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Pedagogical Musings: Pedagogy Nerd Out - Series Introduction

By Larisa Gray, Jeremy Harrison, & Nate Miller


Pedagogical Musings: Pedagogy Nerd Out is a multi-part series that features three teachers who have taken control of their own professional development with an aim to offer a new vision for teacher collaboration, empowerment, meaning making, and student success. This series gets you inside a teacher-created learning space that strives to encourage creativity, foster innovation, and inspire teachers to be their absolute best.


We were sitting in a Google Meet Professional Development, listening to all the teachers in our school introduce themselves and share ‘how they felt’ in preparation for a culture and climate rebuild. I remember feeling hopeful my peers would be open-minded and use this chance to share openly and initiate change. To make discussion more comfortable, our administration broke the staff up into small groups to share their hopes and fears in more detail. In my breakout room, one coworker brought up his feelings about a ‘lack of vision’ at our school. This immediately had me questioning what our vision was. Since I couldn’t think of one I wanted to know where that vision was supposed to come from...Our district office? Our school board? Our administration?

That is when I thought, why not us? If no one else is willing to stand up, lead, and initiate change through a shared vision then why shouldn’t I? I can see the potential, what our school could be, a school that inspires the students in our community to reach for the stars! And if we push ourselves to become better educators, to see the value in ourselves, in our school, and in our community, we will model for our students that they have value and bring something meaningful to society. So...


What?

...we are inviting you to join us on our journey to discover the true power of teacher collaboration as we strive to grow as educators! A group of my peers and I have decided to create a ‘learning space’ to freely discuss pedagogy as it best fits with our students in our school. We call it ‘Pedagogy Nerd Out’. Through these discussions, not only are we pursuing artistry in our own classrooms, we hope to inspire the peers at our school to become the best teachers they can be.


After each discussion, we plan on sharing our reflections as blogs! One of us that was particularly affected by our time together will write the ‘main blog’ while everyone will take time to share their ‘snapshot’. Each discussion will be based on a different topic/question, but overall we want to keep our minds and ‘nerd outs’ open to fit our needs as learners.


Why?

We recognize ourselves and each other as professionals and realize our experiences and investments in education are worthy of sharing. We feel this is a chance for us to ‘nerd out’ on what we love about teaching and possibly inspire others in our building to push themselves as educators in their own classrooms. Through our time together we aim to question our philosophies, improve our pedagogy, help each other overcome obstacles in our classrooms, and improve the teaching/learning cycle at our school with this added step of peer collaboration and reflection.


When?

We meet on our own time every other week through Google Classroom. Even though our county is allowing in-person meetings, we use this platform to better fit our busy schedules and record/transcribe the ‘Nerd Out’.


Where?

All of us teach at the same rural high school in Western Colorado. The community is very diverse in race and socioeconomic levels.


Who?

Larisa Gray

I am a teacher. I am a mom and a wife. I am a life-long learner. I want to become an artist.

I am a teacher.

On February 18, my class and I silently watched one of the biggest endeavors of Perseverance’s journey. It felt like we were collectively holding our breath the seconds before NASA announced “......Perseverance has landed safely on Mars....” I felt this moment was powerful and hopefully spread the wonder and capabilities of chasing curiosity (pun intended) to my students.


The day before, we had watched Mark Rober’s Mars Rover Landing Overview - NOW SAFE ON MARS!!! At 2:28, Rober states:


“The first person to set foot on Mars is alive right now and it could be you!”


I feel like this statement encompasses the reason I teach; every kid has unlimited potential and I want to help them untap theirs, whether it is preparing them for college, connecting them with the right people, or inspiring them with amazing things happening in our society today. Thus I push myself to encompass phenomena, authentic questions/problems from the community, and engineering tasks to engage my students and deliver content. It is not uncommon to walk by my classroom and see all of us, and a panel of local experts, gathered around breaking bridges, sinking boats, toppling towers, and flying ping pong balls.


I am a mom and wife.

I have three wonderful children. My oldest is one of the most creative 1st graders I know! I am trying my best to pass my love of reading to her as I know I already passed on my love of crafting. My 3 year old son is so inquisitive and naturally curious (I like to take credit for that as well). My youngest is about to turn 1 and we all dote on her but she is the toughest kid around. And last but not least, my husband… he is a saint! He understands my dedication to teaching and empowers me continuously.

I am a life-long learner.

My husband’s support and belief in me has recently led me to entering the Doctorate of Education in Educational Studies program at University of Northern Colorado. My dream has been to become a professor, talk about teaching and collaborate on how to implement best-practices, inquiry, problem-based learning, SAMR model for technology integration, and so much more. And now, even through this crazy pandemic, I am working towards my dream.


I want to become an artist.

I truly believe there is an art to teaching and I continually work to create masterpieces on a daily basis. This fact has governed my life for about 10 years now. I constantly look at each school year as a clean slate, the topics might be the same, but the students, their personalities, background knowledge, maturity, and family life, are different. I have also taught a crazy amount of different subjects: algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2, college algebra, trigonometry, calculus, digital literacy, intro to computer science, physics, physical science, engineering design, astronomy, geology, IB Physics, AP Computer Science Principles, and AP Computer Science A. Next year I will add Theory of Knowledge to that list. My favorite subject, well I don’t have a favorite, I engage myself to the deepest level with all of them, to help reach my students at meaningful levels.


But am I the best teacher I can be? Am I an artist? That is my goal with our group. I want to grow. I want to use these discussions as a place to be creative and reflective. I want to work with my amazing peers to push each other while solving problems in our classrooms with our kids. We will collaboratively grow in ways that are meaningful to each of us, to become our own artists.


Jeremy Harrison

My name is Jeremy Harrison, and I teach reading and writing. I was born in Chicago, IL, but I was raised just over the stateline in Northwest Indiana, affectionately or unaffectionately known to locals as “The Region.” My personal interests include books, podcasts, hiking, snowboarding, long runs, sports, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. This summer, I’ll marry the World’s smartest, best-looking, and coolest math teacher on top of a mountain.

Becoming a Teacher

My initial interest in becoming a teacher was almost entirely due to the fact that when I was a kid, my dad was a teacher and a coach, and I thought my dad was the coolest man God ever created. I wanted to be just like him. I was also incredibly fortunate to have amazing teachers growing up, who continue to inspire me to this day. In fourth grade, Mr. Newton had me completely convinced that I WANTED to do the mysterious “advanced math” problems the G/T kids were working on, but I had to earn it by solving all problems correctly on the test, which took a while – I sometimes struggle with math. But when I finally achieved that goal, I’ll never forget how excited he was to show me the graded test, and how I literally shrieked my pure glee embarrassingly across the room to the G/T kids.


Ms. Groves, my 7th grade social studies teacher, had me completely obsessed with hurricane season and the war in Iraq. The newspapers she kept in her room expanded my World. But her lasting impact was the first teacher I can remember who told me I was working way below my potential, and I needed to step it up, and she convinced me it was true.


These teachers (among others, of course) inspired me to believe in learning and to believe in my ability to achieve my goals, and I wanted to do the same thing. So, in addition to my dad, I became a teacher because of them.


I became an ENGLISH teacher because of Mr. Fredrick, who taught Senior English and exposed me not only to great novels and poetry but also to literary analysis. In my mind, English class was where students learned to communicate and think about foundational issues and big questions: love, family, relationships, loss, death, etc.


So I decided to go to college and become an English teacher, and after an illustrious four years at Indiana University-Bloomington, I moved to Rifle, CO and started teaching English at Rifle High School in 2013, and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve taught just about everything an English teacher can teach at Rifle High School: Freshman English, Sophomore English, IB Juniors, Speech, and Yearbook.


My Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy? Well, I’ll start by saying I hope that the next time I read this I’ll have a different answer. One of the best pieces of advice I got early on in my career was to “be a little like a first year teacher, every year.” I’ve taken that to mean that as English teachers we should be resolute in our experimentation to find better strategies to help our students communicate their stories and passions and to read the stories and passions of others in such a way that they experience them with the writer.


More concretely, I am a strong advocate of a Writing Workshop model that emphasizes student choice in their content and process, time and space for students to write, more writing than the teacher can possibly grade, genre or skill study, engaging and well-written mentor texts, powerful and efficient mini-lessons, and one-on-one conferences with students. I also want to engage my students in extensive sentence study in order to give them knowledge of the tools necessary to compose sophisticated and complex sentences.


Additionally, I affirm the need for students to have a balanced reading diet, one that includes some of the traditional canonical texts that push them to develop their ability to read tough texts and high-interest reading that develops their love for reading and learning. As they read, my students are responding to the text often, generating their own questions, thinking critically, making connections, and discussing the text with their peers.


I am excited for Pedagogical Musings because it’s an opportunity to continue to grow into a teacher who can inspire kids like I was inspired.. Having to express my ideas with other educators is always really hard, but at the end, I always find that I have a deeper knowledge of those ideas, so I’m looking forward to the challenge!


Nate Miller

For fifteen years, I’ve been a social studies teacher in rural school districts in Colorado, first on the Eastern Plains and now on the Western Slope. I am proud to have started with my first class ever (about 75 of them) as sixth graders and followed them up all the way until they graduated high school, creating bonds that, eight years later, are still there with many of that original group. After nine years at a school district with only three schools and fewer than a thousand students, I took a chance to seek greater opportunities for growth by moving to the other side of the state to teach history at an International Baccalaureate World School. I’m completing my sixth year here, and find myself taking on more tasks than I would have ever imagined at my old school. In addition to teaching history, I am currently the social studies department chair, have taken on teaching Theory of Knowledge, act as both the Extended Essay and CAS (Creativity, Activity, Service) supervisors, and I will soon be taking on the role of IB Program Coordinator for the 2021-22 school year. It’s something of a scary prospect, but I’m still excited to tackle that role because I firmly believe IB has the potential to empower our students and open their minds to new perspectives and new possibilities for their own futures.

Who am I as a Teacher?

It’s difficult to remember the kind of teacher I was fifteen years ago, what my philosophy was, or the strategies I used. Maybe that’s because I really had no idea what I was doing. I had very little formal training or experience because I was working toward certification while I held my first teaching position in the “Teacher-In-Residence Program.” Every weekend I got new bits of information and learned new methods, so every week in the classroom was pretty experimental. The one thing I did know was that I wanted to create the kind of classroom environment that my educational inspiration, my high school English teacher, Mr. Trujillo created. He managed to develop rigorous expectations, of course, but he also made the classroom a comfortable place, one that was safe for collaboration, and one that made it okay for students from different cliques to become friends. I think I’m still working on reaching that goal.


It may even be difficult to nail down what my style is now, or to put a label on it. Unlike my fellow blog collaborators, I can’t rattle off the names or philosophies of educational big shots, and I can’t always put a name to strategies I use. However, I can say that collaborative learning and inquiry are at the forefront of the way I try to run my class. One of the reasons I joined up with this crew to establish our own professional development was because of conversations we had about what teachers mean when they say they “want what’s best for students.” For me, what’s best for students involves teaching them to read analytically, effectively express themselves in writing, and think critically. I strive to have students practice those skills every day in my classroom.


My colleagues, who I have agreed to virtually collaborate and blog with, are two of the finest educators with whom I have worked in my career. I’ve worked with each of them before, fairly informally, to improve our practice, and when one of them proposed this idea, I knew it would be productive. They share the same vision I have for creating a collaborative culture at our school. We are starting small, and very productively thus far, but with enough energy I am hopeful our attitude will become infectious and others will become proactive in seeking out their own collaboration and professional development.


In the coming weeks, follow the journey of these innovative teachers as they navigate the uncharted territory of teacher-led professional development aimed to improve education for all kids.