always a student

Wednesdays are my favorite day of the week.  Not because it is the halfway point in the work week but rather because it is my "easy day."  In the middle of the day, I get a two hour prep period.  Often during these two hours, I can be found with my head to grind grading, tweaking lesson plans, and running like the wind between my classroom and the copiers. Today was purposefully different.  Instead of focusing on the tedious tasks of the classroom, I decided to have an adventure. Why sit and grade when I could gather tidbits, tricks, and inspiration from some of the best educators in the own co-workers.  Leaving my pile of grading aside, just until later tonight of course, I trekked out with into the hallways to be a classroom anthropologist. My first stop was a friend's English class. I "stealthily" snuck into the class as it was about to begin and settled into his desk to watch learning in its natural habit.  In reality, I walked into the class, smiling at my friend, and he gracious invited me in and called me up to to see exactly what he was getting his students started on while they waited for the period to begin.  He was using Membean and asked the students to set up a 10 minute vocabulary session. Immediately, I wished I had known about this tool (or that this tool even existed) when I had studied for my SAT and GRE.  Using context vs. definitions, Membean allows the students to go through vocabulary at their own pace while also increasing the level of difficulty based on the student's progress. Similarly, the teacher is able to track how long the students use Membean during each session and how they are doing on their personalized vocabulary session.  It blew my mind!  I highly recommend this for any English teacher, student, or vocabulary enthusiast. The way this teacher engaged with this students was artful. He facilitated the conversation shared about himself and had the students sharing openly about their experiences and interpretations. When I left his class, excitement filled me as I thought about ways to utilize some of his techniques and discussion starters.

Next it was off to an art classroom.  Here is where the magic happens.  Having no natural artistic ability, I have always been intimidated by our art department.  The work that the students produce is exceptional and I feel out of place in this space.  Yet, if you do not go and do that which makes you uncomfortable, you stunt you learning. I grit my teeth, braced for the discomfort, and waded into the art class. Twenty minutes late, I left feeling weightless.  The teacher welcomed me into her classroom and while the students listened to Pandora and worked on their individual projects, the teacher led me through her space and creative process as one is lead through a museum exhibit. One of the most valuable lessons I witnessed was her well established feedback-critique loop.  Ingenius, easy to incorporate, and reflective, this small (and yet so big) component is something I would like to intentionally work on. Just as in the first classroom, like the wind I made my exit to leave the inhabitants of art to their own devices.  It was as though I had never disturbed the art room vibes...more or less.

I have postponed this adventure into the wilds of co-workers classrooms for some time now and I regret having done so.  Being a student, an observer, and a sly adventurer was the best way to spend my two hour prep and I cannot wait to get back out on the adventure next week!