Teach Wonder

Let's Meet

August 01, 2021 The Center for Excellence in STEM Education Season 1 Episode 1
Teach Wonder
Let's Meet
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Teacher Wonder- before we ask our guests questions about their own passions, practices, and pedagogy, we thought we'd ask them of each other. Hear about how teaching has changes over time, what we are most passionate about currently in education, and what else we are listening to to stay inspired and connected. Thanks for joining us!
- Julie and Ashley

Episode Links:
Core Teaching Practices in Michigan
Our Homepage 

Original Music by: David Biedenbender

Ashley O'Neil:

Okay, now we're recording.

Julie Cunningham:

So welcome to teach, wonder.

Ashley O'Neil:

Welcome to teach wonder

Julie Cunningham:

A podcast hosted by Ashley O'Neal and Julie Cunningham.

Ashley O'Neil:

We are here from the Center for Excellence in STEM education at Central Michigan University. And we're here today, we're really excited. This is our first episode. And we thought it would be most appropriate to share a little bit about ourselves, our background and our why, for this podcast, and then moving forward, you can look forward to some fantastic interviews and guest speakers, from individuals in lots of fields that will help you along your educational journey. So without further ado, should we start with some questions?

Julie Cunningham:

Yes. So it occurred to us that it might be a little bit tedious to just run through a biographical sketch. So we're hoping that you get to know us through a few questions that we might ask one another, and maybe something about our views of education? Yeah. So do you want to ask the first question, and then we can volley back and forth, I would be happy to. Okay. So Ashley, what are you most passionate about when it comes to education? And why?

Ashley O'Neil:

I feel like that question has changed a lot over time. So currently, and I think it's good that it changes, right, your practice should be different in different contexts and situations. So currently, for me, I thinkI'm really passionate about accessibility for students and feeling valued as a student, I think that that matters and goes a long way. So what practices allow students to feel like they have a voice and a space inside of a classroom, what practices allows students to feel like theyhave a level playing field with other individuals, I think that's really important.

Julie Cunningham:

So I agree that it has changed over time, and that what I might have answered 10 years ago, wouldn't be different than what I'd say today. But I think today, I am most passionate aboutteacher professional development and doing teacher professional development or professional learning in such a way thatgives the teacher a voice so that treats teachers like the professionals that they are and values what they come to the table with, instead of telling them how things could be done different. So having a more collaborative vision, and a more supportive vision forteachers and how they can be supported in their classrooms with their, under their current circumstances with their current needs, and value in the goals that they bring to the table.

Ashley O'Neil:

So lofty goals, do you have a way that that looks in your brain and execution or you just like throwing that out there to say, this is the perfect model, figure it out?

Julie Cunningham:

Wow, that's a good point. I'm hoping that what we're doing with core teaching practices this summer, as a pilot with teachers willturn out to be something along those lines. So I'm hoping that it truly feels collaborative, to all we're doing the best that we know how to make it feel like the professionals that come to the table are valued. Now, we definitely have gone along the route of offering support to teachers throughout the academic year, hopefully, both financial and personnel support. So I think that's a step in the right direction. Do I know that I've hit the pinnacle of collaborative teacher professional learning opportunities? Probably not. But that's what I'm most passionate about bringing to fruition right now. Very cool. And we will put the link in our show notes with a little bit more information about core teaching practices. So if that's an unfamiliar term for you, you can do a little investigation to learn more about why we're so excited about it. So you mention that you have a passion for accessibility for students, if you had to choose a favorite age group, and I know you have an opportunity to work with students periodically, not the same as they used to all day every day, right? But if you had a favorite age group to teach, what would you choose and why.

Ashley O'Neil:

So I knew this question was coming and I still haven't really fully decided. So I'm going to cheat and say two things. So I taught in the classroom, probably the longest actually in a first grade space. And I think what I loved about that younger group the most was that they had a lot of skills, right? We weren't teaching them some basics about you know, the foundation brick and mortar of where to be in the building, which was nice, but they also had a lot of unpredictable and unforeseen capabilities. So forfirst graders are surprisingly capable. And I think that a lot of people assume that they either can't or need support or need a certain level of structure and help. And I was just blown away by how competent they were by how autonomous they could be. And if you gave them the right kind of parameters, I just love to watch, they have that perfect mix of curiosity, and then the ability to kind of exercise and explore their own curiosity, which I love. They're also really funny. Now that I'm out of the classroom, though, we work a lot with fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth graders. And I feel like the sweet spot for me currently, and this could change is kind of that fifth grade, sweet spot. They're young enough that my jokes are still funny to them. They have a lot of really great ideas. They have a lot ofthoughts about the way the world works, but they're so open to learning new ways that the world might work, right, they still have a little bit of that creative spark of wimzie. And when they're designing things, and I think that that's really fun. But yeah, they're old enough that you can have some some more complex conversations with them. Julie I know you have a teaching background in secondary, but you work a lot, you very rarely work with secondary students here. So what would you say is your favorite group?

Julie Cunningham:

So I was trying to look for parallels because I have been out of the K 12 classroom for about 10 years or so. And I always really did like, teaching high school students. But I was trying to think about parallels because most recently, I've taught at the university. And I've most recently taughtintroductory education course, which is intended for freshmen, it's not always just freshmen that take it, but probably the majority of the students are freshmen. So I was thinking back that, to think about what I really liked, specifically about a certain age group in high school, and what I really like about freshmen in college, and I think that I like the freshmen at both levels. So when they're coming to high school, right there, that bottom of the totem pole, they're a little bit needy, yeah, they're probably not the coolest kids in the school, they're definitely not the top of the heap, right? They might, they sort of know it when they come in, right, even though they were the top of the heap as eighth graders the year before, and they were probably kind of too cool for middle school the year before, in general, they sort of have to start all over at the high school. And they they're kind of the often the smallest, bright students in the hallway, and maybe the least mature. And so that's kind of what I liked about high school freshmen. And I also sort of like that about college freshmen right there, just figuring out the university, they're still willing to admit maybe that they need some help and maybe look for that help or accept that help. If it's offered, you can kind of still steer them, right. They don't know everything there is to know about the university. They're just striking out from home, there may be having less a little bit less parental oversight than they've had the others figuring out who they are. So the first sort of, for the same reasons that I think I liked High School freshmen, I also really like freshmen at the university. And I don't, I don't need them to meet me. But on the other hand, it's nice that they're not cool enough, or they're just enough uncool to recognize that maybe they do need some help figuring out things yet at the university level. So and then this is sort of tangentially related, but I did teach at a community college for a bit and I loved returning adults, students, students, who are, they areso clear as to why they are there, right? They're so driven. And they're there because they're at a different point in their life likely or they're there because they figured something out about themselves or their career path. And they were very enjoyable to work with. And very, like just very clear with their instructor, but what they needed from me.There's no messing around, messing around and so a certain degree, I can appreciate that, right, likeso anyway, those are just some of the, I guess, a variety. I have come to appreciate middle school students much more in working a current position and the fun and the quirks that they bring to the space

Ashley O'Neil:

Sometimes the unsung hero of the day, right? Like there is a level of just unabashedly, this is who I am ness to them, where they can't really help but be themselves and always in places and maybe the filters not quite developed, but that can be really refreshing too. I agree that we both had a little bit of middle school experience coming into this and have grown a lot in our middle school time and have a new appreciation for the complex.So there's that particular grade band.

Julie Cunningham:

Oh, alright, so moving on what subject or content? or skill? Did you? Or do you most enjoy teaching? And why? Question is tricky. So my background is actually in special education. And soand then it was kind of after school and in a non traditional, like K-12, or college, that I became really interested in science. And so I think for me, when I was in the classroom, even though that wasn't my major, it wasn't my minor, it was never a focus of mine, I realized how cool it could be to teach science in the classroom, and how cool it could be to watch kids figure things out in the classroom. And while that definitely happens with reading definitely happens with math, there's just a little bit of a unique piece for me that I think I will always hold dear when it comes to my classroom. And he had ongoing experiments I particularly loved whenever we did anything with plants and little kids, because that was just so mind blowing to them, right? The fact that the green bean from the grocery store came from something that they could watch come to life was just like, I will never get old seen that just like cycle, blow their minds. I think for me now, though, I really, really appreciate anything that allows some open ended flexibility, I really like creating open ended invitations for things. So if I can create something open ended and then see what kids get out of it. That makes me most excited. Yeah, and I think that I would second that. So I would probably never, I'd love to teaching high school chemistry, but I would probably never choose content as what I most enjoyed teaching. I like to see the students grow in their skills. So I would say anything that and this, I think goes along with your open ended invitation, right? Anything that drives a student to problem solve that asks them to figure something out. And so oftentimes, that is science can be science fits, thatfits that for a while, but also, you know, engineering problems that need to be solved. So things that I mean, you can just watch the students grow in terms of their confidence in terms of their ability to problem solve the next time in terms of their tenaciousness, right, in terms of their ability to get past their level of frustration, all of those things I just, to me, like I might have been teaching chemistry, or I might have been teaching biology, but really, through those life skills, right? That, that ability to make observations, look for patterns, solve a problem based on what you just the data that you just saw, right? Whenever that data is, it doesn't have to be formal science data, and take that right and make a decision. Soand like fail forward, like, it's hard to fail, but to learn as much from your failures as you do from your successes, like those are hard skills, to obtain and to practice. So

Ashley O'Neil:

I appreciate I think about that, too, when it came to the younger kids, right, so if I go back to my first grade head, something I really liked, that wasn't a part of the curriculum was just how autonomous the group became by the end of the year, right. Like I loved when I could leave a sub note for the first graders that said, you know, they know where things are, tell them stations are started, you know, point to the space where things will be, they'll know what to do. And they did right, and the sub would come back and be like, I didn't really have to do all that. And I loved that I remember coming back, we had an in building PD or something where I was in the building, but I had a sub just for an hour. So in my room, and I came back and the pencil sharpener was smoking.The kids were the ones who were like telling the sob you need to call you know, so and so this is what needs to happen. Like one kid was directing traffic to get everybody else away from the burning pencil sharpener. And I was just so proud of those kids that had just kind of figured this out, they had ownership of that room. But the sub was a lot of panic and was very grateful to leave my chaotic space. But the kids in that moment, didn't need an adult because they kind of knew the protocol. They knew the routine and even in like an emergency situation. The fact that they could figure that out, I get really proud of seeing when kids are comfortable and can work in that community that way.

Julie Cunningham:

Yes, I was just again, I have a question much later inour in our order of things that fits kind of right now. Right? SoI was just thinking that this this sort of is a follow up question. If you have a mantra or a guiding principle you use when you consider teaching. What is it and why? How does this guide you?

Ashley O'Neil:

So I stole this and I don't remember where I stole it from, but I should I should figure it out. I read somewhere I heard someone say let kids lead. And at first I didn't really resonate with me. But now that I've sat on and I think about it, I just think like when in doubt you need to let kids lead. I mean to let them lead in the classroom. You need to let them lead their own learning. They can advocate for themselves if you're listening. Right soYou let kids lead and that's your mantra is, instead of you being the forefront of how can you fix it? or What can you say? Or what can you do, you know, let kids lead, you've already done your education. So it's not your job to work so hard to important education into someone else. But I love that kids lead. And that's my, that's kind of my guiding principle currently.

Julie Cunningham:

Mine is. And I also don't know, I've tried to look up where it has, where it came from, actually. And I never have been able to figure it out. And probably because at this point, it's a paraphrase of somebody's real quote. But it's schools should not be a place where students come to watch adults work, but rather a place where adults come to watch students work. So my mantra always was if I was working a lot harder in my classroom, at the curriculum and the content and the skills that my students were something was wrong, right. Because again, like Ashley said, it's I've been there, it's not my education that we're working on it is their education. And I always think it's so fulfilling if you when you get a class and at the fall, right. And by the time spring comes along, and they don't need you, like that's exactly where they should be, you don't need me, you probably never did. But now we've all figured out that you don't need me, right. And you can do all of this and more on your own. Like that's exactly where we should be that where the studentsunderstand that and have that confidence.

Ashley O'Neil:

Sometimes.That's where that perceived apathy then becomes like inspiration, right? So if a student doesn't feel like you're going to be there to smooth things with them, and then it's your show, and your your space and kind of your train that they're riding along, but that they're co creating this with you. I feel like a lot of times you can see a true investment from kids, because they feel like they have skin in the game. And they have a say and what their year what their semester what their you know, our whatever that time is you have with them what that's going to look like, and there is no more powerful motivator in my head than making kids feel like they matter. And that what they say what they think what they would like to see happen matters.

Julie Cunningham:

Absolutely. We probably could end there, but I have like four more questions. Sothat's a good, that was a good ending question. But Alright, so this one kind of does dovetail if you could go back and share a piece of advice with your younger teaching self, what would it be and why?

Ashley O'Neil:

So I think about this all the time. Because I think it's... when I graduated, I was 23. Right? I took the first job I had, I was really proud of that job. I worked really hard. I worked long hours, right? I, I was really motivated to do all the things and to do it really well. But I just didn't have some of that wisdom that comes with time, and seeing patterns play out and repetition. And there's been a lot of changes in best practice that have evolved, as we know more about kids and how they learn and how things work. And so I think for me,it's it's a little bit two pronged, I should have let kids lead more when I first started. Right, I should have been more comfortable in my own teaching practices, I think because I wanted things to look a certain way. I felt like my classroom maybe had to have the right the right vibe and the right posters and the right level of noise and, and the right thing, song things to get kids attention. And if I didn't do that I wasn't I missed the teaching of the students something wrong. And I think just having the flexibility to say no, I need to figure out my own my own my own practice. And to figure out what looks best, I would like to say, you know, listen to that voice in your head and be confident in that and live in that. And then I think the other thing for me is that what we know aboutstudents with disabilities has changed tremendously since I was in the classroom, and how they learn and the importance of giving them voice and choice and presuming competence and presuming capability. I think I would go back and change some of my practices. I know that some of the best practices in my time, were not the most dignified for myself or for my students.And so looking back on that, I think that's one of the one of the pieces that I would shift and alter, I definitely had what I thought was students best interests in mind. And I was using the best tools that I had at the time. But I know better now. Right? And so I would go back and I would definitely, I definitely try to listen and learn a little bit better from those individuals.

Julie Cunningham:

I think I would actually say the same. And I thought about this question. Prior to us meeting today also. And I think I agree that when I learned to listen to students, right was whena good deal of my practice change. So I always was interested, or at least as far back as I can remember, modeling curriculum and science, which a good deal of that is discourse with students. Right? So if you don't listen to what the students have to say, you can't really elicit the model that they have in their head for what they think is going on. Right. And then if you can't elicit the model that they have in their head and science,it's hard to change that model right. And so I think I wasI would have done that a lot sooner listen to students.I think like you, I probably wasn't prepared to do that right out of college.But, but when I look back at when my like when my classroom changed to become more student centered when I really started to focus on what students could do, which is incredible, right?I think that probably was when I really, and I don't know if I would have said it this way. But when I really started to listen to students, and I think the other sort of practical advice I'd give a younger self is, you know, just some of that class of classroom management things, which we're not really focused on here today. But, you know, just like, things are personal when students act up in your classroom, right? It's not personal, like have thicker skin and grow some confidence and let some of those things go when you're younger. Some of those things that I took home that I think why why would I have even spent any amount of energy and time on that other than helping the student to be more successful, of course, but I mean, just the little things that I think that bother us and adult, that's children, our students do, and really aren't not bothering them when they leave your classroom, right? Or NC

Ashley O'Neil:

And I would go on a different train. I never took kids stuff personally. But I would say the adult culture, right, I wish I had a more... a better defined sense of myself as a teacher, going into staff meetings and into things with my principal and interest things with my co workers, even people who are tremendous, wonderful friends of mine and fantastic teachers in their own right. But to just say, you know, that's your way, and that fits you. It doesn't have to be what's happening in here. I think a lot of times as a new teacher, I go, yep. Okay, that sounds like a good idea. You're doing that, I'll do that. Okay. You said I, I take this advice. And I take it really deeply to heart. And if you didn't take all that advice, then you're just kind of some sort of weird facsimile of a bunch of other people's practices. And I think for me, I wish I could have been more reflective to say, Okay, I'm steady, I know what I want to do. I hear what you're saying. And then, you know, listen to that, and be reflective on that. But I'm still going to move forward in a way that I think is best for my students.

Julie Cunningham:

So our bottom line is to our younger selves, more confidence, and listen to your kids and listen to your students that are boiling it down to Okay, if you could spend a day in your current position working on just one thing in education, what would it be and why?

Ashley O'Neil:

I think that you need to go first, because I need about three more minutes to decide what it is, I'm going to say here. I have a trouble actually landing on one thing, right?

Julie Cunningham:

Like, I like my days to be varied. Butagain, I come back to that, like,what does the I don't want to use the word best, but what is a educationally sound model of professional learning for, for educators for in service teachers and pre service teachers look like? Right? And how can I have a guess more control over what my work with pre service looks like than I do? Probably with, and what I work with in service teachers looks like because the pre service teachers are working with us regularly on a day to day basis, right? So how can I make that experience for them while they're here? Both in terms of their work with children and in terms of their work with us be the most meaningful that it can be? So how can we contribute or I or the senator or staff contribute to this pre service teachers education in such a way as to better prepare them for a classroom. Like that is something that's meaningful to me, that I enjoy working on and sort of problem solving, right, but also the in service teacher professional development to like, it's, it's tough to be a teacher right now. So how can we best support teachers and their growth and again, in a collaborative way, and so following some of the research and thinking about where we can get grant money and how we can pilot different programs, I think that is probably my favorite thing to work on right now. And the piece that allows me a lot of satisfaction when it works out, and a certain amount of creativity as as we go. Right.And it's not already, like it doesn't already exist at CMU, and it's not already designed and set in stone. So I feel like there's there's ways in which the, I won't call it a problem, but there's ways in which the design we can find a solution to the design that allows,again, for some real creativity and some real interestingsolutions or interesting opportunities.

Ashley O'Neil:

Yea, that makes sense. You said two things. So I'm also going to say two things. But I'm not sure I can make my two things sound like one thing and be related. So I'll try. So I think the one of the things that I've noticed, so I've paid, I've done a little bit back and forth. More recently than Julie, back into the classroom and back out again. And one of the things that struck me the most, is a little bit the disconnect that I felt when I was out of the classroom. To say, here are best practices, here's the time to do things well, to kind of research things, here's, here's what we would like to see moving forward, here's what science can look like. And math can look like here, you know, here's all these wonderful, abstract theory type things. And then you travel down the river, a really long ways through some system says things that are in place that you can't change through, you know, district wide rules that you can't change through school practices through the day to day and really soon, I'm really quickly you get bogged down by a lot of the day to day pieces. And there's a pretty big disconnect between some of the things that are happening in education kind of at the forefront. And then what a teacher has access to and the bandwidth for day to day. And so I mean, maybe it looks like teacher PD, I'm not really sure I haven't cemented that in my head so far. But I think I would like to consider how to better bridge that gap for teachers, to make them feel more supportive, because I've worked with quite a few teachers. And I know that teachers are using the best tools that they have available and want to be the best teachers that they can be. And so to bridge that gap in a way that connects and lands with them, I think is really powerful. You know, we're doing some things here, we've started a new cohort model with PD where we start and launch something in the summer. And then it continues with some teacher support. So the school year, I'm really excited about that possibility. Because I feel like that may be a start of it, right? I know, we all I did go to PD with the best intentions, I feel like my whole life changed from that PD and my outlook changed. And I felt so refreshing, so revived. And then to get back in the walls of my classroom, and I'd have 45 emails, and you know, I'd have these new new school I practices that were being implemented that competed with what I've learned, and it was just too much right. And I would kind of I would mean to, and I would want to, and that would never fade away. But the getting getting to a piece never happened. And so if there's a way that we can really figure out how to come alongside some teachers and help increase their bandwidth a little bit or help provide some of that follow through with them. That makes me really excited. And I think the other piece for me, and I would like to see us increase our ability to be perceived as accessible to different communities in our space. And that can look a lot different based on the communities that we're reaching. But if we can just increase and be mindful of our accessibility, to make sure that a lot of different populations can see at home here and can benefit from some of the activities or the events that we have going, I think that would be a great way to spend probably more than a day, but at least a day. Ashley is right we have started down the road, we recognize that everyone has a way in whichrests upon which they can enter the work in the maker space. So it's a matter of us making sure that our entry points are accessible to all different groups of people. So we already have the belief that everybody can but making sure that everyone knows that we are available and accessible is part of ourour strategy moving forward. Okay, I have two related but maybe more lighthearted questions. So what's a recent educational podcasts you've enjoyed? Again, I'm gonna break all rules and say two because I like to have one foot and like lots of different places. And so if I listen to one thing all the time, I like to have lots of voices in my head to kind of hear that balance. So a podcast, I always find it inspiring. And I tell everybody about it is 99% Invisible, and it's a design podcast. It has nothing directly to do with education. It kind of explores the hidden design behind common objects, like those one on different tones and sounds that you hear in commercials, right? It does, some on bridges and buildings, but it does some it doesn't really interesting one in Florence Nightingale and data, which is fascinating. And I find that really inspiring in this space because hearing about the hidden design of things just makes me really think about the way people learn and the way people figure things out and ideas in general. So I like that one for inspiration. From a practical standpoint. I've really been interested in the Learn Play Thrive podcast. So that's a little bit of my special education background coming to light that's an OT professional, who is interviewing individuals and really talks a lot about accessibility particularly with autistic individuals. But with several different populations, and I have learned a lot while I'm not an OT. And while I don't live in that world, full time professionally anymore, it has been really transformative for me in the way that I think about some of the practices that I learned a while ago and reshaping them. And I love that.

Julie Cunningham:

I will add that Ashley always has a good recommendation. So anytime you're stuck with podcast recommendations, only, her only problem would be narrowing it down for you otherwise, there's always give me I knew my audience questions.So I'm not as well versed in podcasts as Ashley is I tend to go back to my very comfortable on my same podcast time after time after time. But one that I really enjoyed that has an education about Intuit is nice white parents. And I was simultaneously just shocked and just not surprised at the same time, I think, as to some of the content. And I know there's been some criticisms of the podcasts in general. But overall, I think the theme was very interesting and informative. And although it didn't happen in Michigan, it happened in New York, I would suggest that their takeaway messages about power and equity

Ashley O'Neil:

and everybody's role inside a classroom. So even if you're not a parent, even if you're an administrator or a teacher, I think that there's value and hearing howyou have ripple effects in whatever system you're in, and how the ripple effects work and what are you going to choose to do with them. Okay, now that we finish our first episode?

Julie Cunningham:

We at least finish the question part of my questioning part.

Ashley O'Neil:

Stay tuned for more. We're excited to share some of our own thoughts about some specific pieces moving forward. And then also like we said, we will go ahead and share some interviews with some wonderful, wonderful, I'm passionate people in various fields in education in the future. You can subscribe to our podcast you can like our podcasts. It's available on our website, and it will be available on most major podcast providers.