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So What's the Difference?

This is my 15th year of teaching, and this is by far and away my favorite year to date. It is not that I haven't enjoyed my other years, but this year is standing out already as a special year. I have been thinking a lot of what is making this year my favorite year, and what is making it different than my other years. So these are the ideas I believe are the difference makers for me this year.
This year I started using the Remind app to better connect with parents and students. It allows me to connect with parents in real-time using my smartphone or computer. In years past, I would send out emails or send home a daily report book or sorts. However, what I was failing to do those previous years is not only meet the parents where they are, but also where I am. Nearly everyone has a smartphone and nearly everyone never puts it down for more than five minutes at a time. So not only are parents getting notifications about assignments, but Remind also allows me to send pictures, send files, send links, and have individual messages with parents. It is a fast and easy way of communicating with the parents, and it has helped build stronger parent-teacher relationships than in any other year.   
Blended Learning
Last year was rough. This year has been fantastic. Last year was full of frustration and uncertainty, but it also was full of learning. The biggest thing I learned from running my first blended learning classroom last year, was purpose. While I understood blended learning last year, I did not really understand the purpose. The purpose for blended learning, which I discovered as a result of last year, is that is a way for students to find meaning, relevance, and themselves in their education during their time in school; not any previous generation's time in education. It is my responsibility to design lessons and assignments with that purpose in mind, and G Suite for Education has allowed me to do just that. Students are engaged and excited about my class like never before. 
Being patient with my students and my teaching by not rushing them with new ideas and topics has been an important aspect of this successful year. Seeing what educators across the country are doing via my PLN can be exciting but also overwhelming. As much as I would like to, there are just too many things to do them well. This year I am picking a few, getting to know how to set those ideas up for successful implementation, and knowing when to use them. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.  
Understanding the differences in my classes and students and respecting family time have made a difference this year. Each class dynamic is unique, and that must be understood and respected. And the same goes with each student. Each student is a different individual, and in order to better understand my students as soon as the year started, I had them create an infographic in Google Drawings about themselves. I then shared each student's infographic with the class. It was extremely helpful and enjoyable getting to know more about my students. Having two children and one on the way of my own, I now understand how quickly the night can go. Trying to get to the minimal homework assigned to my kindergartner, can be challenging at times. While I have not been a big fan of assigning homework for years now, having children has strengthened my belief that family time is a precious thing that should be respected and considered by teachers who want to give homework. 
Before this year started, I wanted to focus on making my lessons and assignments relevant to my students, and since the year started, I have done that. Bu it has had an unintentional, yet beneficial effect. Creativity. Creativity has been in my lessons here and there in years past, but not nearly as much as it has been already this year. As I have worked on making my class relevant, I have also become much more creative with my lessons and assignments. Relevance is not found in a textbook, nor is creativity. So by focusing on relevance, creativity has reemerged in my class over and over again (#flapjackfriday, bottle flipping, mystery cafe, boo jeans, just to name a few creative lessons and assignments already this year).  
Sharing ideas with others on Twitter with my PLN or with my colleagues at school has given me stronger sense community. It has strengthened my belief that the idea of our school, our students is much bigger than just my classroom, my students. I would not be where I am with my understanding of education today, if it wasn't for my PLN sharing their thoughts and ideas. Which is why this year I am focusing a lot of my efforts on sharing ideas with other teachers in my district and on Twitter. The importance of sharing cannot be ignored, even if others are ignoring your attempts.   
Continued Learning
As successful and special as this year has been already, I am still wanting to learn more. I do not want to become complacent. I want to challenge myself to learn more to give these students my best, because they deserve it. One idea I came across on Twitter this past week was Recap by Swivl. Recap is a way for students to reflect on what they have learned, but with a twist. Students respond to question posed by the teacher, but through a video recording. Teachers and parents will now be able to see what their student is thinking, and the students will be reflecting on their learning. Really a great way to personalize learning for my students, and I never would have come across Recap if I didn't stop learning. 
So what's the difference? A lot, actually.


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