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From the Classroom: Success Defined

By Brian Kelley

Searching photos on a phone while writing on a Chromebook.

Searching photos on a phone while writing on a Chromebook.

Change bothers most people.

We can be good teachers and still make room for change. Change does not mean we are bad teachers making bad decisions. There are many ways to teach, but consider this blog post as an invitation to grow.

Consider change as growth. Everyone can grow.

For example, I changed my approach in the classroom by adding writing and technology to my life outside of the classroom. It wasn’t a drastic change–and if writing and technology are changes you would like to make, neither needs to cause a seismic shift in your day.

Asking teachers to write is a scary proposition. Asking teachers to become more fluent with technology is a scary proposition. It sounds a little like going off of the script. 

We have routines. Comfort. The script of our lives.

We have trusted packages of material. Confidence. The scripts of our classrooms.

Asking teachers to go off of the script is a scary proposition. Uncertainty surrounds change.

So, when I say go off of the script I do not mean abandon. I mean consider what you want for yourself and/or your students (which is not happening now) and plan a path to accomplish it.

I wanted to my students to believe that writing is not just something done for school. I wanted my students to write for someone other than me. Quite honestly, I wanted them to write for someone other than themselves too.

An audience of two makes for an empty auditorium. A lone clap. Limited feedback.

The best path I could find which worked for me (you might forge a different path!) was adding writing and technology to my life:

  • multiple blogging opportunities
  • Twitter (also considered microblogging)
  • keeping a writer’s notebook
  • experimenting with composing podcasting
  • experimenting with composing short videos
  • collaborating on articles for educational journals
  • dreaming and writing various manuscripts for YA novels and picture books
  • I use the voice-to-text feature on a Note Taking App on my iPhone as I drive
  • I commit to handwriting notes at staff meetings or with writing partners in my writer’s notebook
    • sometime I take notes down online on a Google Doc
  • writing in class when my students write
    • if I write with 1st period then I confer with 2nd and 3rd period
    • I rotate the days and the classes in which I write and/or confer
Recent page from my notebook.

Recent page from my notebook.

I don’t do all of this writing at once. I don’t pressure myself with timetables. I dip in and out. I experiment. But I found that it truly started with a small, personal shift.

It was just about commitment.

Sometimes I turn the radio down in the car and I talk. I say my thoughts aloud. Sort of a turn-and-talk with a writing partner: my iPhone.

You could do any one of the things I listed above and grow. You don’t have to keep a blog–you could write for five minutes with your students on paper. You could write for ten minutes before school. You could talk to your phone!

Make a small commitment to start. It will grow.

As I continue to push myself to grow as a writer, and to keep up with technology, I find my connections with my students have grown because of my growth with writing. My improved relationship with technology has emboldened me to move “off of the script”…and not abandon the other good stuff already in place..

Additionally, my confidence in the classroom has expanded by making myself a writer.

I treat my students differently than I did ten years ago. I treat them as writers—not like writers, and there is a difference. I see them as writers because I have learned how to see myself as a writer.

Sometimes it is challenging. It is a process. I failed and scuffled along at first and I continue to fail and scuffle through the journey of becoming a digitally-literate writer.

But I continue to find success because I continue to grow and change. When conferring, students tell me they are doing the things I am doing as a writer—not because I told them to do these things, but because they discovered some things on their own too! And I really believe that I used to miss those hidden gems when I met with students. This is one measure of success. At least it is how I am defining success.

Success (n.) rooted in the change and growth of teachers becoming writers; it is when a teacher becomes a writer and learns what to listen for in young writers; when a teacher becomes a writer and learns what to draw out of students so that students may also change and grow and become writers too.


Brian Kelley profileBrian Kelley teachers 8th-grade creative writing at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania; his podcast about families and heritage “I Remember” can be found on iTunes; you can connect with him on Twitter @_briank_ or on his blog: walkthewalkblog.blogspot.com.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. WritingisThinking #

    Such a great reminder, Brian! While I find technology to be an amazing tool, it takes so much time to grow and learn how to use these new resources in my classroom. My students are so motivated when I incorporate technology. I’ve found that just typing their drafts helps some students to write with more detail. I have access to great technology at my fingertips… this blogpost was a perfect reminder that I need to be using it! One strategy you suggested that I truly think would work with my elementary school students would be oral storytelling on a voice recorder. I’m looking forward to it!

    Like

    March 13, 2016
  2. Pretty42087 #

    Such a great reminder, Brian! While I find technology to be an amazing tool, it takes so much time to grow and learn how to use these new resources in my classroom. My students are so motivated when I incorporate technology. I’ve found that just typing their drafts helps some students to write with more detail. I have access to great technology at my fingertips… this blogpost was a perfect reminder that I need to be using it! One strategy you suggested that I truly think would work with my elementary school students would be oral storytelling on a voice recorder. I’m looking forward to it!

    Like

    March 13, 2016
  3. Meghan Gubicza #

    When it comes to technology in the classroom, I have always been on the fence. I went to a school where, if you got caught on a device, it was taken for a week and held hostage for $25. When observing, I have seen negative and positive applications of technology within classrooms. I greatly appreciate this article because I am now painfully aware that I will have to get used to technology when I become a teacher. I think that it definitely softens the blow for me to think about how much writing my students will be doing if I bring social media and technology into the curriculum. In order to truly connect with students, it is imperative for teachers to connect to things that are most familiar to them. And recently, technology has become the absolute most prominent thing in almost every student’s life. By creating a relation between their technology lifestyles and the academic curriculum in school, teachers are able to ensure that students are getting the most out of their education. I believe that writing is incredibly important in any context, even in social media and technology. It’s good for me to read about someone gradually making these changes and growing in a positive way. Thank you for your suggestions, I very much look forward to possibly having my students create blogs to display their understanding of key concepts. Thank you so much for all of your suggestions and for making this transition into the technological world seem so much more possible for someone like me!

    Like

    February 14, 2016
  4. Getting a grasp on technology is a sound investment for the classroom especially in the foreseeable future. Phones, computers, tablets, etc. are so prevalent nowadays that, for some, it is the sole reason for existence. So kudos to you! Your suggestions for adding writing in your life are some that I would try and implement into my own practice. My car wasn’t equipped with a radio so perhaps utilizing a voice-to-text app, as you mention, would do me some good. Common thought is that students learn from teachers, but sometimes teachers learn from students and this idea can be seen in your post. It is good to hear educators going beyond what is expected because to stray away from comfort is always a challenging task and is also a commendable one.

    Like

    February 4, 2016
  5. Amanda #

    Personally, I think the integration of technology into the classroom is extremely beneficial for both the student and the teacher. Technology is an important asset to society. It manifests in everything an individual does. Tablets are substituted for books and everyone has a smart phone.The rapid and widespread adoption of technology has completely changed the way people conduct their daily lives, including how knowledge is digested and taught in our classrooms. I love that you are “going off script” and embracing technology to its potential rather ignoring it because you are unfamiliar. I also enjoy that your adaptions are rippling into your confidence and perspective.
    I also would like to grow as a writer, so it is nice to know that I am not alone on this journey. Your post will help me in my future education! Thank you!

    Like

    February 2, 2016
  6. I greatly enjoyed your definition of success, particularly the part suggesting that we put ourselves in our students’ shoes by writing WITH them. Breaking that mindset of, “writing is only for school” and writing being something that we just have to get done and over with is an everyday challenge. I think teachers sometimes fall into that funk as well, and challenging ourselves to grow as writers is certainly the path to a more positive and productive attitude. Life can get very busy and we may struggle to find those few minutes to write, but your suggestion about recording your thoughts on your phone is wonderful. I used to do that when brainstorming and drafting for a creative writing class I had my sophomore year of college. Thank you for the great read and useful ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

    January 31, 2016

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