The Aware Educator

According to Dennis Francis of Commonwealth Educational Trust, there are eight characteristics of an effective teacher. Rather than list all of them, I wanted to focus for a moment on one:

An effective teacher is aware.

I would like to hone that further by adding:

An effective teacher is self-aware.

In my new position, the steepest learning curve has not been acquiring new knowledge and skills. For a research dork like myself, that is actually just plain fun. Nope. It has been learning about myself, my motivations, and my actions. I need to learn to be more self-aware.  More clued in. More mindful. More enlightened.

Photo by Paul Stevenson
Photo by Paul Stevenson

You see, I am a beaver. With a dash of lion thrown in for good measure. (I like the animal personality explanations better than the DISC or sanguine/ phlegmatic/ melancholy/ choleric temperament descriptions… but it’s all the same thing. You can take a quiz to see what you are if you don’t already know. ) In my work and personal life, order is very important to me. I plan ahead. I think things through and then act. I need structure in order to relax. I see issues that will come up two weeks from now- and it makes it difficult to not address those things immediately. I need to brain dump in the evenings before bed or I can’t sleep. I research and learn for the fun of it. I make rapid connections of thoughts, ideas, and people in my head. I think deep and have to process ideas. I enjoy talking about ideas with people, but too much time with people drains me.

Those traits can be great strengths, but also great weaknesses. It’s important to take time to ask ourselves some hard questions about the traits we exhibit. Francis asks educators to think about the following questions:

  • Who am I?
  • How do I learn?
  • How do I work in a community?
  • What motivates my behavior?

Now, these sound all fluffy and philosophical, but they have a very real impact on students. I have added a fifth question:

  • How does my personality influence learners?

Awareness is crucial, and begins with self-examination.

(Beyond our own personal awareness is a need to be aware of how each student in our sphere of influence would answer these questions…. but that is a topic for another day!)

Any other beavers out there? Has awareness of your personality traits changed your interactions with students and colleagues? Can you pick out some of these traits in your colleagues? Does that make a difference in how you view interactions with them? 

Do Fish Live Near Airports?

Sometimes inquiry leads in strange and funny directions. It requires trust in the process and outcome. I’m learning to let go and enjoy the ride, even though I don’t understand this whole inquiry thing.

In the afternoons, my children and class group have the amazing opportunity to spend time at the be you house through the Innovation Lab of Thompson School District. There, they have the freedom to pursue their own interests and passions supported by mentors and expert tutors. My son, Caleb ((I have  his full permission to share this story… he’s always interested in seeing newcomers to his blog and knows that linking is a powerful thing.  He’d love a few visitors. 🙂 )) , has decided he has a passion for fishing that he would like to pursue… in addition to authoring a chapter book, which he plans to self-publish ((Using or a similar site.)) later this school year. This week, he toured a local tackle shop, researched local fishing places, practiced casting in the backyard of the be you house and went fishing (or wading) with his Dad.

However, I’ve been struggling with letting him direct his own learning. Today, I finally sat down with him and asked him to map out some questions he has related to fishing. And because I’m a total nerd, he grudgingly opened a mindmap on… added “Fishing” as the main node…. and promptly had a meltdown.

Why is it so hard for children to think freely?   I don’t have an answer, but I can say that this has been a difficult transition for my own children. It’s like the years of filling in blanks has trained them not to think. Part of me believes that memorization and worksheets create lazy learners, but part of me also senses a great deal of fear coming from these little minds…. “What if I’m not correct?” “What if I make a mistake?” “How will I know what the right answer is?”

After I reassured him that I just wanted him to get some questions down, he relaxed and typed this:

Do fish live near airports?

Seriously???? Of all the questions in the world, that’s the one he wants to know about fish? I took a few deep breaths, let him return to his game, and then tried to figure out how to question without leading. I finally asked, “What do you think about that? Do you think that they do live near airports, or not?”

His response really made me a believer in this whole inquiry thing in a concrete and real way. He said, “Well, I think it would be pretty loud near the airport, and I wondered if fish would not like the noise. Can they hear? Do they have ears?”


Guess that shows me, huh? I think those are great discovery questions, even if the first one sounded pretty insane to me initially. It taught me that we all think very differently. He saw an airport built in an online game world with water near it earlier in the day, and it made him wonder…. would fish live in that water with all those loud planes flying overhead? The student is the teacher.

Have you heard any very unusual inquiry questions lately? What is your favorite resource on inquiry?

Building a Browser for Personalized Learning

This fall, my students will be using Google Chrome as their school browser of choice because it facilitates  personalized learning. Our first concrete technology step, after we open the never ending discussion about Internet safety, will be to install Chrome and a number of extensions.

The Best

My favorite extension for personalizing learning is the Apture extension. I discovered it after noticing the ‘look it up’ feature in the Blio eReader which enables students to right-click and choose from Dictionary, Thesaurus or Wikipedia.  This extension is a more mature and thoughtful version of that concept. Apture allows a student to click on part of a word or phrase and then click on the “Learn More” button that pops up. From there, a student can view quick information in the form of Wikipedia entries, websites, definitions, videos, and images. All of these open up on top of the current page in a small window or large shadowbox… meaning you never leave the original site. This explanation just does not do the extension justice, so I’ll show you a few examples of how it has been used in the past few days in my house.

Example 1: ECHIDNA- I was visiting Emily’s Blog today and read about an echidna in her story. Here in the US, that’s an unfamiliar animal. (Matter of fact, my spell checker keeps flagging the word!) However, it’s the second time in two days that I’ve been faced with the term or image of one and I knew I needed to learn more about the animal. This application made it easy enough that I actually took action on that thought mid-Google Reader stream, and it does the same for our students.

Example 2: CARP- Earlier this week, my son was researching local fishing spots for his personalized learning project. One of the ponds listed types of fish that are stocked, only a few of which were familiar. A quick highlight resulted in some great video footage, many images, and some great additional resource links.

The Rest

Now that I’ve waxed poetic about Apture, I’ll share the others we will be adding over the first week of school. I did notice that our Google Apps for Education accounts have the Chrome store turned off (too bad, Alchemy), but it doesn’t seem to cause a problem with downloading these extensions.

These tools ultimately  help students become more connected, more quickly, in a way that is more meaningful to them personally.

What extensions are you using to encourage a robust personal learning environment? Please help me create a better browser for students to self-direct their learning.