Teachers Don’t Need to Have All the Answers: Interview with Krissy Venosdale from Venspired

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This week’s interviewee is the passionate, forward-thinking and inspiring educator and blogger Krissy Venosdale. She’s been working in education for over 11 years and strives to make her classroom a place where kids can imagine, create, dream and explore.

Her goal is to teach kids how to think rather than what to think, and she is passionate about space science and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math).

Her blog, Venspired, is where she shares her ideas, tips, advice and inspiration for other teachers to benefit from, and in this interview she agreed to share her expertise, experience and learning moments with us.

Krissy Venosdale is a self-proclaimed lifelong learner, so what are some of the most important things she has learned during her career as a teacher?

“One of the most important things my students have taught me is that I am a learner, too,” says Venosdale. “I started teaching and walked in feeling pressured to know all the answers.  My students taught me that it’s best for me to join them in the journey and I end up learning even more than I set out to teach them.”

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She comments that some of her most memorable moments are the ones that happen when she gets out of the kids’ way and they exceed her expectations.

“I will never forget the moment we built a rocket to launch for the principal’s birthday, called him out to the field, and the rocket failed to launch,” she says.

“We laughed, waved up the hill at him, and I realized that there really is no better job in the world than working with kids.  They didn’t see the failure, they saw the learning.  We rebuilt, re-launched, and success came.  It was a journey we shared together, just like all of the other things we shared in our classroom that year.

Every year is filled with memorable moments, and as this year closed I was preparing to move from Hillsboro, Missouri to Houston, Texas and I had to say goodbye to a school I had been at for ten years.  

At our end of the year celebration with outgoing sixth graders, some former students showed up and asked if they could speak.  I sat quietly in a chair across the gym, as they took the microphone and presented me with a special handmade plaque. The words read “Thanks for being the change we wished to see in the world.”

That moment is one I will never forget.  Because I know those kids and I had something special in our little classroom, and I know that they understand that I am on a continuous quest to learn, grow, share, and make learning in school right for each and every one of them.  

That plaque will be hanging in my new office at Rainard School in Houston, Texas.  Every single child I have had the joy of working with has left a mark on my heart and made me a better teacher, and a better learner.”

Venosdale first started her blog as a way to push herself to think about her teaching, and she feels that it is one of the things that have helped her to grow and evolve as a teacher.

“Blogging has pushed me to reflect on what I do, what I think, and most of all, how I connect with others.  If I were to stay in my one little classroom, never thinking outside the walls, it would be hard for me to grow as a teacher,” she says.

“I am on a continuous path of growth.  When we share, we learn and grow.  Sharing with others has become one of my core values as an educator.  Not because I feel like I have so much more to offer than anyone else, but because I feel like we ALL have something to offer, something that can help someone else, and even more importantly, something that we can share to push ourselves to learn even more.”

As someone who is passionate about STEM, Venosdale understands the importance of being a role model for her students. She believes that the best way to tackle the gender divide in these areas of learning is to show kids why it matters.

“I show my students that females can be involved in STEM by modeling it for them,” she says.

“Every kid knows I love science, technology, engineering, and math because each of those things is related to learning. I plan experiences in my classroom for kids to think outside the box and to help them see that STEM is the world.  

I could tell my kids that a girl could be a great scientist, and it’s true.  But showing them?  

I live STEM, not because it’s trendy or the current buzzword in education, but because understanding STEM is understanding the world.  I foster the connection in learning with kids, boys and girls, so they can find their biggest passion in the world.”

One major thing that she has done to spark her students’ interest in science was applying to NASA’s Reduced Gravity Education Flight Program with an experiment she and her students developed together.

“One of the most memorable moments of my teaching career was getting that phone call from NASA, with the students who knew I had applied and not been accepted previously, and having them give me a round of applause when I got off the phone and said “That was NASA, I’m going on the ZeroG plane!”  

“I met a wonderful group of teachers from all over the US at Honeywell Advanced Space Camp for Educators in June 2012 that I applied with and we had to create a proposal with an experiment our students developed,” she explains.

“We will be testing the absorbency of fabrics in reduced gravity. My students went through the entire process with us and we collaborated with the other teachers through Skype, a blog, and Twitter.  In July, we will spend 10 days at Johnson Space Center working with NASA Teaching from Space to fly our experiment.”

Technology plays a big role in Vensodale’s teaching, and she works hard to integrate it into her classroom in every way possible. But she also believes that it isn’t necessarily about the tool, but about how well it is used.

“A tool is just a tool, but how you use it is what affects your learning,” she comments.

“We have a variety of tools for students to choose from and [they use] technology to explore and connect with the world.  We utilize everything from iPads to webcams to Google to desktops.

We’ve connected with classrooms and teachers in 6 of the 7 continents, tweeted with experts like architects and astronauts, and pushed our thinking even further because of the seamless integration of technology. It’s not about the tool; it’s about great teaching and learning.”

Along with the utilization of technology, of course, comes the need for students to understand digital citizenship. So what methods does Venosdale use to address this issue with her students?

“Digital citizenship isn’t something you can teach by posting rules,” she says. “It’s something you have to teach through modeling it.”

“My kids all know I am on Twitter, blog, and interact with the world. Kids are always watching. What we model, they learn.  We have open conversations about using digital media from online sources and discuss what creative commons means for them as a consumer and a producer.

We cannot just ban everything from our kids and block the internet; modeling and open discussions will have to happen to build the understanding our kids need to be responsible and respectful digital citizens.”

Another issue that teachers are faced with on a daily basis is motivation, or a lack thereof. Students who aren’t motivated will have trouble with even the most well-designed curriculum, and this is something that Venosdale is all too aware of.

“The best curriculum in the world will not matter if students are not interested or do not feel a part of the learning environment.  

I always start with building a sense of community and collaboration in the classroom, and then I look to see how I can spark students’ interests with questions that get them thinking. I constantly remind myself that the students need to be the ones driving the learning, while I facilitate.

I am not there to tell them everything they need to know, I am just a guide on the learning journey.  I also try to address learning styles, interests, and build student choice into our daily learning.  Giving kids ownership is key in motivating them.   

My best advice for another teacher?  Don’t try to be the expert. Join them in the journey. Don’t ever expect collaboration to just happen; build community on a daily basis, foster a sense of belonging, and model, model, model.”

Venosdale also believes that the environment is extremely important to students’ learning, and as such she puts a lot of effort into decorating and re-organizing her classroom each year.

“The environment is everything,” she comments. “It needs to be comfortable, inspiring, interactive, creative, and offer choices.  

My students taught me that sometimes learning under a table or writing in the grass with your shoes off is what works.  When kids have a safe, comfortable place where they feel a sense of belonging, learning happens.  

I’ve changed my theme every year because I like to spark new ideas for kids and show them that a classroom doesn’t have to look like everyone expects a classroom to look.  Learning is about embracing new, creative ideas. I use the walls of my classroom to model that concept for students. I want them to think outside the box, so I always try to decorate my classroom ‘outside the box.’”

When it comes to avoiding burnout, Venosdale feels that the most important thing a teacher can do is to keep their love for learning alive and to connect and collaborate with other educators.

“I would tell any teacher, if you are feeling burnout; it may be that your love of learning has gotten buried in the ‘stuff’ of day to day teaching. It happens to all of us,” she says.

“Common core standards, testing, committees, meetings, the list goes on.  But, it always comes down to learning; the students’ learning and our learning.  The best cure for burnout? Find your passion again.  Get connected.  

I connect with a global community of educators on Twitter as part of my PLN (Personal Learning Network). It is invaluable and has kept my passion for teaching and learning burning, even on the hardest days.  

The sharing and collaboration that takes place in this network, around the world, and spills over into your daily interactions with colleagues can keep burnout at bay.   

Astronaut Leland Melvin once said, “You have to get inspired, to be inspiring.”  I found [that inspiration] in this network of teachers that I collaborate with and it carries over into my classroom, every single day.”

About 

Marianne Stenger is a freelance journalist with over four years of experience in writing for publications, online resources and blogs in the education industry. She believes that online education is the way of the future and is passionate about promoting online learning tools and the use of new technologies in the classroom.

You can find her on Google+ , twitter and by email at marianne.stenger @ oc.edu.au.

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