Sunday, November 25, 2012

Digital Dinner Series - Learning with Shelley Wright

A little over a week ago I attended the second of six Digital Dinner Series - Going Deeper evenings hosted by my school district.  The keynote speaker was Shelley Wright, a high school teacher and PhD student from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

For the first part of the evening two local schools shared how they have been transforming learning in their schools.  Teachers from Fraser Heights Secondary shared how they are combining different departments and teaching students together.  They shared an example of how humanities and science were being taught together.  I liked what I heard because these teachers are trying to change the way things have always been done. They have a supportive principal to allow them to do this too. I love seeing teachers transform their teaching to better meet the needs of their students. I LOVE it!

Between the two school presentations we had specific questions to discuss with our table group.

George Vanier Elementary was the second school to share.  Hugh and Gallit, talked about genius hour and the positive effect it has had on their students.  To no surprise they inspired many in the room.

After their presentation we had more questions to discuss before dinner was served.  Thankfully this time I did not have to leave early like I did last time.

After dinner  we all settled in to listen to Shelley speak.  To say that Shelley was anything but inspiring would be a lie.  She took us through her journey of transforming from a traditional teacher to one who completely gave over the learning to her students.  One day she thought to herself, "is this really all there is" and then she slowly gave over the reigns.  She shared how it wasn't easy, but the outcome was worth all the messiness along the way.

Shelley shared stories of her students fundraising for a cause, and how they created an incredible holocaust museum. They learned more by doing then by being lectured too. They learned lessons they most likely won't ever forget.

She talked about how everyone can learn and that being good at school is just that, being good at school. There is no correlation to being good at your marriage, or your career, or you life. All it means is that you're good at school.  She stressed that children should come out of school knowing what they are good at and what they are passionate about.  School should be about learning, and learning is emotional.

Shelley talked about how we need to teach our students to be curious, and to wonder.  This natural instinct to be curious has been taken out of so many of our students and we must reteach our students how to be curious.

She went on to say that now she asks her students three big questions:

1. What are you going to learn?
2. How are you going to learn it?
3. How are you going to show me that you learned it?

Learning in her classroom is  authentic and real.

Obviously Shelley's presentation sent my brain into a high speed spin. In fact I had several conversations with fellow teachers and administrator after her talk and it took me over an hour to get to my car in the parking lot.  But how does what she said transform my teaching?

First off Shelley spoke about a bus that I'm already on.  I get that my students need to be at the centre of their learning. I have changed so many ways about they way I teach to try and get them there.  I constantly think about why I'm doing what I'm doing and how it impacts my students.  My head spins with ideas all the time and I'm pretty confident that I'll never find the "best" way to teach my students but I'm having a lot of fun trying.  As I've said before the more I learn, the less I know.  I'm not where I want to be with my students but I believe my bus is heading in the right direction.

I am trying hard to encourage my students to be more curious. I'm asking questions, I'm encouraging their brains to spin.  I am trying to give them choices in how to work, and how to show me their learning.  I am getting us involved in many collaborative projects with many different classes.  I am trying to do what is best.  But of course I can always improve.

I love how the very next day Lora Sarchet and Niki Leech  two amazing primary teachers in my district asked their students what they want to learn and they are finding a way to make that happen in their classrooms.  I need to do that for my students too.

I need to listen more to my students.  Just the day before Shelley presented to us one of my students asked if he could choose which math station to work at.  He got me thinking, "why not?".  Now that they understand how the stations work they can chose which station to show their learning. Heck, if they have a better way to show me a specific concept we are learning I'm more than willing to let them show me in their way.  Earlier this week, in a very short time period, my students had to show me in any way they wanted, what they knew about living healthy.  They did a fabulous job and just seeing their faces as they focussed on their job was inspiring.  I very specifically asked them if they enjoyed showing me their learning in their own way and to no surprise they said, "YES".  This has to become more of a norm in my classroom. You can see some of their responses here.

I want us to be involved in projects that are truly meaningful for them.  I know they are enjoying the connections we are having with other classes and I want that to continue.

 I think as a grade one teacher I need to remember that my students are capable of making good choices for themselves.  I still need to teach them how to read, write, and problem solve.  We need to continue to set goals together. I need to continue to have high expectations.  But most importantly I need to continue to accept my students as exactly who they are.

Teaching is a challenging time consuming profession but I truly believe all the energy I put in to be the best I can be, pays back ten fold when I see my students thrive.

Thank you Shelley, for an inspiring evening.


  1. Wow Karen! I like that you are finding ways of giving your students choice of presentation. I am thinking of this as well. And too true, even students as young as gr 1 (or maybe because of their age) are able to lead and direct their learning if given that opportunity with the support and expectation that they CAN be successful. Looking forward to more connections with our students and making that F2F meeting happen for our classes!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Ps my 1st comment was likely lost because we were traveling and my phone doesn't seem to be successful for commenting?

    1. I think it is so important that we share with one another what we are doing with our students as away to improve both of our teaching practices. And like you I am SUPER excited to have our students meet face to face. My students love skyping with classes around North America, and now I hope they will be just as excited to meet some of these kids face to face. :-) Thanks for taking the time to leave me a comment Lora. I totally appreciate it. :-)

  2. I love this post. Thank you for sharing. I too since seeing Shelley Wright have been making more of an effort to give my students more choice in what and how they learn. I love how we are recognizing that students as young as grade one know what they want to learn and are more motivated and engaged when they are in the drivers seat. You inspire your students as well as other teachers. It is great sharing ideas with you. Looking forward to collaborating with you on more projects.

    1. Thanks Niki. As I said to Lora, I think it's really important that we continue to share our practices with one another as a way to make us all better at what we are doing. That's what I love so much about the connections I've made through twitter. I love that we keep our students and their needs at the centre of our teaching. I think that is why we have connected so well. Thanks tons for taking the time to leave a comment. :-)