Thursday, February 6, 2014

Losing sight of the shore.....

When I first met my wife I was informed that her family operated a fishing charter service on Lake Erie. Needless to say it was love at first sight! After a couple of years I began helping in the summers working on the boats as a first-mate. My job consisted of prepping the boat, getting to know the customers, ensuring everyone had the proper bait, demonstrate the fishing technique of the day, and make sure the boat was cleaned and ready for the next trip. A few years later I decided to get my Captains License and now serve as relief Captain in the summers. It's a great way to help the family and there is nothing like being out on the open water. During my years as first-mate I was taught how to navigate home by looking at the shoreline. Yes, we had the fancy GPS but it was really much easier just look at the shore and head to Port. As I began running my own trips as Captain I would rely on this method. One particular trip stands out in my mind as I began running trips. I remember heading out and having a seasoned first-mate with me. The fishing was terrible close to shore and the customers were getting a little restless. My first-mate had some insider information on a school of fish about 14 miles out. On Lake Erie, that is a pretty good haul, especially in a boat that doesn't go that fast.

I knew at this point I had a decision to make. My first big go into the unknown or stay put, hoping the fish would start biting. A nervous twitch was in my stomach as I realized that the fish were so far out that I would not be able to see the shoreline. You see, the shore gives you a sense of peace. You can never feel lost when you’re in sight of it. Well, I decided to go for it and ended up having one of my best trips ever. I took a chance and left the comforts of my safety net to find the fish. The customers were happy and I was glad we avoided a mutiny. So, what does this have to do with teaching? To me this represents a challenge! Who doesn't like a good challenge? How could you step out of your comfort zone and take a chance in your classroom? As teachers we need to evaluate our day to day. Are we truly helping students by sticking to the same routines year-in-year out, relying on teaching styles that were used when we were in school?   Should we be helping our students realize that staying in your comfort zone is not always the most rewarding place to be? If you are willing to take a chance, let me offer you three challenges to get you started out of your comfort zone:

  1. Become the facilitator of knowledge in your classroom. All too often, teachers are the authority figure with the "my way or the highway" mentality. Be the guide on the side and not the sage on the stage. Present your material in a way that sparks interest with your students and makes them ask questions. Blow something up! Talk about grabbing their attention. Students love to see things explode. Find some creative lesson that gets them on the edge of their seat and tie it into how it impacts their life.
  2. Open the door for self-discovery. Quit handing out worksheets and quit delivering textbook power-points. BORING!  After you have found a creative way to present your material (Stormboard, Schoology, Padlet, whatever platform you choose), challenge them to create rather than regurgitate material back to you. We all know Bloom and even he says that creating is the single best way to show understanding. Have them create a blog with daily reflections of what they learned in class. Work in groups and create a commercial to sell a product. Don't hinder their creativity with a large list of what to do; rather be vague and allow them to ask questions. This dialog will be more beneficial than a list of instructions. You will be surprised how creative students can be when they feel encouraged to explore. 
  3. Get uncomfortable and develop a PLN with colleagues or on Twitter. This year alone I have truly discovered the power of Twitter (@MrRileyjo). It's not just a social media website. It is a source of constant Professional Development. I always look for ideas from teachers that are experimenting with new technology or ways to implement Project Based Learning. Find or create a group with colleagues that will challenge the way you think and work with you to discover new methods. Quit doing things the way you always have and step out of your comfort zone. Checkout the chart below. It comes from John Maxwell's book Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.What zone are you in?

If you are doing something different please share. If you accept my challenge comment and let me know how it's going. I am always willing to offer suggestions and learn myself. Get away from the shore-line and see what you find outside your comfort zone.