Change is EPiC
by Kellie Konrad
NOTE: We are starting our 3rd year here at EPiC Elementary. This post was written during our first year.
I have always loved change. Whether it be changing furniture around at home or in the classroom or moving from one teaching adventure to the next, change is good. Change keeps me on my toes. Change keeps me feeling challenged. Change allows me to always strive to be better for my students.
As I sit here enjoying a cup of coffee with the windows open (nothing like fall weather), listening to my son play Super Smash Bros Brawl on the Wii, I am reflecting on the changes I’ve experienced in my first 14 years of teaching, especially the changes that have come over the past few months of my third grade co-teaching experience at EPiC Elementary. EPiC is a new, K-5, non traditional, project based, one-to-one device elementary that is built on the foundation of creativity, personalization and innovation.
And it is all about change.
Before: Although I never co-taught before this year, I did have incredible teaching partners and co-workers! We would plan, look at data, share instructional ideas, take our personal days together so we could work, etc. However, logistically speaking, we were never able to share a space and group of students together on a daily basis. And in hindsight, that is tragic.
Now: Yes, many of us have moved beyond total isolation to collaboration, but it is not the same. Mark.my.word. I will never return to teaching by myself. This is like having the most incredible student teaching experience every single day. What better way for a teacher to improve than to be completely immersed, day in and day out, with an expert teacher? It is by far the best professional development one can experience. And I don’t say that lightly, as my PLN (mostly via Twitter and Google +) and other pd opportunities are absolutely amazing! As my incredible co-teacher, Dawn Bennett, would say, “Teamwork to Make a Dream Work.”
# of Students
Before: In previous years, I had anywhere from 25-28 students in a given year. And of course, it was just me. Just me up against the different instructional needs and behavior challenges of the class. Of course there were plenty of people who supported myself and my students along the way, but when it came down to it, it was still just me in those 4 walls with those 26 kids.
Now: Dawn and I have a class of 50 students. We have many of the same challenges we did before. We still have students who are academically well below grade level, close to, on, and beyond grade level. We still have those students that challenge us with their behaviors. I worried about how we would be able to build relationships with all 50 students and how we would be able to keep up with the data and know what each student was able to do and who needed additional support for particular skills. How on Earth would we keep up with it all? We do though. It isn’t perfect, but we are getting there. We divide and conquer. We have strategic routines in place to make sure we connect with each student. We are also lucky to have 1-1 iPads that support meaningful online platforms for personalized instruction that provide real-time data reports and interventions. We try to be purposeful with each choice and decision. It is hard to put into words. I think you’d have to “see it in action” to get the “flow” of the day.
Before: In my previous years, I wasted so much time (and energy) saying things like, “We go when everyone is quite.” Or, “Lunch starts in 2 minutes and I really hope you get there on time.” When really all I wanted to do was pull out my hair and scream, “Can’t we just line up quickly and quietly, move from point A to point B, and be done with it!?” And let’s admit, most of the time the only reason other classrooms were distracted when classes walked thru the halls was because of the teacher stopping and saying (in that loud voice we tell the kids not to use), “Uh oh. I will wait until everyone is ready. There should be no talking in the halls. Other classes are trying to work” And did it ever work? Was needing that control ever worth the precious learning time that was wasted? Not even close. And don’t even get me started on whole-class restroom breaks!
Now: At EPiC, students are treated as they would be in the “real world.” We no longer have to spend minutes lining up, being quite, stopping in the hall to shush kids, or waiting for 25 kids to use the restroom before going back to class. Instead, when it is 8:35 and time for specials, students simply get up and go to specials class (PE, Art, Music). When someone needs to use the restroom, they simply signal and we respond (we use sign language). Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a stampede of 50 kids running and screaming and being allowed to do whatever they want. There are still routines, systems, expectations, and consequences. My point is this… I have been AMAZED at #1 How well the kids handle this. And #2 The amount of teaching time we have in our day when we don’t have to line up for whole class restroom breaks, line up to go to and from lunch, recess, specials, etc. And my energy and patience stay intact for what really matters…learning!
Before: Yes, I know. Touchy subject, right? Well, I think that it has to be addressed because we all know that a building’s leadership DOES matter. In 14 years, I have been through a lot of change when it comes to leadership. Good and bad of course, just like we all experience over enough time. I used to think about leadership as solely the building principal.
Now: When someone talks about building leadership now, I still think first of our principal, Dr. Schmitz. But, I then immediately think of Deb and Kelly who are PBL experts, Dawn who knows phonics instruction inside and out, Tracey who can inspire and motivate you to take that instructional technology “leap” and try something new, Susan who is somehow able to be in 20 places at once and is a media expert, Glenda and Marde who are teaching their kindergartners to code, Jeni and Katie who can answer any question one might have about technology, Stefanie and Danielle who have helped my daughter come out of her shyness and become a leader, Michele and Christine who are modest and humble leaders that have a wealth of experience and knowledge, Mary, Heather and Cody who triage with our students in the morning and work with some of our most high-needs students each day, our office staff that take care of everything so that we can focus on our students, the lunch and support staff that handled a particular lunch situation with love, respect and grace. Becky who spends countless hours pouring over student data to help Data Team meetings run efficiently and effectively, and on and on.
I guess my biggest point here is that “true” leadership is one that enables others. None of the above could be accomplished without the leadership of Dr. Schmitz. She sets the tone. She is the one who allows us to share our knowledge and expertise. She is the one that has given us the opportunity to know who is an expert at this and who is an expert at that. Without a great principal/lead learner, isolated teachers simply run out of energy when road blocks like pride, ego, fear, etc. hold us back from feeling empowered to do what is right, in a systematic way. I believe a quality and effective leader is one that isn’t prideful or egocentric. One that gives credit and celebrates ideas, even if they weren’t the one to come up with it. A person that respects your thoughts and ideas but challenges you to think deeper. Someone who works tirelessly behind the scenes to break down the barriers that so often hinder teachers from getting the job done.
There are so many teachers who are doing the right things for kids and who are doing many, if not all of the things we do at EPiC. The best way for me to describe the difference is that I am now in a building where each and every person holds the same values, beliefs, work ethic, passion for teaching in innovative ways, and every person not only sees the need for real change, but embraces that change and challenge and supports and encourages one another along the way. And I must say, it is much easier to grow as a teacher when you are given this type of environment. I wish that every teacher who desires this type of environment gets to experience it before they retire. I am so lucky that I have enough years left to really get to enjoy and grow from this experience.
And this is only the beginning.