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Home » Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders by Kayla Delzer (Transcript)

Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders by Kayla Delzer (Transcript)

Kayla Delzer

Here is the full transcript of Kayla Delzer’s TEDx Talk on Reimagining Classrooms: Teachers as Learners and Students as Leaders at TEDxFargo conference.


On the first day of school this year, I had a little boy, get up in my face and he screamed at me. He said “I hate school. I hate teachers. I don’t want to be here.”

I remember taking a calm breath, finding my biggest smile and I got down on his level and I said “I promise you’re going to love school this year.”

If we take a look at classrooms over the past 70 years, we are seeing the same type of classrooms, and the same type of learning environments standing up to 70 years. It is my goal to continually revitalize learning and the classroom.

This is a picture of my classroom this last school year. I see classrooms differently. These are some of my students. I see my students differently, and I see the way that they learn differently. The results I get are incredible.

As teachers and educators we must embrace the students of today to reimagine tomorrow. First, we must wonder how we can release the power. For as long as schools have existed, teachers have been the main source of knowledge in the classroom. Teachers are the gatekeepers for everything that happens in the classroom. We are in charge of everything students do or don’t do.

As teachers, let’s not misuse this power. In 2015 we have more resources available at our fingertips than ever before. This gives us the ability, as teachers, to make our classrooms less teacher-centered and more student- centered. Let’s embrace that. Teachers don’t need to master every single app or every single tool before we hand it over the students.

In my classroom I like to use a student teaching student model. So I would give an app or a tool to a student, I would have them learn how to use it, and then I’d have them go teach all the other students and myself how to use that app. Teachers don’t need to master at all. Let’s get kids involved in projects like Genius Hour. Genius Hour is based on Google’s 20% policy, where kids will actually get 1 hour a week to study things that they are passionate about.

Instead of telling them things they have to learn every single day. This really gives kids ownership in their learning and it makes it very relevant to them. This also means that a lot of the time my students are going to know more than me. That’s awesome. Embrace their knowledge and they’ll embrace their learning.

Second, we must wonder how we can embrace purposeful technology. Using technology just for the sake of using technology is wasteful. If it doesn’t transform your classroom, or your teaching or your learning, just skip it, don’t use it. If the same project can be done using paper or pencil, it’s not transforming your classroom. Always start with your purpose.

If something is boring on paper, it’s still going to be boring on an iPad. Let me tell you what I mean by that. If I give my students an addition worksheet on paper, they are going to think that it is mind-numbingly boring. They are going to stare at me. If I take that same worksheet and I put it on an iPad.

Guess what? It’s still mind-numbingly boring for them to do. Boring things on paper are still boring when you put them on an iPad. Even apps have different purposes now. Some apps are skill-based and repetitive, while other apps are project-based. Let’s turn kids loose to go create something, and not just play games.

If you actually have to leave your classroom to go to a computer lab, the technology is not at the point of instruction. Let’s take technology in the hands of kids when they need it, and where they need it. This is a picture of a little girl in my class I had this last school year. Her name is Molina. Molina is following along with a classmate recording of the book that she is reading. She scanned the QR code taped to the back of that book to access this recording. This app transformed my reading block. This app helps instill a love of reading and a sense of pride among my students. Not to mention my reading fluency scores improved exponentially.

Third, we must wonder what my mentor once told me. He said “Kayla, don’t feed the fears.” Schools are still banning cell phones. Principals are still banning cell phones from teacher’s staff meetings. Schools are even building what they call cell phone hotels. This is a real thing.

Let me tell you how this works. When kids come to school in the morning, they check their cell phone at the cell phone hotel. At the end of the school day, they get to check their cell phone back out of the cell phone hotel. We have more technology in the palm of our hands now, that’s what put men on the moon. We are telling our students “Leave your technology at home. Keep your mobile device in your locker. Are you hiding a cellphone? Did you check your cellphone into the cellphone hotel?” What are we doing?

Schools in the United States are still blocking YouTube. Did you know that YouTube is the number one used search engine among students in grades 5 to 12. This is utterly incomprehensible. So much learning is lost. We block all of these resources from our students. We might think that we are protecting our kids when we keep them in this little bubble for 8 hours of the school day. But guess what? These kids leave and go home. They graduate. They try to get jobs.

If we block all of these things during the school day we are not protecting them, we are actually hurting them. We need to put kids in real world learning authentic environment during the school day and give them the tools that they need to be successful so that we can actually protect them for a life time.

Jumping in the new technologies or social media can sometimes be scary. We need to always keep in mind that if it’s right for kids, it’s right. Sometimes the comfort level of teachers is less important than doing what’s right for kids.

My kids have never lived in a time without Wi-Fi or mobile devices. My kids have never felt the pain of T9 texting. They’ve never had to experience dial-up Internet. Technology is the language today’s students speak. Furthermore, as educators it is our job to be champions of digital citizenship.

93% of employers now use social media in some way to either recruit or hire employees. That means that if our students leave us with a neutral or a negative digital footprint they have just a 7% chance of getting a job. Seven percent. My friend George Couros challenges us as educators to make sure that every single high school graduate is well googled. I challenge you to google yourself.

Go have your students google themselves and like what they see. What does your digital footprint say about you? We must wonder as educators how we can make global connections. It is now our job to make sure that we are connecting our students globally. This probably sounds a lot harder than it actually is. With just a few clicks, you can do a virtual field trip to the Smithsonian Institute.

Or you can bring your students on a virtual field trip to the Sistine Chapel. Learning is no longer limited to just our classroom, or our school, or our state or even our planet. You can now take your students on a virtual field trip to the stratosphere. Do a Google Hangout with a classroom in Hong Kong to expose your kids to new and different cultures. Give them the practice that they are going to need with the real live speaking and listening skills of the 21th century.

Set up a classroom twitter account. Have your kids tweet with experts from the world, like Brad Waid and Jen Jones. Have your kids tweet with other classes around the world to share and compare their learning. Don’t be the four walls that hold your kids back or limit their learning. Break down those walls and go global.

We must wonder how we can reinvent the skills of today. While standardized tests might have a valid place in our schools, we need to start assessing teachers and students in others ways too. I assess my students on their creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication skills. I assess my kids on their grit and how they are able to find success through failure. I assess my kids on their digital literacy skills and others skills they are going to need when they graduate to be successful employees, citizens and innovator individuals in the real world.

Assess me on how will I prepare kids for their future when they leave my classroom. While difficult to assess, this should serve as our daily mission. It should guide our teaching and learning values. A compass for a true educational north. Everyone, here is my challenge for you.

We are now 15 years into the 21th century. We need to make sure that our schools and our classrooms are as engaging, responsive and dynamic as the world around us. Do you remember that little boy that I talked about at the beginning? Well, his name is Christian. He came to me that first day of school literally wanting to be anywhere else in the world but my classroom. Well, on the last day of school Christian was crying out of control. He was refusing to leave my classroom. Why? Because he didn’t want to let go our very last hug. Pretty different than the first day of school.

For the first time in his life Christian loved school. He loved coming to school, he loved learning, he loved everything about being with me. I saw amazing growth not only in Christian but in the rest of my students as well. What doesn’t often get talked about though, is the impact that students have made on my life. Everyday my students taught me about humility and being a real and authentic person. They taught me to have tons of patience. They taught me to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at myself.

And so many more things. Technology changes. The laws that we have will change. The standards that we use to asses our kids are going to change again. But one thing remains constant through time. Relationships between students and passionate teachers will always be the foundation of successful classrooms.

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