What Does it Mean for Me to be an Open-minded Lifelong Learner
Guest Blog post by Kathy Renfrew
It means getting up at 7:00 AM on Saturday morning, making sure I have coffee before the Twitter chats begin, specifically #satchat at 7:30 on Saturday and by 8:00 AM at the latest on Sunday so I don’t miss #hacklearning at 8:30 AM. Yes, I definitely miss out on sleeping late but it is “soooooo” worth it for my own learning. I am 65 years old, soon to be 66 but I guess I am a little like the Energizer Bunny in that way. When there is an opportunity for new learning, I am there!
Embrace Scary New Things
I think I have always known I was a continuous learner but it really became obvious to me when I was teaching a multiage grade 5 & 6 and saw hands-on, inquiry-based science for the first time. Man was that scary, my science experiences had been less than awesome, to say the least, BUT I knew I had to do this for my students. I HAD to provide them the opportunity to learn and think like a scientist so I had to do it also. After attending my workshops and becoming somewhat comfortable I realized that I needed to know more so I went back to school and got a second M.Ed. in Science Education. Now that was even scarier but I persevered and I am so happy I did. By the way, all that happened after I had been teaching approximately 20 years.
A few years later, 2008. I had the chance to leave the classroom and go work at the state level in Montpelier, the state capital, as the Elementary Math & Science Coordinator. This was a huge learning curve and so many opportunities to learn. All of a sudden, I was able to attend conferences for NSTA and NCTM all over the country! In this role, I was the elementary representative in the developing of the statewide assessments in math and science. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, my role began to change a bit. Now I was partially responsible for the rollout for the rollout of the ELA and mathematics standards because we either had elementary literacy or math people.
Be a Sponge
Things move on and new science standards are being developed. I am smack, bang, boom right in the middle of this process and loving it. I was part of a state level team reviewing drafts of the Next Generation Science Standards. In 2013 it was time to adopt and implement these new standards. I must have been learning a lot during this period of time because I was/and still continue to be a sponge when it comes to digging into science and science instruction.
I also discovered Twitter about 3 years ago when Tricia Shelton (@TdiShelton) invited me to participate in the Twitter chat #ngsschat. Connecting with other teachers on Twitter opened me up to so much more learning, in bite sized chunks. Twitter is that connection to other people innovating new ideas that help me to learn new ideas. It wasn’t long before I co-founded and now moderate the Twitter chat #elngsschat. But that was just the beginning. I began where I was comfortable, in science and then ventured out. Now I’m addicted to being connected through Twitter. There’s so much to learn, I try to make a habit of regularly participating in Twitter chats. Some of my favorite Twitter chats are: #satchat, #leadupchat
New Move, New Learning
I decided last spring that I needed to move and be closer to my family because my Dad is getting older, I had a new grandson and all my family was in Massachusetts. I also knew I wanted to try being a science coach so I could use all that I had learned to help improve student achievement. All these decisions meant new learning.
I discovered the Teacher Leadership progam at Mount Holyoke. Having 2 master’s degrees already, I didn’t need another M.Ed. However, I needed to increase my skill set and the first 6 credits were all about coaching and providing professional learning. So I did that piece of the program.
I started filling out applications. Do you know what it is like to interview for a new job at 64? Many miles and many interviews later and still no new job. In the middle of all this, I was taking classes including Writing for Understanding and trying to continue my day job.
Get My Pirate On
I smile now as I reflect because I was also going home and doing what I loved best every evening. I was learning on Twitter. I was participating in many Twitter chats. Through Twitter, I discovered Dave Burgess who authored the book “Teach Like a Pirate.” Following the hashtag #TLAP, I discovered passionate educators who were sharing how they do not just teach a lesson, but rather create an experience. I began to put my “pirate” on and I have read and try to implement all of the passions of a pirate educator.
One of the latest initiatives in Vermont was the change to Proficiency Based learning, another learning curve. Then it was how does my love of science gets translated into a personalized, proficiency-based system. Well NGSS must have been written thinking about proficiency because they were written as performance expectations. They are all about what students are able to do with science concepts. This is a shift in how we traditionally approach teaching and learning science, but an exciting shift. A shift from memorization to inquiry, where students approach learning more like a scientist.
Winter turns into spring and spring brings new beginnings. One of my new beginnings was joining a cohort of learners at the University of Wisconsin with Diane Sweeney to pursue a certificate in instructional coaching. Spring also brought a new interview season again. I started applying for new coach positions. I applied for many positions and finally found the right fit. I am going to be a K-5 science coach at Westwood MA. Perseverance pays off. It is so important for us to live the words growth mindset and not just say the words to our students.
I became the field editor for a new NSTA e-newsletter on three-dimensional learning. As I reach out to teachers and read about the amazing work they are doing every day I am learning so much. John Norton, a longtime friend, and colleague has just asked to begin writing a bimonthly column for MiddleWeb. I am honored, humbled and thrilled!
Oh and I almost forgot I went to my first EdCamp this year #EdcampBoston and #EdcampGrafton. I met so many awesome people to learn from and with that I cannot begin to share all their names. Edcamps are an excellent place to make those networking connections that helps to challenge me with new ideas and to “steal” ideas from others to keep me moving forward.
I cannot imagine stopping learning and I have been doing this for a lot of years! Giggle.