- Schools should be shifting to represent our students and the present-day world.
- Find ways to fill schools, classrooms, and students with opportunities to be passionate and creative.
- Host a school-wide Genius Day where staff can share their passions with students and make connections.
Engage Through Your Passions
It’s time to move forward. We need to stop looking back to what education was before the pandemic.
My hope is that we can emerge from this global health crisis with an innovative look at what education can and should be. We are no longer in the Industrial Age. When hosting EdCamps, I often talk about how education, and thus teacher professional development, has been based on what was needed during the Industrial Age. Picture rows of workers on an assembly line spaced evenly apart and the similarity between students in neat rows of desks.
For a little while, we got away from students in desks and in rows. Many classrooms implemented flexible seating and flexible learning spaces to resemble the workspaces at Google. Our new elementary school had to have flexible spaces as part of the requirement for the design and build. Unfortunately, this pandemic has forced us back into neat little rows with students exactly 3 feet apart.
Let’s Break Free
It’s time to break free and create schools, classrooms, and learning opportunities for a different generation of students. We should be thinking beyond the 21st-century skills we still haven’t been able to fully embed into our school structures.
Our schools are filled with excited, creative individuals who all have their own passions. Many schools have embraced this concept by incorporating Genius Hour or 20% time into their schedules. This provides students an opportunity to spend time learning about something they are interested in or passionate about.It’s time to break free and create schools, classrooms, and learning opportunities for a different generation of students. Click To Tweet
Welcome Genius Day
Thanks to some inspiration from my friend, Principal Jordan Hoffman, we took this Genius Hour idea in a different direction: Genius Day!
We implemented Genius Day at the small PK-8 school where I was principal.
Genius Day has become a day (or half-day) when the adults get to share their passions with students. Think about it—all of the adults became passion sharers for the day. They get to share their passions with students, and students get to learn something new. In many cases, students were introduced to something entirely new and even got to try something out of their comfort zone or pick up a new hobby.
Sharing Our Passions
We asked all the adults to think about one of their passions or hobbies they would like to share with students. Then, we determined which of these sessions would be provided for students in K-8 to do together or if they needed to be limited to specific grade levels. We also determined if any of the sessions had to limit the number of participants in order for everyone to get what they need.
We created a sign-up sheet so that students could choose their 1st and 2nd choices for the day. Our school planned this for an early release day which allowed us to spend a few consecutive hours on Genius Day without scheduling around lunch or specialist classes.
We had a variety of offerings for students which included: directed painting, tie pillows, Eric Carle collages, gingerbread cookies, wire sculpting, 3D art, designing t-shirts, cosmic cookie decorating, learning sign language, drumming/percussion, pickleball, zentangle, basketball skills/drills, and coloring.
I think the adults were more excited than the students when Genius Day actually arrived! The whole school was buzzing with anticipation and excitement.
My greatest joy as the designated photographer is being able to walk around and capture these experiences and memories with my camera. I saw so many smiles, laughter, teamwork, and engagement.
One of our first-grade friends who often communicates his needs in challenging ways was super excited to learn to create tie pillows with our administrative assistant. She was a little nervous about whether or not he would be able to fully participate appropriately. I stopped by to take photos and check-in. She couldn’t rave enough about him. We learned that he is an expert at tying knots. He even helped older students in his group that were having some difficulty with the tying. We were able to see a different side of him in this session. He was able to really shine. He was so proud of the pillow that he made: he wouldn’t put it down for the rest of the day.
Our amazing administrative assistant brought in some of the matching remnant material the following week. She and Brennan worked on making a matching tie blanket during recess. I only wish all adults could find ways like this to connect with kids and see a different side of them. This also allowed our students to connect with the adults in our building in a different way.
ALL of the adults in our school couldn’t wait to participate. Our custodian and two cafe ladies were excited to make gingerbread cookies with students. Students participated in the entire process from making the dough from scratch to decorating and eating! Weeks later I could still hear students say to Mr. Tom, “Remember when we made those gingerbread cookies?” Kids were connecting and relating to adults and vice versa.
The kindergarten teacher led a snowman-directed painting activity. We had the middle school math/science teacher provide drumming and percussion lessons. She even led a “parade” around the school for these students to show off what they had learned. The third-grade teacher created an ongoing obsession with zentangles. Students were seen tracking her down to share their latest creations.[scroll down to keep reading]
The Power of Genius Day
One of our students is an athlete. He plays all sports and enjoys being active with his friends at recess. I expected to see him participating in pickleball or basketball drills. I was surprised when I ran into him as I was headed down to the cafeteria to take photos. He asked if I wanted to see the cookies he had decorated. There was pride in his eyes. He showed me his cosmic cookies that looked amazing.
It’s difficult to put into words the feelings of this day…seeing students of different ages working together and learning from different adults in the building. There was this hum happening throughout the school. We had no issues or challenges. Everyone was engaged in the activities. Everyone was kind and helpful.
My hope is that every day in school can be like Genius Day. We need to create schools where everyone gets to engage in their passions in order to learn.
I challenge you and your team to create a Genius Day in your school or classroom this year! It’s time for us to flip Genius Day and have the adults learn from the students. Let them share their passions outside of school!
About Bobbie French
Bobbie French is an educational leader, presenter and writer from Massachusetts.
Bobbie has been an educator for over 24 years. She has been an elementary guidance counselor, classroom teacher, special education coordinator, Title I Director, Preschool Director and Administrator.
Bobbie is passionate about focusing on the whole child and creating an environment where all students have a sense of belonging. She appreciates and recognizes the hard work of teachers, and is committed to supporting others to be their best for kids every day. Her passion and enthusiasm for creating a positive and engaging school culture is contagious.
Bobbie is also an avid photographer and loves to tell her school’s story.