It started with the idea that this journey would be nothing but uplifting & inspiring. It quickly turned into extreme frustration & desperation, as I was stepping beyond the security of what I have always done. Now it has become rewarding & meaningful, with optimism for what lies ahead. As a coach of both golf & baseball and someone who is fascinated by evaluating both golf & hitting fundamentals, I would compare my learning journey to that of trying to change a player’s swing. When we make changes to a golf swing or a hitter, often times the immediate result is regression, frustration & increased failure. But, as I have encouraged my students to embrace, and as Jeff Utecht has encouraged us to embrace, this failure is often disguising increased learning. So it is with my professional learning journey as an educator so far this school year.
Below is my story.
Related Blog Posts –
“A New and Exciting Professional Learning Journey Begins“
“New Perspectives About Student Learning”
“New Learning in a New Century: What can we learn from each other?”
“Teacher vs. Facilitator of Learning: Which do I want to be?“
Be creative we were told. Be willing to take a risk we were told. Our reflection about our own practice revealed that we were feeling as though we spent too much time “enabling” and “hand-holding” our students through the learning process. So, we decided to “Learn to Fly” ourselves by challenging our student’s to do the same. What developed was the “Impress Me” Project. Gunner, Allison and I have embarked on a journey of collaboration between our three classes (United States History, English & Anatomy) to challenge our students to take on a novel & unique concept. To find some aspect of life that interests them, explore & investigate that aspect & produce a finished product that answers the essential question: “How did we get here?” That’s it. No kidding! That is it. Scary right? No step-by-step instructions. No minimum requirements. No rubric. But most importantly, NO GRADE! We have entertained many questions from students so far along this learning journey. “How will this be graded?” It won’t. “When will this be due?” June, if you want to participate. “Who will see this?” You will present the final project to your fellow classmates. “Why are we doing this?” Because we want to give you freedom, challenge you to be creative and provide you an opportunity to produce something you can be proud of once it is complete. To focus on LEARNING. Not a grade. What an incredible learning environment we can create if the focus moves away from teacher-directed hoop-jumping for a grade and moves toward student interest, student-directed questions of inquiry, an intrinsic desire to learn and the final reward being increased understanding, skill development, improved confidence & pride. While we are still quite early in this journey, there have been some excellent conversations and some wonderful celebrations. However, it has not been without its frustrations.
Related Blog Posts –
“Where do we (I) go from here??? Help!“
What could go wrong? We are taking off the chains of traditional education & allowing more freedom. This will be great! Until it wasn’t. Until the students didn’t seem to buy in or want to make the effort necessary to allow this approach to be most effective. Enter FRUSTRATION. You see, I was attempting to apply these principles in some way to my classes in all areas, not just the “Impress Me” Project. The problem was this was a different approach for many students and for me the teacher. We were all a bit uncomfortable & unsure. It led to, as it often does, to irritation, annoyance & FRUSTRATION for me & my students. Bottom line, we were not in a good place in November 2018.
Quote from my “Where do we (I) go from here??? Help” Blog (November 26th, 2018)
“On the one hand, it is a feeling of my best efforts & intentions being disrespected on a daily basis. On the other hand, it is a feeling of extreme helplessness, as I continue to try different approaches, but none seem to make the impact for which I am searching. To be transparent & honest, I am at a point of frustration that I am losing motivation to continue to implement some of these strategies to strive to motivate these students. However, I am determined to overcome. Determined to continue to fight the fight I believe in. Determined to regain that passion & belief that we can make an impact & that we can make a difference in our student’s lives. Determined to succeed.”
3. Student Voice:
By the 2nd week of December, it was clear that something needed to change. This grand idea of collaboration with Gunner & Allison was not yielding the results in my classroom that I had hoped for. While the discussions & conversations with two good friends & trusted colleagues helped keep me grounded, I was getting increasingly frustrated with my inability to reach my students & make an impact. It was at this point that I decided my students needed to be a part of the solution. They needed to bear some of this burden to improve our classroom. It is their classroom after all, not mine. I am simply the facilitator of learning. So, through many collaborative discussions with Gunner, Allison & Bob (I am so very thankful & grateful for these friendships) I decided to take some time to ask my students to reflect (which I believe we need to ask young people to do more often) on their own approach, performance & perspective about our class (see Google Form below).
* Posted Instructions on Google Classroom for US History (December 12, 2018):
HORNET VALUES: Honesty – Responsibility – Dedication – Teamwork – Acceptance – Leadership
We are in need of developing a plan & understanding of not only WHAT we want to accomplish (i.e. what we want to learn; skills we want to develop, etc.), but also HOW we want to accomplish (i.e. traditional learning; self-choice of topics, etc.) these goals. In order for this to be successful, you need to be willing to participate in a certain way.
1. Be HONEST with YOURSELF & with Mr. Murphy
2. Be WILLING to be ACCOUNTABLE for your actions & decisions
3. Be MATURE enough to understand that you attend EHS to try to improve as a person/student (this is your filter)
– In other words, what skills & habits do you have that would make you EMPLOYABLE in the workforce, military, etc.?
4. Be WILLING to HONESTLY participate in a group discussion & offer SOLUTIONS to the issues
What you are being asked to complete today & what needs to be completed by Wednesday, 12/12:
1. Google Form – Complete the attached “How’s It Going & Where do we go from here?” Google Form (attached)
2. Google Question – Respond to the prompts listed below on this Google Question
3. Personal Goals – Complete the SMART goals for the remainder of 1st Semester (see the assignment on Google Classroom)
* GOOGLE QUESTION REFLECTION PROMPTS (Address ALL prompts in your response):
1. What are your thoughts after reviewing the data?
2. Why are so many assignments (40%) NOT being completed “on-time”?
3. Why are so many assignments (34%) NOT being turned in at all?
4. What is the teacher’s role in addressing this concern? What would you do if you were the teacher?
5. What is the teacher’s role in keeping student’s off of their cell phones (i.e. music, social media, games) during class?
6. How do you want to improve in your time at EHS? What would make your time at EHS valuable for you?
Word of advice, if you choose to survey your students about the quality & effectiveness of your classroom (which I ABSOLUTELY recommend), be prepared to reflect on your own practices & be willing to listen to constructive criticism. What an eye-opening experience! Information that I expected. Information that I did not expect. Comments & evaluations that made me feel good. Comments & evaluations that didn’t feel so good. Bottom line, it created an environment where my students felt their opinion mattered. While I was not looking forward to it I knew that this survey needed to be followed up with conversation. But, not classroom conversation. Individual one-on-one meetings to discuss both the good & the bad reflections. But, this would take too much time! That didn’t matter to me. I was at a crossroads & this needed to happen. So, we spend almost two weeks continuing to work through content, but each class period taking the time to meet with students one-on-one to discuss their evaluation. Sometimes in the classroom, often times in the new common area in our new school, sometimes in the chairs in the hall outside of my room & even sitting on the stairs. What a powerful & enlightening experience for me as an educator! What an empowering experience for my students! For the first time in a while, I felt I could see the education system through my student’s lens. For the first time, maybe ever for some, my students could see the education system through their teacher’s lens. We began to truly respect one another & try to understand what we were attempting to achieve in our classroom.
Student Voice Resource:
“How’s it Going & How Do We Improve?” Student Survey (Google Form)
4. Empathy & Respect:
Related Blog Posts –
“Empathy – The role it plays in our lives, in our world & especially in our classrooms“
I truly believe that EMPATHY is potentially the most significant character trait that we can develop in our young people. In all people. “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” If we have the willingness to try to understand what those around us are going through, then we have created an environment of respect. Here is my “aha” moment: I was not feeling respected by my students (lack of work completion, lack of attendance, cell phone distractions, etc.) and as a result, I began to treat them in a disrespectful manner. Bottom line, neither one of us were demonstrating much empathy. How can I expect them to be empathetic if I am not modeling this behavior? It hit me like a brick upside the head. NOTHING will change in our classrooms until we create this environment of respect & empathy. Through the student survey, multiple conversations (as a class & individuals), by listening (not just hearing) my students & being willing to take a risk at a new approach to my classroom in my 21st year of teaching I have become re-energized! I am truly excited about this new direction & approach.
5. Employability & Student Choice:
It started with a willingness to not just HEAR my students, but an effort to LISTEN to what they needed & wanted. Through the student survey process & the individual one-on-one meetings (which was time-consuming & challenging), I was able to find what seemed to be a common theme. Students, just like us as adults, want to know that the work they are doing matters. In other words, they want the work they are doing to (or at least understand how the work they are doing will) have meaning for them in the future. Yes, they wanted the class to be more entertaining, fun, interesting, etc. All the typical catch phrases we hear from our students, but most consistently they wanted the work they were doing to have meaning beyond high school. What became clear to me through this realization that we both desired respect & empathy was that skills (academic, social, emotional, etc.) were at the core of what should be our focus. I have always believed this & been driven to help my students develop these skills, but I was now aware that I needed my students to be involved in developing the direction of our learning. We decided as a class (yes, much of this has been from student input) that we would focus on a daily & weekly basis on the skills that would make them “employable.” (see rubric below) We are starting with daily reflections at the end of the class period asking them to evaluate themselves as if they were their own boss or supervisor. We use the Student Self-Evaluation of Performance (Employability Skills) Rubric at the conclusion of each week. I add my evaluation as their “supervisor” over the weekend and we see how our two evaluations match. This leads to good conversations on Monday. In addition, students now have “choice” in my classroom regarding content. They are given the option of choosing a “Traditional” learning path or a “Self-Guided” learning path. Either path will still be evaluated through the lens of “employability,” as this is our focus, but they are given absolute freedom over what they would like to learn within our content unit. In fact, they get to determine their assessment. We are still in the infancy of this new journey, but so far the results, the conversations, the smiles, the respect, and the empathy have been amazing. More work is being completed. Higher level conversations are taking place. More creative work is being produced. I an environment of RESPECT has developed. Once again I am excited to begin class each day! I can’t wait to see where this journey takes me next!
Employability & Student Choice Resources:
“Student Self-Evaluation of Performance (Employability Skills) Rubric”
“Unit Approach – 1920’s” Student Choice of Learning Path (Google Form)
“Unit Approach – World War II” Student Choice of Learning Path (Google Form)
“World War II Unit Approach – Student Results” (Google Form)
Gunner Argo – Thank you for being such a close friend & colleague. I greatly appreciate your willingness to listen, not judge & provide advice & encouragement.
Allison Abrahamse – You inspire me to be better at my profession. I am in awe of your ability to connect with young people & get the best out of them. Thank you.
Bob Kilmer – Thank you for being a mentor & friend. Your wisdom & knowledge are greatly respected. Thank you for making me a better teacher & person.
JB Blair – Thank you for your example of professionalism & innovation. Also, thank you for pushing me to develop my “mission statement.” It altered my path from frustration to optimism. Thank you.
Murphy’s Professional Mission Statement:
“To develop empathetic global citizens with a passion for service leadership.”
Murphy’s Personal Mission Statement:
“To guide young people to success, happiness, empathy and to make a positive impact in the world.”