This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher - this time with a special guest!
By: Mike Zolnierczyk & Brett Slezak, Allegheny Valley School District
This year at Allegheny Valley School District, Mike Zolnierczyk (a senior student) and Brett Slezak (a central technology administrator) embarked on a brand new journey of creating a Educational Technology Internship, in which the two worked together to create more meaningful learning experience through hands-on work. At the end of the semester, as a final project both of them sat down and co-created questions they thought would be interesting to know about each other’s thoughts on the program. Inspired by the Dear Data project, they answered the same exact questions separately to be able to compare each others honest responses.
Here are those responses:
Can you describe your experience in participating in the AVSD Ed Tech Internship program?
How has inquiry or your own passions guided what you did this semester?
How was that experience different than what you were expecting or what people have expected of you before?
Do you feel like you understood the other person’s expectations? How do you feel like you met those expectations?
How have you grown from the experience?
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Megan DaGrava, Ohio County Public Schools
When I started this Fluency journey last year I thought, what am I signing up for? Why am I signing up for this? I still have unanswered questions about the Fluency project but I am so glad that I am a part of this process. This has been a reflective year for myself not only professionally but personally as well. I attribute that to Fluency. I have been encouraged by the Fluency process and the people involved. This process has given me a platform for trying new things without fear of failure because we learn from each trial whether it is successful or not.
I have spent a great deal of time this year reflecting on my teaching and asking questions. Why do I teach this content in this way? Is this what is best for the students? How can I make this better? Overall, this has been a year of growth and rejuvenation. I have implemented new ideas and classroom structures to build a better learning environment with more engaging lessons. I have learned so much about who I am as a teacher and who I can be for my students.
I have much more to learn and I am excited to see where the Fluency project will take me as I continue to grow and learn.
This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Melanie Riddle, Ohio County Public Schools
How many times have you been told to work smarter, not harder? What is wrong with hard work? What is hard work? As educators we praise and admire the amount of thought, time, and effort our students pour into their work. We guide and inspire them to struggle in their learning so they can feel the pride and joy of their creations and fresh knowledge.
When do teachers have time to struggle in their learning? Who guides and inspires us in our learning? I have never heard a colleague say they have extra time on their hands in our profession. There are days we can’t even spare a minute or two to just stop and be. Teachers are human doings and we need to transition back into human beings. This will benefit all stakeholders, but it will be a struggle to achieve this state of mind in our profession.
The Fluency Project gives us the time we need to struggle. We can pour thought, time, and effort into ourselves as educators while carving our professional identity. Reflecting on who we are, where we are going, and who we want to be is exhausting, but I promise you that when we leave our cohort meetings, it is an exhaustion that replenishes us with the motivation to continue the work we are doing in our schools and communities.
Identifying what our students need is a struggle. It is imperative that we humble ourselves enough to genuinely investigate what is working and not working in our classrooms. Luckily we have a strong network of teachers in the cohort to lean on because we feel safe and have time to stop and think about the changes that are happening in education at a rapid pace. We spend time slowing down so we can struggle to improve our craft.
After all of the hard work identifying the needs of our students, we leap into meeting these needs, so they are empowered to learn and create. Now, it is time to struggle with learning new technology and research-based practices to take back to our classrooms. Where do we struggle with all of this? The Fluency Project! It gives us the time, encouragement, and tools we need to take our classroom design to the next level.
What comes from all our struggles and hard work to learn, create, and design? Extraordinary classrooms where our students will thrive through hard work and triumph.
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by partnering teachers.
By Sarah Schimmel, Teacher Education Program Director, Assistant Professor of Special Education, West Liberty University
Through the years, Lou Karas’ impact on West Liberty University students, faculty, and staff has been enormous. This impact is compounded by the impact within our community. Each year hundreds of P-12 students spent time on campus in the Center for Arts and Education (CAE), of which Lou is the Director. Not only does she coordinate on-campus activities in the CAE maker-space, she travels with a team of available graduate assistants and teacher candidates to partner schools.
When Lou brought the concept of Fluency to us at WLU, we were thrilled at the opportunity and excited to coordinate with Dr. MaryLu Hutchins. This Project (process) allowed for strengthening partnerships as well as collaboration opportunities for P-12 and WLU faculty and administrators. Recently, we have added teacher candidates and more graduate assistants to the cohorts, and the impact is clearly felt. The tri-state Fluency impact is a cultural change of all involved becoming producers and not consumers of technology.
Within the classes at WLU, the teacher candidates in collaboration with P-12 are researching contextual factors data and analyzing it to compare with how they remember the dynamics of their home schools they attended. Teacher candidates are also creating visual field trips to be able to use in their future classrooms. All of the values of Fluency align to the our accrediting body’s focus on cross-cutting themes of diversity and technology. We are proud to see this all come alive.
This is just the beginning! This year WLU Teacher Education Program is piloting year-long residency for student teaching. Within the Fluency cohort 4 will be the administrator, educators, teacher candidates, and graduate assistants. We look forward to seeing how the Fluency Project, Professional Development Schools (PDS), and our pilot of the year-long residency.
We at WLU are thankful for this opportunity to collaborate with all those involved in the Project.
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by partnering teachers.
Fluency Colleagues Chat about Their Journey to Date By Missy Fritter and Heidi Hohman, Ohio County Public Schools
“Create for yourself, do it in celebration of your ability to do so, regardless of what anyone else thinks.”-Rachel Hollis from Girl, Wash Your Face
I feel this speaks well of the fluency process and what we are attempting with our students. Currently, in education, as well as life, lots of people like to give step by step instructions for everything that is to be done and many times a person can feel pigeonholed into a specific fixed mindset and never allow themselves to explore their own creativity and create their own experiences. As educators, we must allow students the opportunities to take chances and learn to fail as well as succeed in order to learn what works and what doesn’t. In the fluency process students learn the freedom to express themselves in their work without fear of doing something wrong or not being accepted. (Missy)
I agree with you, Missy. When we are given the freedom to explore and to create, amazing things can happen. This is true for students, but also for educators. Thinking back to the first few experiences the students and I had with our new chromebooks and comparing that to the way we approach things now, the difference is dramatic. We have developed stamina, perseverance and a sense of confidence that has grown exponentially. These traits are the foundation for richer, deeper work of the future. (Heidi)
“The easiest way to get old is to be technologically behind, A.J.”-Gabrielle Zevin, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
I think that I feared that if I was not proactive, I was going to be just like the character, A.J. Fikry--cranky and a bit outdated. I have never been anti-technology, but I was feeling overwhelmed to the point of frustration prior to joining the Fluency project. I felt like I had great ideas, but I did not know what was out there that would match my students’ needs or mine. Our innovation coaches, quality professional development, and the access to reliable devices have certainly made it much easier to begin to implement those ideas. Fluency has also opened my eyes to the beauty of technology as a tool to enhance student learning and to build relationships rather than an end in itself. This is a major shift in my thinking. I felt compelled to include technology as a way to meet certain standards to be sure my students were prepared, but I knew I was missing a vital part. (Heidi)
For me, this school year has seen a lot of change across the county as well as in my very own classroom. We were asked to become more innovative in our teaching so we would integrate technology into lessons that we are currently using with the students as well as create some new lessons that would assist students in using more technology within their assignments. (Missy)
I remember thinking that was doable, and I liked that at the Fluency summer workshop there had been such an emphasis on utilizing technology to increase our knowledge of students. Forging those meaningful relationships with my students is something I have been attempting to do for a very long time, so I began thinking about how I could make that my main focus for the year. (Heidi)
Personally, I have always loved using technology in my classroom (which has mostly been computers only), but am now trying to see other ways students could use additional programs and devices to learn. I think there are so many different technologies available nowadays and sometimes it is very overwhelming to wade through what is just entertaining vs. educational. I personally feel the more we expose students to technology for educational purposes, the more comfortable they will be with using it thoughtfully and in a meaningful manner. With all that being said, I do think the above mentioned quote is glaringly true as the students we are working with are more technologically advanced than their teachers. Therefore, if teachers do not stay abreast of the newest technology and find ways to enable their students to explore and learn using it, then we grow old as educators and our students fall behind. (Missy)
“When we play together, we are unbeatable.” -Mina Javaherbin, Goal
This quote sums up what I have really come to understand in my Fluency journey to date. By embracing the adventure, I think my students and I have discovered so much! We have learned about using technology to produce a finer product, but, more importantly, we have learned to rely on each other to discover how to use tools that are now at our fingertips. This growth has been a shared experience based on our willingness to try and experiment TOGETHER. With the support of our county, the Fluency family, and my students, I feel that my practice has been revitalized and rejuvenated. I am filled with gratitude and hope for what is next. (Heidi)
Heidi, I wholeheartedly agree! Even though I still have questions about Fluency, I have found that working with students to explore through “play” that we are able to enjoy our learning more and find new questions to ask and investigate at another time as well. Through further exploration of these questions, we are unbeatable in the respect that our curiosity is always sparking and knowledge is attained through collaboration. I, too, look forward to the future and all it holds for my students and myself as well. (Missy)
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.
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:
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.
This is the latest in a series of blog posts by a partnering cohort member.
By: Joseph Rosi
I'm always searching for topics to write about that are germane to our FLUENCY mission. This morning inspiration struck while I watched my two year old twins have a meltdown. Any parent of toddlers can tell you the deluge of tears and foot stomping is always minutes away, regardless of activity or location. Today's feud happened because my son returned from the doctor after a particularly severe bout of the flu. Grandma, being the compassionate caregiver she is, got him a balloon to cheer him up.
After two days of being in the hospital and very sick, he returned with the balloon in tow. My daughter, seeing that, completely lost her mind. She couldn't believe that he got a balloon and she didn't. We tried our best to console her, to explain that he was sick and needed cheering up - nothing could move the needle from agitation to calm.
Ironically, she wasn't wrong. From her perceptive, she did what she was told over the past few days, ate all her vegetables, colored in the lines of her book, and 'read' stories before falling asleep. She did what was expected of her as well as she could. Why shouldn't she be rewarded?
Equity, as it were, reminds us that perspective is key in creating environments that make all stakeholders feel valued. Applying that mantra to our school, I've moved to eliminate Honor Roll from our primary grades. Students who are in the throws of literacy development and becoming emergent independent learners shouldn't be discouraged by not meeting an arbitrary benchmark for recognition.
I want a learning environment where kids are rewarded for hard work, advocacy, and moving forward in their development. If you're a 'C' student working toward your capabilities, why shouldn't we reward you with your own 'balloon'? Being an equitable academic environment doesn't mean everyone gets the same reward for the same task. It means focusing on individual learner development on their own continuum and continual improvement. I'm glad to be able to work towards that goal.
And of course, we ended up getting her a balloon, too.