Friday, September 20, 2013

Educators as Learners...It's SEMple to See!

 "The more the learner becomes the educator and the educator becomes the learner, then the more successful are the outcomes." 

John Hattie (Taken from The Learning Framework - CISD)

It has always been a joy for me to see the wonder and excitement on our learners' faces as they are given opportunities to explore their interests and develop their talents during E-Time.  Recently however, I have had the privilege of witnessing a whole new group of learners jump on the SEM bandwagon and begin to explore what this "Schoolwide Enrichment Model" thing is all about.  Now you may think I am talking about our kindergarten learners, and certainly, they are enthralled with the wonder of E-Time.  However, as cute as they are, those are not the learners to whom I am referring!
We have had the privilege this year of having eight amazing new educators join us here at Austin Elementary.  The path to Austin has been different for each of them.  Some are brand new teachers, fresh out of school and eager to make a difference in the lives of kids.  Others come to us from other school districts, excited about expanding their horizons and ready to share their experience with a whole new "family" of educators.   However, as different as their life experiences and career paths may be, they all share one very important trait.  They have all plunged head first into the world of schoolwide enrichment!

Now you may ask, if they are "educators" why did you refer them as "a whole new group of learners?"  Well, let's explore a little bit of their journey so far.  Few, if any of them, were familiar with SEM before arriving at Austin Elementary.  Some of them read about it on our SEM blog before coming to interview, and ALL of them heard about it in one way or another during that interview.  They left that first meeting, probably not fully understanding what SEM was, but definitely recognizing that it was an important part of who we are here at Austin!  As school began, they knew it was time for SEM to begin as well, so they did interest surveys with their kids, explored the SEM model during SEM  Training,  and courageously ventured forth into the world of student driven, strength based enrichment.  So, how are they doing?  Well, they have lots of questions.  Sometimes they doubt themselves.  Occasionally, they need a little reassurance.   They even wonder sometimes if they are doing it "right."  And in the midst of all their questions, doubts, wonderings, and confusion they are rockin' the house!  Their classrooms are alive with exploration and discovery.  Their learners are passionate about what they are doing and can't wait to share their newest discovery with me when I walk through the door.  And the coolest part of all is that these new educator learners not only seem to be enjoying SEM, but they seem to get it...really...they get it!  Let's take a look at what a few of them had to say:

 Mrs. Cabello's 4th Graders Explore Ocean Life!

"It's actually my dream come true.  SEM allows kids to dive deeply into what they enjoy.  It lines up with my teaching philosophy of allowing kids to dig into their interests and strengths.  Look at them!  They're learning right now, and they're loving it!  They're learning all these great things and being very creative in the process."

 Mrs. Holcombe's 4th Graders Learn How to Recycle Old Paper to Make New!

"As teachers, we want our kids to be engaged.  We try to plan the best, most engaging lessons.   SEM truly is engaging because the students are truly interested in things THEY want to work on.  It's not teacher driven.  It is totally student driven.  To not know where it's going to go or how things are going to work's's a big learning curve, but its very valuable, and its great for kids!"

Miss Griffith's 2nd Grade Learners Use their Measuring Skills to Create Just the Right Combination of Ingredients for Homemade Play Doh!

"SEM has changed who I am as a teacher.  I'm much more in tune now with my kids interests, and I find myself constantly trying to embed them into the curriculum.  I feel like I am different.  SEM has changed ME!  It's just so much fun seeing the kids' eyes light up and the expressions on their faces when they are engaged in their interests during E-Time.  I am trying to recreate that more and more in the regular classroom so that I can see that in their faces all the time.  I love it!"

Mrs. Trueblood's 3rd Grade Learners Create Marine Ecosystems!

"I'm excited to see each child's passion as they discover things they are interested in.  I'm excited to see them working together, engaged in what they are doing, and excited about learning."

Mrs. Harris' Learners Exploring Origami, Set Design, Script Writing, Technology, and More as they Create a Stop Motion Animated Video!

SEM has given a lot of kids that wouldn't normally interact an opportunity to get to know each other a little better.  It's helped to create much more of a class unit.  It's very interesting to watch and see interactions between kids that you wouldn't normally see in a regular class."

 Mr. Harvey's Discusses Possible Career Options with His 5th Grade Learners Based on Their Interests.

"SEM is great because it gives kids a time to explore their own interests and what they are driven in.  Whether it's robotics, technology, or can explore those things during E-Time and Enrichment Clusters and really get an idea of what drives their own learning."

Mr. Pearson's 4th Graders Exploring Human Anatomy!

"SEM is giving the kids a chance to explore different things and see if they can find a new interest.  It's not just about playing with the toys, but its about identifying interests, sparking passions, and seeing where it goes from there."
So let's go back to the question.  Why am I referring to these amazing educators as learners?  The  CISD Learning Framework defines a learner this way:

"Learners are diverse individuals bringing with them prior experiences, skills and mental models that influence beliefs, emotions and prejudices as they continuously construct meaning. Desiring to grow in knowledge and skill, learners question, connect, process and reflect. With an innate sense of curiosity, learners wonder, dream, imagine and create. Learners advocate for their own understanding." 

Let's take another look at these educators...
  • They are questioning...
  • They are dreaming...
  • They are wondering...
  • They are creating...
  • They are constructing new meaning...
  • They are connecting ideas...
  • They are taking risks...
  • They are reflecting...
These educators are learning!  And they are doing it with joy, and wonder, and perseverance!  They are truly modeling for the children in their classrooms...and for those of us lucky enough to be a part of their world...what learning...and all about.   "Every educator.  Every educator...a learner."  I think they get it!

Monday, September 2, 2013

What are You Passionate About?

E-Time got off to a great start this past Friday as our learners were given the opportunity to reflect on their unique interests and identify some of the topics they are most passionate about as they begin their 2013-2014 learning journey. The approach looked
different in each classroom, but the basic premise was the same.  Educators
were asking their learners, "What are
you passionate about?
What are you interested in learning more about?”  Seems like a simple…even obvious…question, yes?  But unfortunately, it is a question that has not been asked nearly often enough in classrooms across America over the last several years.  In fact, if we are honest, it is a question that has rarely been asked of students…well…ever

All that changed at Austin Elementary several years ago when, under the leadership of our lead learner, @laurieprincipal, we began to implement The Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM) on our campus.  SEM has allowed us to focus on the
interests and passions of our learners.   Through SEM we are learning to design experiences that promote talent development and encourage our learners to make a difference in our world.  The children in our classrooms are being challenged to identify real world problems…and find solutions to those problems.  And when given the opportunity, our learners are stepping up and meeting those challenges head on!  

One of the most exciting things about working with young learners is that they rarely see the obstacles that so often prevent adults from taking action.  You tell kids to dream big…and they do!  SEM helps to create an environment in which kids can make those dreams become reality.  Last year, SEM grew by leaps and bounds at Austin Elementary.  Our educators demonstrated incredible courage and determination as they stepped out of their comfort zone and began to let the kiddos take the lead in their learning.  I can’t wait to see what this year will bring as we continue on this amazing journey of enrichment, talent development, and strength based, learner driven experiences for ALL of our students.

If you want to be part of this amazing journey, contact Liz Malone at 214-496-7335 or by email at  We would love to give you an
opportunity to share your talents, skills, and passions with our learners.  No special skills are needed.  Just a desire to connect with the learners and educators of Austin Elementary.  A variety of opportunities are available, and we will teach you everything you need to know, so make the call today!