What did you do in school today? with Ellen Deem

Today I asked our question: “What did you do in school today?” of first grade teacher and Phillies fan, Ellen Deem. This series of blog posts includes responses to our question from educators from all over the world, of all content areas, in all grade levels, and in various teaching assignments so that together, we will have a better understanding of what is happening TODAY IN SCHOOL. For more information about this series or to write your own response to the question, please visit this page.

I can’t stop thinking about Ryne Sandberg. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He knows more about the game of baseball than most. He spent years teaching players skills in the minor leaIMG_2948gues before he became a major league coach. Despite his best efforts, his team, my favorite team, the Phillies weren’t improving. When he knew he had done all he could, he stepped aside. He put the needs of his players ahead of himself. Ever since I heard the news that he resigned from his position as manager I have thought, “he put his students first.” I’m not suggesting that I want to resign from teaching. I need to resign from teaching the way I have always taught. I need to throw out a career’s worth of lesson plans. Like Ryne Sandberg, I need to let go and start with a fresh new approach to my calling. 

The best lesson I learned this past school year is “It’s all about the kids. It’s never been about me.” When I made the decision to make creativity a major priority in my teaching, miraculous moments started happening. I no longer had to teach communication and collaboration. My students were teaching each other how to communicate and collaborate. They were solving problems every time we tried a new app. In a matter of 30 minutes a Target bag full of toilet paper tubes was transformed into an entire zoo of wild animals. When it came time to make their Genius Hour projects they chose a variety of formats to present what they learned. Their construction paper projects were three dimensional. I had students begging me to make Popplets and Keynotes during their free time.

Embracing the mess took time. But what I found was the more I stepped aside and encouraged my students to lead, the more willing they were to help with classroom organization. When they didn’t take responsibility for keeping the classroom clean, they knew we would run out of time to make stuff. Making stuff became their favorite incentive. Whether we used Legos, construction paper, or iPads, making stuff made school more meaningful and more fun. What I realized, probably somewhere in the middle of the winter, is I was having more fun, too. I had rediscovered my passion for education. 

Deciding to be a student-centered educator was a gradual process for me. My principal and assistant principal kept encouraging me to run with my ideas, and my growing PLN on Twitter gave me additional support when I felt like I was running out of steam. I can’t even remember how I found the Twitter communities #bfc530, #Read4Fun, #EdBeat, and #whatisschool which are so important to me now. What I can’t understand is how I taught for so long without my PLN.


Connecting with colleagues at ISTE.

Because of the generosity of my school’s Dad’s Club and my students’ parents, I was able to attend ISTE this past week. Having the opportunity to connect with these educators in person was life changing for me. It was like reuniting with old friends when in reality it was the first time we had met each other in person. We made connections that will benefit our students with infinite possibilities. I can’t wait to see what happens next. The closing keynote speaker, Josh Stumpenhorst, was right. We are our students’ best resource. The more we support each other the more our students will soar.

Today I went to Turner Field to watch my Phillies play the Braves. Adam Morgan was kind enough to sign my photo book before the game. Jesus Tiamo threw souvenir balls to Phillie fans between warming up pitchers. Jake Diekman grinned as I exclaimed delight to see him back in the bullpen, and Justin DeFratus and I talked about C.S. Lewis again. Cameron Rupp watched intently from the dugout, and Pete Mackanin’s faith in Luis Garcia resulted in a scoreless 9th inning. Cole Hamels pitched beautifully for seven innings, and Jeanmar Gomez smiled when Cesar Hernandez made an amazing late inning play at second base. I think I saw Ryne Sandberg, too, though I might have been the only one who spotted him. I saw him in the leaders he left behind. Now you might be wondering who won the game? For that detail, check the Phillies Braves box score for Sunday, July 5, 2015.

Ellen Deem is currently teaching first grade at a Catholic school in North Carolina. Ellen has been image_400x400active on Twitter for a little over a year. Her favorite form of professional development is connecting with other educators through ed chats. Ellen has helped moderate the spark chat #bfc530, and she attended her first EdCamp this past February. Ellen assists other teachers at her school with implementing new technology tools as a member of her school’s technology committee. You can connect with Ellen on Twitter at @deem_ellen.

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