Kelly Tenkely on the Ed Tech NOW Podcast – Transcript
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Lee Schneider: This is EdTech NOW, a ten minute podcast about education technology and how it’s used in classroom. I’m Lee Schneider, I’m joined by my co-host Noah Geisel, education director of Stackup. Hey, Noah.
Noah Geisel: Hey, Lee.
My guest today is Kelly Tenkely. Kelly has dedicated herself to illuminating how educators can integrate technology in their classrooms. She has also started her own school, Anastasis Academy, dedicated to shaping the development of the whole child by engaging the mind, body and spirit.
Hey Kelly, welcome to the podcast.,
Kelly Tenkely: Hi Lee, thanks for having me today.
You’ve spent a lot of time in the classroom as a second grade teacher. Seven years as a K-through-5 tech specialist, five years as a technology integration specialist offering mentoring, training, and professional development. So you’re in a good position to see what has changed about teaching, now that tech is so involved. What does it mean now really to be an educator, particularly in K-12 and even K-5f classroom?
Kelly: I think the biggest thing that technology’s done for us has given us the ability to empower kids in a new way as learners and creators, because now they don’t have to wait for educators to create for them. They can actively seek out their own learning. They can remix it, and they can create something brand new.
So that puts educators in a role of learning supporter, rather than being the driving force behind learning. So as far as what an educator has to now be good at: They have to be able to provide the conditions for learning, helping students discover who they are as people and as learners, and giving them the right amount of support at the right time.
I think as educators we tend to be really quick to solve problems for students. We don’t really give them the room to struggle through a problem because it’s hard to watch kids struggle. And I feel like a lot of us get into education to help eliminate that struggle.
But I think ultimately when kids are learning, they have to struggle. And technology gives them the power to struggle through and be able to do amazing things. So ultimately what I look for when I hire teachers are those who are enquirers first, because I think it’s impossible to lead students through learning today without being an inquirer. It’s really a worldview that teachers should hold. And I also look for teachers who are highly flexible, because learning today shouldn’t be so linear or so scripted. Real learning doesn’t happen in that linear fashion. So teachers have to be able to change their plans on a dime and be OK with that. They have to be able to integrate new tools and technologies and directions and learning pretty quickly, because inevitably a student will stumble on something new and we have to be able to integrate that in and help them connect back to their learning.
We need teachers who are really creative and connected thinkers. They need to be able to see the overlaps and learning so that learning doesn’t fall back into siloed subjects where everything is separate. So I really think just being a learner first is something we say a lot but it’s not something we actually allow to play out very often. And I think that’s really what’s needed today.
Lee: So what should be in an educators professional development now?
Kelly: RIght now I feel like we focused so much on district mandated classes or there’s very specific outcomes that we want for teachers. But I think in order for teachers to really well provide the conditions of learning for their students we have to give them the room and the trust to be learners themselves, which means that they should have complete autonomy in my opinion over what they’re learning, even if it’s not related to education at all.
I’ve found the most impactful professional development that my teachers engage in is installing their own passions and bringing those back. And inevitably it all connects back. It’s not something you can necessarily plan for but it always comes back.
I had a second and fourth grade teacher come to me a few years ago and asked if I would pay for them to take a permaculture course, which of course had nothing to do with anything we were currently doing at Anastasis. But it was something that they were both really interested in and passionate about. It put them in a position of being a learner again. So even if the skills that they learned in the permaculture class didn’t necessarily apply in their classroom or even to our school, the reminder of what it was like to be a learner, and putting them back in the position of a student I knew would play out in great ways in the classroom.
But as it turns out the class ended up being hugely connected with what we do at Anastasis, and soon these teachers were empowered and excited to share what they were learning with the staff and their classes. We started greenhouses in the classrooms in a school garden. It wasn’t our original goal, but it was a natural outcome of these teachers learning and then following their passions. Now, our garden, and this learning, that they did is such an integral part of what we do at Anastasis. I kind of wonder how it wasn’t always part of our original plan. It wouldn’t have ever been this way if I had just dictated what their professional development would look like.
Noah Geisel: You know, Kelly, you talk about the teacher passion and how that comes back to students, and it really makes me want to ask a question about passion and the students in your school. Because I know that your school doesn’t assign homework, but I know you’ve told me that your students often will share with you that they did several hours work at home the night before. So I’m really just wondering how is that even possible. What role do you think tech plays in that dynamic to ignite your students’ passions?
Kelly: Yes, I think the truth is that whether you’re talking about teachers or students that we as people are just naturally curious. It’s it’s kind of a something that’s just born in us. What’s what we’re wired for. We like to learn and we like to solve problems. We stopped loving that when everything is dictated for us. So homework tells students that we don’t trust them to be learners and that we have to direct that learning for them. And so really when we’re assigning homework our intentions might be great but at the end of the day what we’re telling students is “I don’t trust you to do learning in your own free time so I’m going to dictate what that looks like.” But I think when you free students from those constraints you give them the ability to ask interesting questions they’re naturally going to want to follow that line of questioning and problem solving. And so what happens for them is they go home and they keep playing with those ideas and exploring and trying new things. Technology helps this because it gives them the ability to drive their learning when there isn’t a teacher there to be the expert.
Noah: Kelly, you talk about your students pursuing their passions and how that looks at Anastasis. And that really makes me want to ask another question about so that is unique to Anastasis, is that you don’t budget for textbooks. That’s one of your creative decisions on how you make things work at your school and so I’m just wondering how does that play out in your school, and for the teachers, do they feel burdened or liberated by that approach? What’s the student’s role in all of that when they don’t have textbooks to guide their work?
Kelly: Yeah, I think this is really liberating for all of us, because when you think about a textbook it’s such a one size fits all solution, not just for students but also for teachers. You know, it takes away all creativity that teachers have and say this is what you’re limited to. So I think that for all of us it is liberating. Now that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily easier, but I think it’s — for a teacher — it gives them the ability to really be a teacher. And I think a lot of us sign up for thinking that that’s what we’re signing on for when we become teachers. And then the reality is, we get handed a curriculum that we’re supposed to read from. It also opens up the budget to put resources where they’re going to have the highest impact for students, and it gives our teachers the flexibility to truly teach in an inquiry environment.
So we buy every single material as needed. Amazon Prime has been one of the greatest inventions for us as a school because we’re able to see an interest, order the book, or the video or manipulative and have it delivered next day. So it’s so amazing, because we have this kind of on-demand system where kids get interested in something, they fall down that rabbit hole and then we’re instantly able to support the learning there, rather than making it prescriptive for them. So they can follow that learning. It broadens it all, rather than kind of narrowing it down to the least common denominator.
Lee: How can tech — specifically tech — be used to motivate students to read?
Kelly: Especially for those struggling readers, technology can be that key that helps them get through this struggle and learn to love to read. There are plug ins that I love like Rewordify. that makes it possible to take any online text and it instantly makes it easier to understand. So for those struggling readers, you get text that’s suddenly readable for them and when they feel successful at something it becomes one of those things to do for an enjoyment. And when they start to see that reading can put them in charge of their own learning and exploring., that it’s not just something that’s assigned to give a grade, that’s where that motivation kicks in.
So I think with the technology it’s so great that you have tools that enable that kind of empowered learning. Stackup is another tool that we love at Anastasis because it gives kids and teachers insight into their reading habits so it tracks online reading so they can start to see trends in their own interests and passions, and it empowers the learners to be better or teachers rather, to be better guides for our learners, because they can see where a student spends their free time online and what they are reading and exploring.
So the motivation really becomes internal rather than a reward or something external. I love the way that it makes the reading more accessible. I remember being a kid and finishing a book and having to wait until you know my family made the next trip to the library, or I had the next library visit at school before I could indulge my curiosity. And by the time I got to the library I had often either forgotten or lost track of the interests that I had because enough time had passed. It makes it possible for kids to keep exploring and indulging that curiosity instantly, and falling down those lovely rabbit holes.
Lee: What’s the one big idea or an educator learning and development that should be our takeaway for today.
Kelly: I think it’s to be a learner and inquire first. As an educator I think we have to identify and explore our passions and curiosities even and especially those that aren’t directly related to education. I think when we are learners ourselves and when we indulge that curiosity that we have, it makes us that are educators were better able to empathize with our students. We’re better able to connect in a very human way with other learners. And I think that’s a really important piece of what it means to be an educator.
So I would say keep exploring, be open to connections, and then when you look at your classrooms and your structure and policies and expectations you know make sure that you’ve given students the room to be curious and indulge those curiosities as well. And that happens, I feel pretty naturally, when you are doing that yourself.
Lee: Absolutely. Kelly, thanks so much for being on the podcast.
Kelly: Thank you both. I appreciate it.
Lee: Noah, always a pleasure.
Noah: Always great, Lee. Kelly, awesome to chat with you today.
Lee: This has been EdTech NOW podcast sponsored by Stackup. Get credit for what you read online, build your personal learning profile, and discover your interests automatically — on Stackup, That’s http://stackup.net. I’m Lee Schneider.