Monday, 2 December 2013

New to Elementary Connected Classrooms

Many people still ask, “What are Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC)?”  In the simplest terms, ECC are  a group of classrooms in different locations who connect  virtually on a regular basis to do common lessons.  The lessons are taught by a “lead” teacher at one location, and are supported at all the other locations by the regular classroom teachers.  My name is Chris Lewis, and this year I am at Lytton Elementary School, where I am the ECC teaching member of School District 74 Gold Trail (SD74).  

Since there is apparent confusion regarding the purpose of ECC, you may wonder why I not only chose to be a part of the program, but also why I am extremely excited about it.  This is my fifth year in SD74.  Since becoming a teacher, I have been constantly looking for ways to make my teaching engaging and relevant.  Engaging students is imperative.  If you have their attention, you don’t need to worry about classroom management, and students are willing to participate.  In my limited experience, students engage when the content is accessible and they see how it relates to them.  Okay, to be honest, what it comes down to is if my class is engaged, they’re having fun.  If they’re having fun, then I get to, too.  One way to engage students is with technology.

Technology is all around us.  It is ridiculous to think that computers or the Internet are only fads or that the skills to use them are not necessary for students for the future.  Technology has made information more accessible, and communication more readily available.  Administration in Gold Trail has been very supportive of making SD74 a technologically progressive district.  Like many smaller districts, we are seeing declining enrolment and our communities are getting smaller.  Smaller communities means smaller social groups.  This is where the magic of ECC enters.

Elementary Connected Classrooms connect students from different communities.  This may sound like small potatoes to those teaching in larger centers, but when you only have ~20 kids, in your whole community who are the same age, it’s a big deal.  Every day, students are connecting with communities and classrooms that are not their own.  They collaborate and socialize.  They exchange perspectives and ideas.  They also get to experience different instruction styles, and witness professional collaboration between the various teaching members.

I love teaching.  I love creating exciting lessons that will challenge and excite my students. Unfortunately, it is too easy for a classroom teacher to close their door and essentially teach in the vacuum of their room with limited outside influence.  In this situation, who is challenging the teacher?  In ECC, we are exposed.  We teach in front of our peers.  Regularly!  We each teach 1-2 ECC lessons a week. I know that is not that much, but that makes the lessons we do all that much better.  Not only do we need a great lesson for when we teach, but we need a lesson so powerful that we will engage and excite students in three other towns.  This is exciting stuff!  The ECC model may have begun as a way to deal with low enrolment, but the ECC experience  has been, in some ways, better than a mere solution.  It has improved teaching!

ECC is also an exciting way for students to expand peer groups.  It is a way for students to share their ideas and be heard.  It is passionate teachers doing what they love—with the benefit of feedback!—and students are reaping the rewards.  I am a part of this program because it makes me the best teacher I can possibly be.  It challenges me and forces me to adapt and improve.  I am not in a vacuum.  I am excited.  I am a teacher.

I hope this blog clarifies some of the misconceptions surrounding Elementary Connected Classrooms.  It is my intension to share some of my experiences participating in this program.  

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