Anyway, the idea for this blog came to me after I spoke at a conference and overheard a group of teachers who had just entered the profession talking and mentioning things like, "I didn't think I could do that" or "I don't think I'd be able to do that". So I wanted to write an open letter to all teachers, especially the new and/or still in school about my experience as a teacher up to now. From being told I would fail to having my ideas questioned I followed my passions and ultimately I have never been happier as a teacher nor have I had a such a successful classroom.
So here it is ...
Follow Your Passions and Put Your Students First
An Open Letter to Teachers
"You are going to fail as a teacher..."
Those were the words of my first practicum host teacher. Why? Was I too unprofessional or chronically late? Did I assess poorly or not care about my students? Nope! I was having "too much fun in the classroom". Now, for those of you who do not know me, telling me I cannot do something is not the best deterrent - it is a motivator! It was this exact moment that I knew where my educational career was going to go. I was going to infuse fun back into the classroom and by doing so would boost engagement and improve grades! I hoped anyway...
My name is Scott Hebert and I currently teach in the city of Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School. My teaching load consists of grade 8 sciences and technologies from grade 6 to 8. However, I began my career working at Wesmtount Charter School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada where I was the elementary Physical Education specialist. I believe every teacher should have to teach at least one year in an elementary class because it will really open your eyes. When children begin school they are often full of life and excited about school. School recognizes, and even caters to this by infusing a lot of play, imagination and creativity in early grades. Sadly, and this is where my main goals arose from, they begin to remove it (play/fun/imagination/creativity) rather quickly as children progress further in their education. Why? Well, we need more reading, writing and math of course! Wrong.
Education should be about fun because when you are having fun, contrary to popular belief, you are in fact learning! Fun and play are innate in us! No one goes alright I have nothing to do and to fill that void I'll find something to do that is the most boring thing possible! My goal was to infuse play back into this physical education program. Less sit down, listen, watch videos of people demonstrating and more get up and get moving. I then added a focus on team work and strategy. I began intramural programs and had over 85% of the grade 3/4 student population playing - so many had never played a group sport before! We made action movie trailers using iMovie to learn gymnastics and designed games for younger students. By infusing play back into a course specifically designed to be about play we began to see amazing results in other classes and I made great connections with my students. This led to being selected for the Alberta Excellence in Teaching Award at 27. An award I was given on the exact principles I was told would be the death of my career.
Sadly, we received some news in our family life that caused me to move cities for family. I now found myself in a middle school, teaching grade 8 sciences. The youthful exuberance for education was now gone in most of them. They were just going through the motions, Googling project ideas and not caring as much as they could about the course materials. I wanted to change this so it was back to my idea, my passion of fun in the classroom.
A colleague of mine, David Head, sent me a short video by the "Extra Credit" YouTube channel explaining that school would be awesome if we treated it like a game. Further research led me to the discovery of the concept of "Gamification". This was a concept used in business and marketing but not a whole lot in education. Generally speaking it is the idea of using game design principals in a non-game setting. I got to planning - it was time to make my class awesome!
I subsequently created "The Fight for Scientia Terra", a year long, medieval themed gamification in which students battle me, each other and other classes with the goal of taking down the evil Minotaur King. I adapted the language of my class to fit a game (i.e.: tests = boss battles, work = questing, etc..) I slowly morphed my classroom in a medieval land. I made over 40 card games with perks/rewards for individuals or teams, added an emphasis on progress not failure (that is a whole other blog post!) and created goals not assignments. I wrapped it up nicely with a year long story and a running narrative of characters they discover and interact with and problems they encounter and need to solve. The results were spectacular! I had students engaged in the sciences like never before. Wanting extra work, collaborating and meeting deadlines like never before. It even doubled as a classroom management system and boosted grades 7-12% on average. The program even won the International 2015 Gamification of Education Project of the Year Award as given by the World Gamification Congress! Again - success based on what I was told would be my silver bullet.
Gamification is still new but the results are incredible! I would encourage all teachers out there who need some help with engagement or classroom management to give it a try. It can be daunting at first but start small. The results are worth every second you put into it!
So what is the big take away message here? The idea is to follow your passion as a teacher and bring it into your classrooms! New or veteran it is never too late or early to change. There is nothing more powerful to a student then when they see you, their teacher, engaged and enthusiastic about their classroom/subject. It becomes infectious, it is like a disease. It will spread and it will bring about a total change in your class culture.
Are you passionate about pop-culture? Infuse it into your room and work. Music, the arts, technology, whatever it may be bring it in and own it! Do you believe you lack a true passion? Ask your students what they like and create a space designed around their loves ... a music corner or a sports cave or anything they'd like!
I often think about that day I was told I would fail. What if I did listen to this host teacher? Would I be happy? Would I be making a difference in students' lives? I will never know for sure but my guess would be no, not likely.
As a new teacher, a young teacher or even a teacher in training, we are the teachers who will be bringing up the next generation. We are the ones who will be helping shape the education system. Why would we carry on with the same old way in education? What is my advice to you ...
Find your passion and apply it to your classroom! Let nothing stop you. Follow your heart as well as your gut. Be the change you always wish you had experienced a student.
I will never teach any other way again! Gamification is a real Game-Changer for me - what will yours be?
Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada
So there you go. If you have an idea, run with it. If you have a passion, follow it. If you have a skill, infuse it. Together we can change the perception of school to meet the needs of our students instead of hindering them.
As George Couros says, "Are your students succeeding because of you or in spite of you?"
Just my two cents, I'd love yours!
Until next time,