston Celtics. Some students looked at other students with confusion, but when I asked my respondents to justify their answers they explained that our school basketball team purchases Nike uniforms and shoes and one of our greatest alumni was the great John Havlicek who played for the Boston Celtics.
Students then began to treat this exercise like 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon. They began rattling off many more names. I could see the excitement when they realized that the world is a lot closer to their fingertips than they ever imagined. Before we knew it our list consisted of Apple, the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oglebay Institute, Rolling Hills Nursing Facility and many more. Every single item on that list was justified in their minds. These were opportunities on the board, not just names. These are future employers, mentors, sources of information, leadership opportunities on that board.
Once we stepped back and looked at this list I then asked my students the following question: “Why Bridgeport?”. How would the following groups on the board answer this simple question? How would Apple answer “Why Bridgeport?”? How about Nike? Or the local sheriffs’ department? How would you or your friends? This systematic way of thinking transformed the way my students and myself began to see our roles in our community. This has led my students to want to use their student voice to give answers to these questions. They have begun conducting interviews and surveys and creating projects that help answer why our school district is worthy of investment and why our students are invested in the community.
We are currently in the infant stages of their project creations, but I can say that my classroom is now full of students who no longer look at their school district as static, but as a dynamic piece of a much larger system. This insight was made possible through the works of the Fluency Project and the research of Goleman and Senge.
Goleman, Daniel, and Peter M. Senge. The Triple Focus: A New Approach to Education. 1st ed., More Than Sound, 2014.
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By Jaclyn Kiedasch Kiedaisch - Steenrod Elementary, Ohio County Public Schools, Wheeling, WV
The most difficult understanding I have had through The Fluency Project is - it is not a project. It has taken me until today, April 1st, to realize our work with Fluency is rather a process in growth. During the first meeting I attended in July, I remember how much we discussed the importance of getting to know our students. I thought this was pretty basic and something I thought I was really good at doing. At the beginning of every year, I ask parents to write me a letter about their child. I send positive post cards. I attend baseball and softball games. I have a class FB page that allows for a two-way communication. I give out my cell phone number and make myself available at all hours of the day. My basement is overflowing with boxes of “You’re the best teacher” and “I love you” cards. Yes, these things are great, but I had more work to do on developing relationships with my students than I expected or planned.
I have been wrestling all year with finding the right “project” to implement and incorporate more fluency in my classroom. I thought building a Little Free Library would be the perfect way to incorporate community and compassion. Until I began planning this genius idea, I realized, that it was my idea. Determined to give my students a voice, I began planning a way to implement Genius Hour. Frustrated with the lack of time for implementation and concern for the management aspect of this adventure, I began to feel overwhelmed and not content with my idea again.
It was not until a conversation with a student today that I realized that I have been incorporating the most important part of our work into my classroom this year, getting to know my students. I recently began a new Monday tradition with my students called “Kiedaisch Cares”. Every Monday students write their name on a post-it note and place it privately on an anchor chart conveying how they are feeling. Depending on where students place their name, I know if they need me to check in with them privately throughout the week. When I pulled a student today to “check in”, she told me that she was okay, but she just wanted to talk with me because she never gets to one on one. Unfortunately, having twenty-four six year olds, makes it difficult to find time to have these important individual conversations. Yet, these conversations are the most important. Our students want to talk to us and most importantly, they want us to listen.
At the beginning of my work in The Fluency Project, I thought I was going to get to know my students in the beginning of the year and then move onto the “next step”. Contrary to that, I have spent my entire year getting to really know my students and building a safe and trusting learning environment. I have implemented many new strategies and routines that allow for student choice and voice because of the conversations I have had with my students. I have learned what they need through them. Eventually, I know I will be ready to incorporate many more aspects of fluency now that I know my students.