Saturday, August 11, 2012

Developing Student Leaders

A major focus of Speech Camp week is leadership. Teaching students to be leaders not only impacts their self-esteem and confidence, but it also greatly impacts their ability to learn.  With more confidence, students are more likely to participate and engage in classroom activities.  Students learn to be observers of the information and people around them and learn to interact more effectively with others.  Leadership instills strong communication skills.  By developing students as leaders, we give them the tools they need to succeed outside of the school walls.

During the week, I asked students to engage in a variety of problem-solving and group activities which encouraged them to be active, critical thinkers, and listeners.  They needs to work together to develop strategies and rely on each others strengths.  The more students collaborated, the more meaningful the activities became.

To start the camp, I give the entire group (36 high school students) three small boards.  They need to determine how to Cross the Acid River in a timely manner using only three small boards.   The objective is to get students to work together to get from one side of the river to the next.  Several students were then given handy caps (a few could not see, a few could not talk, and one could not walk). Once students determined how to use the boards, they then stayed active by encouraging each side to work quickly and effectively.  Students loved this challenge, and then debriefed afterward about what type of group member they were (active or passive) and how they contributed to the success of the team.

Blob Tag was another great game that asked students to think critically, collaborate, and create a strategic plan. Playing this game indoors (in the school library), with many obstacles created another layer of challenges.  Students had fun both being part of the blob and avoiding it.

Toxic Waste was another challenging activity that required careful planning and physical skill. Students were asked to remove a small water bottle from the center of a ten foot circle using only rope and other supplies that were meant to distract students from the task.  They needed to work carefully together, communicate with one another to remove the item and deliver it to a safe zone, about 30 feet away.

These three activities, paired with a variety of improv games, acting warm-ups, a scavenger hunt, and concentration activities were just some of the ways that we taught students that being an active group member, listening and sharing ideas, supporting one another, and saying "yes" can help improve their own individual success.  Part of being a leader also means knowing when to take a step back and let others shine.  This week really re-emphasized the importance of teaching students to be leaders in my mind.  Team work and communication skills are essential to success.  I am grateful for the opportunity to help students realize their potential, find success, and make meaningful and fun memories in the process.

There are many places that I got a lot of games and ideas from but here are some comprehensive resources that do a nice job covering leadership activities:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Coaching: Capturing a Week at Camp

This past week was amazing. I am always in awe of the kids I get to work with.  Their positive energy and desire to become better speakers, performers, writers, and teammates is really inspiring.  To capture this week, I always write a letter to the parents to share just how special this week is to me and to their kids.  Coaching is time consuming, challenging, and often comes with some sacrifice, but I am grateful for how it has impacted my life and the life of the kids I've worked with these past four years.

Here is my letter to the parents to capture this past week:

To the parents and friends of the Speech Team
Every year, I am amazed by the enthusiastic and energetic faces that arrive at 9am on a Monday morning in late July or early August. Summers are precious to your students as it is a time to go on vacations with family, relax and be with friends.  This year, your students decided to spend this week at school, at Speech Camp.  The title of the camp often sends people into confusion.  I am often asked by my own family and friends what exactly Speech Camp is.  Trust me when I say that it is not what one would think it to be.

The Speech Team has been a significant part of my life for the past four years.  What has drawn me to this activity and what draws students is definitely not the name, which often incites fear into nearly every person on the planet. It is the relationships, the personal growth, and outlet to share our voices with others that makes this team truly special.  What I have come to learn from your students is that this team is so much more than a place to learn to speak well; it is a place to learn how to live well. 

This week, your students have been tasked with many challenges, have been asked to face their fears, and release any inhibitions they may have about performing and sharing who they are with others.  They have formed strong friendships, spent time in reflection, and have begun to find their passions.  From the variety of improv and leadership activities they have experienced, students have been reminded to embrace the power of their words.

At the end of last season, the Speech Team ranked 33rd in the state out of over 700 teams.  Watching our returning members pass on a legacy comprised of hard work, determination, and genuine desire to support their teammates has been inspiring and will lead this team into the 2012-2013 season with great success.  Having many new, talented members has been as asset to our experience this week. With 12 freshman and several other new faces joining our ranks, we are sure to continue to soar to new heights and accomplish greatness this year.

On behalf of the Speech Team coaching staff, thank you for sharing your students with us.  We are very excited for this season, and we cannot wait to watch each student find success.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What do you do at SPEECH CAMP anyway?

In 2009, I decided to host a Speech Camp at the school I teach at for my small but growing team. Not really knowing how to fill the time (9am until 3pm) or how many kids would actually show up, I was pleasantly surprised with about 20 kids, and we had a blast. Now three years later, close to double the amount of kids, I am gearing up guest speakers, day of improv, and a student written showcase that will take place on Friday night. Our school is hot (no air conditioning except in choice locations), but the kids don't complain. In fact, they say the sweat makes them bond more.

Now that some of my most talented and oldest members of my team have gone through the program, from freshman year to their impending senior year, I can almost sit back and watch. I don't have to worry about everyone feeling included and having enough activities to fill every single second of each day. My coaching staff (which consisted of only my husband at the time) doesn't have to write the "student written skits". This year, I am excited to watch my upperclassmen take the reigns; I am excited to see how they've learned how to take care of others, sacrifice the spotlight to let some else shine, to be a mentor, and most importantly to be confident, young adults.

Coaching can be long hours (as many as 30 hours a week to coach a large team with a small coaching staff), it comes with frustrations, and it requires a lot of personal sacrifice, but moments that I will experience this week remind me why I coach and why I became a teacher. It reminds me how precious these moments are and how much adolescent experiences can shape a person's life.

When I started coaching four years ago, there were two kids on the team. Having watched this team and individual students grow has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. What's awesome is that one of my assistants is my husband, and I've been able to share this with him. My family (both sets of parents, siblings, relatives, and friends) have also been a huge part of this process both through personal support and actually volunteering their time to work with our students. Coaching and teaching is not a job; it is a way of life for me and for my family. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with these kids again and for the opportunity to watch authentic growth occur in students I've worked with for four years.

So when asked what exactly goes on at a speech camp, which inevitably happens every year, my response: major life changes and personal growth...  no big deal.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

No Man is an Island: Collaboration

Recently, I had an opportunity to sit down with a newer teacher (friend from grade school) to share resources. My friend just got a job as a middle school choir and drama teacher. While he is a pro at teaching choir, he does not have a ton of experience with drama. Even though I teach drama to high school seniors, we sat down, went through unit by unit, talked about how materials that could be adapted, discussed literacy, and reminisced about our own high school musical and theatre experiences. Going through my curriculum like that and acting as a somewhat "coach" for his new course, really made me think about how important collaboration is.

During the school year, we unfortunately don't always have the time to collaborate. With the hundreds of other duties and daily tasks that arise, this valuable component to our teaching and professional development can go to the wayside. This year I want to utilize technology and web tools to save time and engage in more collaboration with others, which can improve my curriculum and practices in the classroom.

When we work together, share our ideas, and rely on each other, we can generate innovative, effective, and engaging teaching materials.

My Top 9 Ways to Collaborate Using Technology Next School Year:

1. Establish PLNs (both in school face-to-face and out of school)

Having networks of people that we share ideas with and talk about curriculum with is vital to our growth and development. Being open and willing to listen and share both at school and in some other capacity (Twitter is a common one) can only challenge us to reflect more, become more creative, and improve all of our crafts. Our ultimate goal is to create positive learning experiences for our students, and what better way to teach them to engage in group work then by using group work ourselves.

Sharing in Google Docs allows people collaborate on documents and presentations with other people in real-time. Docs saves as material is created which can help ensure that important files are not lost.

Twitter allows people to reach out and connect with many people at the same time. With Twitter, a person does not have to meet F2F with his/her colleagues and can even rely on colleagues half way around the world for new ideas, thoughts, and insights.

4. Blogging

Blogging is fairly new to me personally, but I do read a lot of blogs. As I teach a new course, I really want to use my blog to flush out ideas and be able to share them with my colleagues in my district. If nothing else, it will be an interesting experiment.

5. Diigo

Diigo has been my new technology love this summer. While I've had an account for a while, I really started using it this summer. Diigo is a bookmarking tool that allows individuals to save sticky notes, comments, and highlight individual webpages and return to those notes later. On Diigo, people can also create groups and public libraries that can be shared with colleagues or students.

6. Skype

I am amazed at how many writers, professionals, and other teachers are interested in using Skype to reach out, talk to students directly, and share what they know with others. I reached out to a few authors on Twitter for my speech course and I was so excited that they really were interested and wanted to help out students in any way they could using technology like Skype. I highly recommend giving it a try!

7. Prezi 

Prezi is an interactive presentation tool that allows users to upload videos, pictures, and other materials with ease. While it is very similar to PowerPoint in some regards, it does have a more modern feel and application to it. Prezi also allows people to work on presentations in real-time from multiple locations.

VoiceThread is another collaborative tool that allows users to create shows with images, documents, and videos and share them with friends, students, etc. Users can record comments on VoiceThread as well, creating conversation. 

Live Binder is a free tool that could allow a paper to go paperless. It is a great way to organize resources, present material online, and store important documents. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Setting Goals

As I am teaching summer school, I've tried to reflect on my current practices as a teacher and what goals I want to accomplish next year.  Here's where I'm at:

  • Yes, I know I want to try "flipping" grammar lessons and putting more life into that aspect of English/language arts.  
  • I have many technology goals including using QR codes to present students with learning targets, link them to more information about a text or subject, and to help them link into valuable resources.  
  • I want to continue blogging with them more and try to use the apps Google provides to enhance their learning and my teaching.  
  • After a year on Twitter, I want to continue to expand my PLN and use/share/collaborate with other passionate teachers. 
  • I am always trying to update my curriculum, bring in nonfiction readings, and make connections to news/popular culture. I've got a grammar lesson using "Call Me, Maybe?" and a few other sensational news stories (like the bus monitor who was bullied by middle school students) to discuss with students already lined up.  
  • I am writing a senior level speech course that starts in a little over a month, which I could not be more excited about.  I am using excerpts from the following books: Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun and Um: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders by Micheal Erard, and I could not be more excited to challenge and empower students to be better communicators!
  • This fall, I'll also be finishing up my ESL endorsement and continuing an e-learning certification. Like many teachers I know, I don't really care much for sleep. 

With all of these goals in mind and being the head coach of a large speech team, I know I will have my hands full.  While I am excited to tackle these important goals, I know that at the end of the day I will always ask myself this question: Did I do everything within my power today to show students that they are valued? 

Teaching a full class of second-lap freshman English students has really made me ask myself what I want all of my students to know and more importantly feel when they leave my class.  Through many discussions with students as to why they are "here" taking freshman English for the second (and sometimes third time), I have come to discover that yes these students need extra writing and reading help, but their needs run much deeper. These students need to know that even though they have failed (and who hasn't experienced failure to some degree), they have strengths, are creative, and can learn to accomplish great things.  I have also come to realize that even the smallest compliment to student or the smallest recognition of their strengths is incredibly empowering.  

While I have a huge list of goals to accomplish this semester, if I only accomplish one thing, it is this: I want my students to leave my class knowing the someone believes in them; I want them to feel supported.  By accomplishing this seemingly simple idea, students can begin on a path to discover their passions, find their voice, and accomplish great feats.

Tweets by @Steph_SMac