Innovation. To me, innovation means: change, risk-taking, new, and maybe even most importantly, fun.
My name is Sylwia Denko and I just completed my first year of teaching. I teach third grade and work in an incredible district with unbelievably supportive and dedicated administration and colleagues. My first year was absolutely wonderful. Part of the reason why it was so great was because of an important word: innovation.
As a first year teacher, I was told by several people: “Play it safe, stay quiet, do what everyone else does, don’t feel pressured to get involved or take risks yet.” I understood where they were coming from, but that is simply just not me. I believe that the reason why I am who I am is because I am different and I take risks. I was offered a job three days before my graduation date last year partially because I am different, because I take risks. Just because I secured a job through many risks taken, does not mean that I will stop taking risks now. Risk-taking can be, well of course, risky. However, the way I think about it is “What’s the worst that could happen? I fail and then have to fix it, no big deal.” Without failure, we cannot learn and grow as people. That is what I encourage my students to do, take risks and get back up if they do not succeed. There is no judgement, only support. I was lucky to have talked to my friend Brad Currie at EdCamp in November who told me to be different, be true to myself, and to showcase my skills without feelings of judgement or fear; and that’s what I did.
I love learning. I love talking to people, reading, and researching. I enjoy having a plethora of knowledge, strategies, and resources to choose from and to make my own; so I talk to people, colleagues that I work with and my professional learning network online. I take so many different ideas and incorporate them into my teaching. As a first year teacher (well, now, second year teacher), I do not have a lot of experience to help me. Instead, I have people with experience to help me. In addition, I have my mind that is always spinning with ideas, thinking about ways to make my teaching even better. My mind enjoys the idea and thought of incorporating technology in the classroom. If you think back to my definition of innovation, technology is exactly that: change, risky, new and fun. I love technology and students love technology. I decided that I wanted to change the way I taught and incorporate more and more technology.
The first thing I did, which no one had done yet, was create a classroom Twitter in the beginning of the year. I wanted to be a transparent educator for many reasons. As a new teacher, I wanted to alleviate any feelings of discomfort of the parents in my classroom. In addition, I wanted my administration to see what I was doing in the classroom in case they were not there in person to see it. My students were always doing wonderful things and I wanted to showcase that. Eventually, I wanted my students to become more reflective in our classroom and more involved in sharing what they do. I had a “tweeter of the week” that would compose tweets about our day and those tweets would be posted on our classroom Twitter. I have had very positive reactions from parents, administration, and colleagues. Parents enjoyed seeing what was happening to avoid the conversation of: parent: “What did you do in school today?” student: “Nothing.” (however, I would hope that students had more to say about our day together than just nothing!!). Now, in order to further the conversation (just in case they did respond with “nothing”, parents could say “Well, on twitter I saw…”. I even had a parent tell me “A classroom Twitter is the best thing to have happened in school.” After seeing my classroom Twitter and my professional Twitter, my administration asked me (a first year teacher!!) to develop two professional development sessions to my district about Twitter in the classroom and a professional Twitter. I was so excited about this opportunity and of course, I agreed. Through this, many of my colleagues have joined Twitter and we have developed our own personal hashtag for our district.
Our district is a growing district in terms of population and technology. The number of students are growing as well as our resources. This year, there were three classrooms in our school piloting a Google Chromebook program. I was hoping to someday have the opportunity to teach in a 1:1 classroom like them, but just because I wasn’t at the time, did not stop me from incorporating technology in my classroom. I used technology daily by incorporating videos and digital manipulatives, and eventually the google platform, into my teaching. Although we did not have Chromebooks, I taught my students how to use google drive and create documents for them to work on at home and documents that were worked on collaboratively in class. I took my students to the computer lab as often as I could when they were working on collaborative projects so groups could be working on the same document at the same time. When we were not able to go to the computer lab, we developed a system together that allowed one group at a time to work on our classroom computers while everyone else worked on hard copies. As time went on, students took the initiative to use the google platform on their own. I even created “office hours” for my students while they were working at home so I could confer with them outside of our time in class together. Not only did students benefit from this, they enjoyed it. One of my student said “Miss Denko, THIS IS SO FUN!” In May, we found out that the Chromebook Initiative would be growing in our district and I would be one of the lucky teachers who will be teaching in a 1:1 Google Chromebook classroom next year. I am so excited that my administration is confident in me to take on such an exciting and innovative initiative.
Now that the school year is over, I am excited to reflect on a successful and innovative year. My year was also filled with smiles, laughs, loving, and learning within the walls of our classroom. I am so happy to look back on my year and know that I have successfully made it through, what people say, would be my toughest year as a teacher. It may have been challenging at times, but people are strengthened through challenge. The best part is that next year, I can do it all over again, but better. I cannot end my post without thanking my unbelievably amazing administration, colleagues, PLN members, family and friends who supported me the whole way through. Thank you more than you know.