#EmpowerBook - Week 1 of IMMOOC

Hi there! I'm back and this time I have a new purpose for writing. Purpose is so important! It's not the only thing that makes a difference though. I also have something worth writing about.
I'm getting better about getting my ideas out of my head and daring to share them with others.
For example, earlier this year I made a suggestion that some of my colleagues and I try a book study. Lo and behold... some of us have selected a book

What's more, the timing was absolutely perfect for those of us who wanted to go one step further to join in with #IMMOOC Season 4. I like to think of myself as the kind of teacher who is on the cutting edge. One of my first teacher evaluations has a comment from the principal stating "she likes to try new things." I remember thinking, now why couldn't he just say she is innovative?  Yup 20 years ago I saw myself as an innovator and I've really never stopped "trying new things" even though the structure of schools does not always make that easy to do.  

So here I am trying #IMMOOC.
First of all, I want to say that if you are reading this and are not participating in #IMMOOC, you should try searching the hashtag on Twitter and at the very least do some "lurking to learn."  If you are reading or have read "Innovator's Mindset", "Empower", or "Learner Centered Innovation" consider joining the conversation!

One of the things I am really impressed by is the organization of the study. Tonight was the big kickoff with a live YouTube streaming event. Throughout the week there will be Facebook live and Twitterchats. Each participant is encouraged to complete readings and respond to various prompts via blog posts.  The really great part is that participants can complete as much or as little as they are able. The structure balanced by flexibility makes a good fit for busy teachers. Just a little nudge in the right direction can make a world of difference.

For this blog post, the nudge consists of two prompts.

I found this prompt to be very interesting right now because our school district is strongly considering a school calendar change that focuses on the number of minutes of instruction as opposed to the number of days students spend in school.  That tells me that how we are spending time with students is really important. We've had a slogan in the district "Every minute counts." The slogan is part of an initiative to reduce student tardies.  Again, how we spend time obviously matters.  Here's the rub... do we want the students to spend their minutes being compliant or do we want to empower them to learn?  The pervasive mindset remains fixed on compliance and the act of "doing school" as opposed to empowerment.

This prompt is also relevant to me because I chose to home school our daughter this year and one of the main reasons was time related. It turns out that much of the compliance learning can be done in much less time. The good news is that leaves room for empowering students to learn about things they are interested in. Now, I realize that home schooling provides all kinds of freedoms we do not have in public schools and I am not trying to start a debate between home schooling and public schooling. Here's an interesting fact: Not only does my daughter have plenty of time to learn about things she is interested and passionate about but I happen to know a group of about 20 some fifth grade students that have found a way to be both compliant and empowered! It began with their teacher. Well, it began with a conversation their teacher and I had about #GeniusHour or 20% time.  These kids know what they have to accomplish during the week. They know what type of behavior is expected in certain situations around the school. They take some tests that are mandatory. When all that is done, they get the freedom to explore. 

Time is often cited as a barrier to learning. There is never enough time to fit it all in. This is a common complaint and not without a fair amount of proof to support the claim. Educators are often asked to do more with less and that includes teaching more while having less time. But... we have a certain number of minutes and we can make the most of those minutes by empowering our students or we can act with compliance following the same old routine.

Let's face it, inspiring creativity and innovation on a daily basis can be tricky. But like A.J. Juliani said during the YouTube session earlier tonight, "There will never be the perfect situation." So don't wait. He also pointed out that there are lots of obstacles that could stop you along the way but it is to your benefit and really your STUDENTS' benefit that you get out there and take a risk. 

But to identify one thing I am doing to make this a daily priority requires some very critical reflection. I am doing many things that I believe helps to inspire creativity and innovation but am I doing them purposefully and on the daily? Yikes. Not sure if I can say yes to that as I write this blog post. But I am doing things and I can probably focus in on something from this point forward and my one big thing that I will do daily. Now, what could that be?

  • It should be tangible.
  • I should be able to measure it. Not with a standardized test but with a simple question to myself each day regarding the effectiveness of my "one thing."
  • It should focus on the students.
Alright, I think I've got it...
My 1 thing...
Give students time.  Time to explore.  Time to communicate.  Time to ask questions.  Time to create.  Time to spend any way they choose as long as their choices demonstrate respect for other students.

How is this tangible? 
The allocation of time is a tangible thing. Minutes set aside each day are tangible.  I can hold myself accountable to a specific number of minutes.

How is this measurable?
Simple. Did I give students the time I said I would give them? That is measured with a simple yes or no. How did students use the time they were given? That is measured by observation.

How is this focused on the student?
School has not traditionally been a place where students could choose how to spend their time.  Giving students the choice of how to spend some of their time at school is the ultimate way for a teacher to show that she is focused on the student. This gift of time says: The things you are interested in learning are important and worthwhile. I cannot think of a better way to focus on the student than to validate their curiosity, creativity, and encourage innovation.


  1. I really enjoyed your post Heather. For the last 4 years I worked on implementing a STEAM curriculum in the High School in the last school I was working in. We were trying to apply all these ideas and learned some interesting lessons. We made sure we gave students plenty of time to explore their interests. But then we found out that first, you have to teach the students how to rekindle their interests in school (we had already formatted them for being compliant), and second, we had to teach them how to use their time well. Since we started in the High School, we got kids who had come from years of "training" in another format. So we took a few steps back and worked on creating a new culture of learning with the students themselves. To them it was a cultural shock to all of a sudden seeing the teachers in a new role and the expectations changing on what they would be doing in school. So when we talk about cultural change, we have to include everyone - parents, admin, teachers and students. Your thoughts on using time made me think of this. Thanks for sharing!!!


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