Saturday, January 9, 2016

Laurie's Mid-Year Pause for the Cause

1. Looking Back
The brightest spots so far have been seeing student growth.  In our DCF group, Lydia's writing is growing by leaps and bounds; Adrienne is overcoming any qualms and becoming a thoughtful interviewer.  In my work at Hunt M.S., the videos students created about social problems using poetry were thoughtful and a good start to working with iMovie. My brightest spot from that work was a video created the weekend after the Paris attacks by one of my students.  In it she tells her audience how important it is not to view Muslims with bigotry and hatred. As a young Muslim woman in Vermont,she had this opportunity because of WtS.  Going forward I wonder about communication and collaboration inefficiencies with our DCF group.  As to the work I am doing at Hunt, I wonder about pulling off the next part - creating videos about social problems with a small number of students.

2. Upcoming Overnight
The agenda looks full of great opportunities for our students.  Some wonders:
I wonder how we could more directly discuss consistent, effective communication among the students and specific ways to foster this.
I wonder what needs to be done in preparation for the overnight so students will have a clear idea of the work the guest speakers do and how their work and advice can benefit our students.

3. Message to Future WtS? Colleagues
Being part of the WtS team is a privilege, a responsibility and a catalyst.  The teachers I work with on this project are dedicated equally to their students and to their own professional development.  It is wonderful and challenging to work with them.  Additionally, this work requires commitment and time through working with students, attending overnights and responding to student writing.  Finally, being part of WtS has forced me to change and improve my practice in my own school to meet my goals for this project. 
WtS has broadened my horizons.  I am part of something bigger than my own school and my own district. Being part of this group has made me more comfortable in stretching myself in my own classroom. I am both more challenged and more confident because I am involved in WtS - this is exactly what an educational opportunity should give.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Courtney's Mid-Year Pause for the Cause

1. Looking Back

For me, bright spots have been the times that my group has been able to get together and work together.  They always want Tim and/or I to be there with them, it seems, but when they actually make it to a common space, I see them take off and get right to work. They really don't need our help once they find each other, and that's good to see.

Although they are capable and independent, one day at the Ilsley Public library I joined in with two students, and we set up an efficient strategy for scanning local media resources for names of people the kids might want to talk to.  In that moment, I didn't feel like a teacher with students -- I felt like the three of us were working equally and collaboratively to investigate an interesting topic.  The more we found, the deeper we dug.  

One other bright spot was when I received a call from Scott Waterman, the Public Information Officer for the Vermont State Police.  One of our students had been sending out e-mails to various parties, and Mr. Waterman had gotten word of a group called What's the Story?  He wanted to know what we were all about and why these students wanted/needed to talk to commissioner Flynn.  After directing him to the WtS? website and Facebook page, I received another call from him.  He had shared our work with WCAX and suggested they do a story on What's the Story?, he said.  He also said that he had convinced Commissioner Flynn to do an interview with our students who are researching emergency dispatch cuts. 

Pressing question:  Will my group figure out a way to work together and come together? They seem to be struggling to communicate, and I worry that they are either working in too-fragmented a state or, at times, not at all.  I have lots of confidence that they will overcome this lapse and learn how to communicate with each other without an adult's prompting. 

2. Upcoming Overnight

I think that this agenda is comprehensive.  It will be a much-needed opportunity for my group to reconnect and get some deep thinking and hard work done.  

I am especially looking forward to the overnight, as I was unable to attend the first. 

I like that there is downtime after 9.  For an introvert, it is important to have times of self-reflection and independent work.   

3. Message to Future WtS? Colleagues

Being part of the WtS? has been a positive experience.  My favorite aspect of the project is getting to work with motivated students in a new capacity.  I feel like I have the best of both worlds with WtS? because I mentor students who happen to be in my traditional classroom at MUMS as well, but I get to read the blogs of students I've never taught in school.  I'm surprised at how much I feel I've gotten to know my "bloggers" solely through reading and responding to their work. 

WtS? has created the opportunity for interested Vermont students to engage in hands-on learning with certified teachers from around the State. I anticipate that, as this project grows, it will only become more dynamic, exciting and efficient. 

Emily Rinkema's Mid-year Pause for the Cause

The most exciting part of this course so far has been watching the students who have completely engaged with their topics. It seems clear from blog posts and conversations and other anecdotal evidence that there are a handful of students who have grabbed a hold of this and really taken off, and to know that this course has really changed their lives and their view of their own role in their educations is incredible. 

I also think a bright spot was reading the last posts from all students--the ones where they talked about the course and what it has meant to them and for them. We all worked so hard over the past year and a half to design a learning experience with certain ideals, and to see that these ideals are being realized makes me proud and hopeful. I get nervous when schools talk about PLPs and putting kids in charge of their learning--but here is a model that provides the scaffolding for that autonomy and engagement while still ensuring a level of rigor that is often missing in independent student projects.

The agenda for the overnight looks good. I wonder if there is a need for any writing instruction based on what the instructors have seen on the blogs. From what I have seen of the feedback, it looks like most students are meeting the expectations currently, but not many exceeding (I only saw rubrics for some, so this may be inaccurate?). If that's the case, do we have a plan to instruct and show benchmarks of what it looks like to exceed on each target? Also, are there any students who need work on specific writing targets in order to meet the expectations? So many of the course standards have to do with writing, which means that the majority of a student's grade will be based on these standards--so I want to ensure that students are getting necessary instruction. I like how much time is built in for working in the groups.

Being a part of the WtS team over the past year and a half has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding. This is a completely different way to look at education--which inspires me, but also pushes me out of my comfort zone regularly. One key to successful educational reform is time to reflect and take risks (and then reflect on those risks). In schools, we rarely have the luxury of reflective time, and taking risks feels really terrifying because we are working with live students (and parents). But WtS provides both opportunities--everything we're doing is a risk as it's new, and because of blog posts like this and other times that we spend together online or in person, we regularly reflect on successes and challenges. Because there is no model for the work, there's no "falling short", so when we come across obstacles or challenges, they don't feel like failures; rather, they feel like necessary steps to a better experience for the next iteration. Students aren't afraid of giving honest feedback because they know they are part of an experiment, and they see us modeling questioning, reflection, and risk-taking, which leads to an openness that is harder to achieve in a traditional classroom. 

WtS has changed how I think of learning in my own classroom. The excitement I feel from WtS students when they are following a passion inspires me to provide similar opportunities for my own classroom. I have been providing more time for exploration and risk-taking in class, and at the end of last year even did a mini WtS-inspired unit that allowed students to go into depth with an issue they care about. Even though it's certainly more work than I initially expected, it has been worth every moment!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bob Uhl's Mid-Year Pause for the Cause

For me, one of the bright spots of my experience with What's the Story has been the work produced by the students I mentor. All three of them are passionate about their topic—education reform in Vermont—and their passion is evident in the blog entries they've published and in the enthusiasm with which they've pursued their research. I'm wondering what form that research will take as they begin the process of editing their footage next weekend, and what challenges will arise along the way.

Looking ahead to our upcoming stay at the Common Ground Center, I'm interested in and curious about the presentations to be given the first day. I'd like to learn more about Fern Creek and the folks associated with it before I arrive for the overnight. I'm also curious about the documentary exemplars we'll be viewing; I for one could stand to learn something about the genre. Finally, I'm excited to see how our crew of talented students takes to video editing. I'm not sure who among them has know-how in this area, but regardless, it should be interesting to watch them go to work on constructing their films.

To those considering joining the awesome team of adults who run What's the Story, be prepared for an engaging, challenging, dynamic experience. It feels refreshing to be part of an endeavor that empowers students to take charge of their own learning, and seeing them in action is inspiring. As part of the team, be willing to take the initiative; don't wait for someone to hand you a job. Though much of our communication throughout the year is digitalexpect to check and reply to email oftentechnology enables more frequent collaboration among students and adults. When we do meet in person, we accomplish a great deal. In the company of these talented students and educators, I often find myself wishing that public education could be more like What's the Story on a day-to-day basis. I've heard numerous students echo this thought, as well. Learning is simply more effective when students are motivated by self-discovery.

Colleen's Mid-Year Pause for the Cause

1. Looking Back

It was pretty exciting when a student who was very hesitant, nervous, and shy about conducting an interview finally did so and then set up a second interview! In a recent blog post, she explained how she has already gained confidence from this experience. I love hearing directly from students that they've grown in some way from this course. I wonder how we can celebrate or at least recognize more of these moments in our students. 

2. Upcoming Overnight

I love all the time for group work. Groups need to dig in and grapple with their ideas, not to mention the technology! I know for certain that my group is hoping for direct instruction on how to use the editing tools. Do we plan to provide this instruction either verbally or through some published resources? I hope so! 

3. Message to Future WtS? Colleagues

To be a part of this team is to truly reconsider education and how students learn. After spending a few hours providing narrative feedback to students about their blog posts and learning targets, I immediately visited with a colleague. "This way we are providing feedback to these students is so wonderful," I told her, "how can we do this in our own classrooms?" Well. That is potentially a downfall of being part of the WtS team. You will realize how unique and special it is to have a large group of educators (some you see and talk to often, others who are behind the scenes that you may never see) who are excited about this work and have a passion for teaching. It is not possible to do exactly this kind of work or this type of assessment and feedback in the regular classroom (there simply is not enough hours in the day). But it is possible to insert bits of what we do in WtS to your regular classroom, and that is exciting. WtS is sort of this magical bubble of education where anything seems possible (I know-so corny, right?), and that can be a nice feeling after a long week with 100 grumbling students, lengthy faculty meetings, and snippety parents (I swear, I really truly love my teaching job. But, you know...). This process has made me pay attention to what my students need: direct feedback about their work (not some arbitrary number or letter grade), constant check-ins and encouragement, and choice in what and how they learn. The collaboration aspect of this course is also unlike anything I've experienced in my regular teaching gig. I love the way I can bounce ideas off of teachers and share the prep, grading, and "teaching." Finally, you will be inspired by the collaboration of the students. When given the freedom and choice, these students become so driven and passionate. Combined with other driven and passionate individuals creates--dare I use the word again?--a magical environment of authentic learning. 

Ben's mid-year Pause for the Cause

1. To be honest, a few weeks ago, I was a bit skeptical about my group's (Solar) progress. A personal pedagogical philosophy of mine is to give students the space and time to work on their own with all of the creativity and messiness that inevitably stems from this process. But I was doubting my own personal pedagogical philosophy given that I wasn't seeing a lot of progress from my group members. However, the group has proven me wrong on a couple of fronts. First, in their last blog, they all wrote about the benefits and difficulties of this kind of learning, so, in a meta way, they were already voicing the very real concerns I had. And second, in the last two weeks or so, they've put the pedal to the medal and really gotten their feet wet and dirty in their project. This is all to say that I feel like things are pretty successful at this point.
     * I know we're limited with the number of adults we have and the amount of equipment we have, but I wonder if, in the future, we can allow each individual (or groups of two) explore their own topics? The waters got a bit muddied initially when the groups were sorted.
     * I also wonder, as we move forward, how we can collaborate with more adults and more students in order to make this a more feasible thing to do within the confines of a traditional school. In other words, perhaps schools can begin to create courses called "What's the Story?" and then collaborate with other schools. Just a thought...
     * Finally, I wonder how to make this kind of project available and suitable for the students among us who truly struggle? In looking at my class list, I see a number of students for whom this project would literally be impossible. Therefore, how do we expand it to include all students and all learners?

2. Given that Courtney and I must share childcare duties, Courtney is attending this retreat; however, the kids love being in their groups with time to work, explore, mess up, ask questions, etc. The more they're working and the less they're being talked to is probably best.

3. Being a part of WTS is awesome. I may sound redundant, but it reinvigorates the teaching and learning that so often get stale from a traditional classroom. It's truly a model, if and when it's done right, for what education could be in the near future. It's forcing me, in my own teaching, to do my best to be more of a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. Students need opportunities to do the learning themselves, to ask the questions themselves; WTS gives them those opportunities.

Mid-Year Pause for the Cause

Hi Everyone,

By noon of this Sunday (January 10), please:

Make a Post
  • To make a post, look at the upper right hand corner of the blog screen (way up there in small print)  and you'll see: "New Post." Click on that there thing.
Title Your Post 
  • Let's all go with the same format / title: "My Name's Mid-Year Pause for the Cause" (example: Bill Rich's Mid-Year Pause for the Cause).
Write and Publish a Response to These Three Questions

1. Looking Back
Please describe a couple bright spots (successes--small or big--that you're feeling particularly positive about) from this year's course work so far, and pose a couple wonders / pressing questions you have.

2. Upcoming Overnight
Here is the agenda or our January 16 - 17 overnight. Please review this and provide feedback: What do you like and what questions / wonders you have about this agenda?

3. Message to Future WtS? Colleagues
We're in the process of recruiting colleagues to join us next year. It would be helpful if each of you wrote a couple paragraphs in response to this question: What's it like to be part of the WtS? team, and how is it impacting your thinking about teaching, collaborating, and/or learning? 

If I can lend a hand, please email ( or give a call (578-9786).

Tim, Colleen, Bob and I look forward to reading your posts this Sunday afternoon!


Bill Rich (aka Blog Master)