Easy K-12 Classroom Transformation with Choice with Kyra Sandstrom

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Click above to listen to this podcast episode. Below is the transcript for Student-Centered World Podcast Episode 35: “Classroom Transformation with Choice with Kyra Sandstrom

Today’s podcast episode is really a student-centered learning success story. We get to chat with Kyra Sandstrom, who is one of our “A Passion for Progress” students and I love how this is all worked out for her. When she took our course in the summer of 2020, she kept coming back to the point that she is teaching third graders and while all student-centered learning sounds great for maybe middle school kids, definitely high school kids, she just didn’t understand how it could work for the younger students.

I kept telling her just try it, just try it. So, in her first year in teaching third grade, and teaching kids both on Zoom and in the classroom, she implemented what we taught her, and not only is it working amazing, but she’s now training other teachers on how to do this method of instruction. Super inspirational. Lots of great ideas. I hope you enjoy today’s podcast.

Welcome to the Student-Centered World podcast where we talk about all things hands-on teaching and keeping your energy and sanity in the classroom. This teacher turned consultant is making it her mission to help as many teachers as possible become the best version of themselves and keep their passion for teaching on fire. It’s her hope that we never forget why we desire to have a passion for educational progress. This is Student-Centered World, and this is Jenn Breisacher.

Jenn Breisacher: Alright, so just kind of starting out, do you want to introduce yourself, who you are where you teach? That kind of thing?

Kyra Sandstrom: Sure. I can. Yeah, definitely. So, my name is Kyra and I teach at an independent private school in Huntington Beach. This is my first year teaching third grade. So, not only in the pandemic, teaching in this but then I chose to change jobs. But I’m enjoying third grade. This is my I don’t know, 18th year in education. Typically, four or five, six has been my comfort zone. I’m just coming out of fifth grade at the same school.

So, it’s been a real treat to see when we when our students get to fifth grade, the independence, and the things that we instill in them, where it starts, and it starts really in our third-grade program. We really pride ourselves on it’s the year of independence and students are their own advocates and how to email a teacher when you have questions and that type of thing. So yeah, that’s me.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, I think that’s very true of third grade. That’s where you suddenly see the shift. They become their own person. They have their own very strong beliefs about things. My son just went into fourth grade and now this is like, the too cool for school year. No matter what I’m saying to him, he’s like mom just please stop. I’m like, oh, I’m embarrassing you already good.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yeah, that’s my job.

Jenn Breisacher: Just wait kid, just wait.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yes, yes.

Jenn Breisacher: So, it’s in the middle of the pandemic. Are you guys remote? Are you in the classroom? What are you doing?

classroom transformation

Kyra Sandstrom: Yes to both?

Jenn Breisacher: Okay.

Kyra Sandstrom: So, I’m in California, our governor, we’re on a tiered system but being that we’re at a private school, we could apply for a waiver to open with proper health guidelines in place and we really had to have a plan. So, we were able to open the first day of school in person and also offer the same classes to other students. So, I have 16 students in class and five students on Zoom, that I teach at the same time all day. So, yes, we are in-person and online.

Jenn Breisacher: So, you are in person, you are virtual, so you are as hybrid as you could possibly get. If you want to think of it that way. Then you started a new grade level this year. How has it been?

Kyra Sandstrom: Yeah. You know, it’s so funny, because I hear I’m a naturally positive person. I’m a rose-colored glasses person. I hear this term thrown around lately that positive person who’s bringing harm, but I really am not that. I have great days with my students, I connect with my students on zoom. It’s been a lot easier transition than I expected and so that’s been great. I go home. Yes, I’m exhausted. Is this modality of teaching sustainable? No. But it’s right now doable, and it’s working. So, it’s going pretty well. A scale of one to 10, probably seven to eight most days.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s not bad odds.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yeah, not bad. I know a lot of teachers aren’t in that place and so it’s interesting. But for me, I think just learning a lot from you over the summer which is so funny. I think I know you, but I’ve just watched your videos. But I’ve just learned and took it in and absorbed it and I’m applying a lot of those things to eight-year-olds and I think that’s what’s so exciting.

Jenn Breisacher: So, what’s going well? What pieces of that if we’re going to jump into that frame do you think were the most helpful, that is leading you to have this more relaxed take. We see other things teachers that are just scrambling and drowning. You’re saying it’s hard, which it is, there’s no doubt about it. No matter what you’re doing, it’s hard. But what do you think made it a little bit easier for you?

Kyra Sandstrom: I’ve done a lot of presenting on this at my school, and just came out of a meeting about this, too. So, it’s been interesting. It’s really taking a look at what we do as teachers and packaging it in a way that students can access the information. So, yes, I’m the holder of all knowledge, I know where we’re going from point A to point Z and the steps.

Traditionally, the teachers in front of the room, we’re on page eight, everybody finds the word, find the word in bold of physical maps, what does it say? We’re usually guiding them through it and that’s the exhausting part of teaching You’re up on the stage and going through everything.

But instead, I’ve packaged it in a way that students are guiding their pace through the content, and how they access information and able to go back. So, taking really the choice menus and things like that, making it student choice and not a free for all. I love when you said that.

It’s not a free for all, it’s not do what you want to do but your entry point, your access point, your pasting of, maybe you want to pick… I have students that are eight, they’ll take a look at every little activity, and then they’ll go back and pick the one that was most intriguing to them.

So, I think that’s been the mindset, and we teach in units So, we have a geography unit, we have a novel unit. So, I think that’s a way to look at it too in these big chunks, and then breaking it into where can students have their own access point and have a choice in it, but yet be carefully guided by the teacher?

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Kyra Sandstrom: So, it’s a lot of that.

Jenn Breisacher: I think that’s huge. I actually was talking to somebody else about this the other day that, when I first trained people on how to do this, I say just do a lesson, just break it down by lesson. But once you get it, once you get the process do your whole unit at once, because then you can piece all the little bits together.

If some kids need longer time than others, you just have this, this circle, if you will, of this is the unit and these are all the things are going to be in the unit, and then we can figure it out from there.

Kids are surprising. Sometimes, in a more traditional method, you would say, okay, this is going to take two days. Sometimes it takes half a class, or it might take a week and we don’t know, we might think we know but then you’re rushing kids that are actually doing a really good job, because they’re so thorough, and then other kids don’t get the time that they would normally need for it.

It’s interesting especially when you put it into play, and you put it into practice.

I recall you being like, what do I do with third graders? What do I do with these younger kids? I don’t get how it’s going to work. But you see it’s working.

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Creating that Classroom Transformation

Kyra Sandstrom: I think too, we just talked about this a meeting I was at that right now in tech, we’re at a school that’s fortunate enough, every student is one-to-one. So, our lower grades pre-K through one are on iPads, two and three on Chromebooks, four and five are on Mac books, and then our middle school as their own device. So, we’re super fortunate that we’re one to one.

So, teaching them the different platforms and they just go for it. You can’t break the internet. So, give it a try, I can always reset a Google doc or a Google form to just the stick with it-ness that students are having, because they want to be at school, and they want to be present. But then you throw in my distance learners, and now they’re having the same experience because it’s packaged a little bit different. I run through Google Classroom as a platform.

So, I make two different options and I just push it out to them a little bit different so that they’re completing everything, if they want digitally, but then have the option to do paper/pencil. It’s also been interesting too have other teachers come on board with this, right. So, I all in the summer going through your courses, but then bringing it to my staff and as a staff, of course, we have people on different ends of the spectrum.

Some are going to try it, others, I’m sticking with my old ways and in between.

We’re teaching in this time that we’re all exhausted and going through because each one of us is also teaching a set of in-class learners and online learners. There are three per grade level, but I had a fourth-grade teacher last week, email me and say you I’m going to give this choice board a chance. We’re done with Island of the Blue Dolphins. I think it’d be perfect for an end-of-the-unit help.

So, ran over to our classroom set up a Google Slide and she said her students aren’t loving it. The whole fourth-grade team is going for it. So, it just takes a couple to get in and try small things. I’m a big picture person. I’d rather go all-in rather than little which works both ways. So, that teacher now is more apt to try it on a different level next time and we share it with our teammates.

So, everything I do, I’m sharing with my third-grade teammates. They’re taking it and loving it and stuff that they don’t like they’re just tweaking for their own class. So, I think it’s a matter of just trying. As teachers, we’re perfectionists. We don’t want to try something that might fail but the other flip side is what if it’s right?

Jenn Breisacher: yes. Exactly. Same things we preach to the kids, we have to preach to ourselves. I mean, as much as you know, I always say it’s all about the student buy-in, and you got to get there and sometimes it takes longer. It’s the same thing with teachers, and usually the ones that are, well not usually.

In this time right now the ones that are most resistant to that change are the ones that are struggling the most because they want to be able to do this life of learning in their traditional methods and it doesn’t work.

It’s either the kids, the engagement drops off, because they’re bored because they’re not getting the same face-to-face or whatever or they’re trying to lecture on Zoom for an hour and change. The next thing you know, all the icons are popping up, the cameras are turning off. If there’s ever been a time in education, to try something new, and to make a change and make a leap, and even if it’s small, now is the time because even if it doesn’t work, it’s 2020, it’s fine.

Just try something different.

Kyra Sandstrom: Well, and I think too, it’s not new. I think at the school I’m at, we’re innovative teachers, we’re apt to try new things. So, when I mentioned choice boards, we’ve been doing this, and we have. We apply it to research projects and when I taught in fifth grade, we already employed some of these things. So, that’s neat to take a look at. It’s not anything new, it’s back to the forefront which is exciting.

So, we are experts at it, and being able to train and other teachers to come our way is super exciting, too. So, that’s been a good reminder that we’ve put in place good teaching methods and practices and focusing on our students. But making a wider lens rather than just project-based. Well, let’s take a look at a unit, or let’s take a look at other parts of it. So, I’ve been super fortunate to be trained up in that way of taking a look at those items, too.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, and it all it all interconnects. I was chatting with someone the other day again, that you know, was kind of trying to put all of the pieces of all of the things that I said in every single lesson. I’m like stop. I’m just trying to give you all the different options that I can think of, but you need to figure out what works for your students, what’s going to work for you what’s going to make your life easier.

That should be the key piece of all of this is your life should become easier because you’re taking out elements that have always been ingrained in this is what the teacher does. But the teacher doesn’t have to do it and you should be able to take a breath and enjoy the time with your students and help them one on one. Everything differentiates for every kid in your class but it’s not more work for you to do that.

Once you get in the routine of how to do it and your kids get in the routine of how to do it, it’s gravy from there.

Kyra Sandstrom: Well, then they love to with choice. So, we put in all types of different modalities where they are doing paper/pencil work. Today, students are building elevation with pasta and cardstock and others are like what are you doing? I’m learning elevation. What are you doing? I’m still working on my note cards.

But putting in things that they enjoy games, Google Slides that are movable, YouTube videos and making it accessible to them in their world, where they’re used to digital and tools as much as we don’t want them as so much on digital.

They’ve had iPads in their hand since they were two. So, I think that’s been the cool part too, finding those little niches, little things that they’re like, oh, this is great. Can I watch the next video? Of course. Can I re-watch it? So, it’s been interesting to dive into and embrace. Now it’s done so now, next year, I don’t have to do this, I can just launch it and that’s what’s exciting.

I’m willing to put in the work now not just this year. But then for the future. It’s there ready to tweak. It’s all ready to go. So, that’s been the silver lining as well.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes, I think there have just been so many silver linings in all of this. I mean, it sucks and it’s hard and there’s so much we don’t have control over. But a lot of conversations have been happening that we’ve been having as teachers for years and years, but nobody’s wanted to listen and now they’re in mainstream conversation.

Some of the people that might have been hesitant to try new technology, which just does their students a disservice because like you said, they’re techie little people.

They’re going to need to know how to do these things and how to not just repeat information back and spit it back and forget about it but actually apply that information once they get out into the real world. In your case, once they get older and they need to get into high school or whatever.

So, training them young is the best way to do that because like I said, I remember you being like, I don’t know how this is going to work with little ones and it’s very common, but I think I’ve even said to you my son’s kindergarten teacher last year did this and did it awesome. It seemed flawless. She had them in groups.

She had them in groups when they’re in the classroom, when they went all-digital, she still did different groups with them taught them on whatever level that group was. I’m guessing that’s how she broke them up. I’m not sure.

I would have a day, we’re like, let’s do a show and tell and you guys can all talk. You can just see from an educator’s side of things what criteria she was going for. But she seemed like she had it down pat. It’s just a matter of getting your kids in the routine and getting yourself in the mindset that it’s okay to do something different.

Kyra Sandstrom:  Yeah. We have a pre-K team that is killing it in this platform, and they have four-year-old’s at home and at school and going through all of this. So, it’s been just a focus and even in discussions with them of well, I’m going to give it a try, they are four but I’m going to. So, that’s exciting to where our littlest learners are having these experiences and excited to be learning and up and doing just because of the focus and the purpose in our teaching.

That’s all bringing it back full circle, that’s when it makes sense.

Jenn Breisacher: I mean, especially the little ones they think that they’re playing. They think that they’re just having a good time, they don’t realize this is part of your curriculum and you’re actually learning from it. Then once the kids get older, it’s oh, this is fun. This isn’t just sitting here taking notes and they get involved with it more. They’re also learning by accident because they just think that they get to do something cool. It’s just it all rolls together.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yep. It’s worth it. It’s worth the work. It’s worth it and seeing the benefits in such a short time. It has been super cool too. This summer we took different avenues of discussion for how is this going to look when we launch. So, I really focused on that student learning part of it. So, I referenced your articles and did one of the workshops last week for our PD. It’s just been really cool to be 18 years in education and be excited about something…

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah.

Kyra Sandstrom: …in a pandemic.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Kyra Sandstrom: That’s not happening so often.

Jenn Breisacher: That’s the key to this, that people don’t believe when you tell them. You’re excited again every day, you don’t go home exhausted. You actually go home, invigorated on most days. Now, some days or a day, like, it’s going to happen, not everybody’s going to be perfect.

But for the most part, you know, especially if you give your kids some type of open-ended project or a choice board, and they come up with amazing, amazing projects that you never would have come up with to think to give them.

Kyra Sandstrom: Exactly.

Jenn Breisacher: You give them just a little bit of freedom and as you said, it’s not a free for all. You are in charge of what’s going on. You are in charge of figuring out the activities and figuring out the pace and as much as you might be able to go and clean out that filing cabinet really quick that you’ve been meaning to because they’re all so self-sufficient on their own.

You’re still 100% in charge and in tune with every single child in that classroom. When you teach in a more traditional matter, you’re not, you don’t know what’s going on with every single kid in the classroom and that’s when kids fall through the cracks.

Kyra Sandstrom: Exactly.

Jenn Breisacher: A lot harder for a kid to play it off with this method.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yes. Oh, totally. Yeah, I’ve even found that already because they’re well, what are part of you’re working on. Well, I think I’m done with everything. Well, no, there’s a lot of moving pieces here and clearly you’re not. So, and just frees up for that conversation too with them, to be with them rather than at them.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Kyra Sandstrom: To be working with them has been… Again, I’m dealing with eight-year-olds, and they’re excited to come up and show me or what they’ve discovered, or what they’re willing to try is great.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, absolutely. So, if you were to give a teacher who is on the fence about making the switch, some advice, what would it be?

Kyra Sandstrom: I think it would be to pick something small and give it a go. Start with three items, a choice of three, and see what happens because the worst thing that can happen is it flops and then really what, we start over or we’re going to make sure but just give it a try. Just go for it but pick something small, and pick what you already have, but package it in a way that makes it a choice.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Kyra Sandstrom: I think that’s been my message to teachers. I work with. We have all this great stuff. Just package it together and now it becomes a choice.

Jenn Breisacher: I mean, I was even saying that for distance learning like, oh, you have a really great PowerPoint that you use. You can put it in Nearpod, you can put it in Seesaw, and they can draw on it. There are still so many ways to take what we already have because that’s one thing that upsets people.

They’re like I have all of these PowerPoint and all the lectures that I’ve given. Am I just used to throw them away? No, you can use them in a different way.

Yeah, absolutely. There are so many options out there and it makes me sad and frustrated to see so many teachers right now just burning out because they were not trained, or they don’t understand that just a little switch. Like you said, packaging it up a little differently will make your life so much easier. That’s not even during a pandemic, that’s during regular times too. This just made the pandemic a whole lot easier.

Kyra Sandstrom: Well, and I think we’ve talked about too, there’s a lot of things in this that we’ll keep as a school and as a team even when the pandemic is gone. There are certain things yes, that we’ll do away with but there are some good things in education that have come out with this and I think if we can get it, right, what a great testament to a change in education.

Jenn Breisacher: Yes.

Kyra Sandstrom: To get it right, not just to do it here and there, but to really hone in and do it right. What a great benefit to our students and for ourselves. If it saves us from that burnout, and from that frustration, is what keeps driving me.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s a whole package. It really is. It’s better for everybody. It might be just a little bit more work for you when you’re first starting out and trying to figure it out but once you know how it works, it’s not very difficult to put it together.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yeah, definitely. It’s an exciting time. It’s exhausting, of course, but to get it right, I think is the best part.

Jenn Breisacher: Yeah. It’s never going to be 100% right either. There will always be that one kid, you will never get rid of that one kid.

Kyra Sandstrom: It’s been worth it and exciting so thank you because the inspiration came, I was just digging around and researching and you came up so, it’s been

Jenn Breisacher:  I’m glad I came up.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yeah. Google is a great thing so yeah. So no, but it’s been happy to talk to you about it and continue kind of implementing and working and also helping other teachers has been… I’m a first-year teacher again. That brought all this on, but it’s been great.

Jenn Breisacher:  It’s the first-year teacher but without all of the… I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s just the re-planning side of it.

Kyra Sandstrom: Exactly.

Jenn Breisacher: Which you can think back to. That’s not as bad.

Kyra Sandstrom: No, I know, the school. I know routines and everything at the school and it’s yeah, now just a matter of curriculum. which anybody can figure out most of the time.

Jenn Breisacher: Right, in theory anyway.

Kyra Sandstrom: Exactly. Exactly.

Jenn Breisacher: Awesome. Well, thank you so much…

Kyra Sandstrom: Sure. My pleasure.

 Jenn Breisacher: …for taking our time today.

Kyra Sandstrom: Yeah, absolutely.

Classroom Transformation and the 4 Keys

Having a successful classroom transformation like this isn’t difficult, it just needs to ebb and flow with the students and where they are (physically, mentally, and emotionally). Being flexible is the key to making all of this work. The key is engagement. There are four keys to student engagement that I discuss in my video training challenge that releases twice per year. It is called “Finding Your Student Engagement Formula” and it walks you through those four keys and how to implement them in the classroom.

If you are interested in registering (it’s totally free), visit the Finding Your Student Engagement Formula Challenge registration page and you will be notified the next time the series is available.

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