Re-thinking learning for the 21st Century

I feel like my teaching life is a hot mess right now, but I kind of love it

If my professional learning has done anything this year, it has turned me into a hot mess. A good hot mess. But a hot mess just the same.

Last year I was organized. I knew what lesson came next in my unit. I knew which Google Docs to use and when to use them. I knew which resources to have at the tips of my fingers in my classroom. I had my timing for lessons, learning activities, and projects down to the minute.

This year, while I’m keeping many of the overall learning goals for my classroom the same, the path to which we achieve these learning goals is changing.  And I don’t always know my next step.

Which leads me to this…

I feel like a hot mess teacher this year, but I believe my students are better off for it.

In December and January, my Cohort 21 Action Plan had very clear goals. I generated a meaningful list of items I could check off a to do list.

And check them off I did.

You see, I’m really good at organization.

I surveyed my students. I visited and observed a teacher I admired in Ottawa. I reviewed some old materials I want to start using again. I read a book. I started making changes in my classroom with new technology.

But I’ve finished all of the “things” on my list and now I’m testing out what I’ve learned. I’m living in a phase of experimentation, and it’s messy. It’s absolutely not organized.

Initially, I had this great idea that I would give myself permission to only experiment with one class. If I’m only playing around with one grade, I’d save myself from this exact feeling of hot mess-ness everywhere in my day.

But (unfortunately? fortunately?) I kept learning new ideas that were perfect for each of my different classes, and I was too excited to wait. I wanted to test them all, so I decided if I was going to play with my program and my teaching practice, I’m going all in.

It’s exciting and fun, and I kind of love it. It’s make me more flexible as a person, that’s for sure.

However, my Cohort 21 Action plan for February to April has pretty much two things on it. Try out new interactive oral communication learning activites in the classroom. Decide which ones work and do them again.

This is not what I thought the end of my Cohort 21 year would look like. I’m sure by April, I’ll still be in this experimentation phase: Discover/Create new ways to get my students speaking to each other in French. Try them out. Repeat.

In a future post, I plan to share exactly what I’ve learned about interactive oral communication in the FSL  classroom and what learning activities have, so far, been successful in my classes.

For now, it’s been a learning curve for me, a person who craves a plan, to live in this space of the unknown. This phase of testing things out. It’s ironic that while I feel a bit less certain of what we’re doing, because much of it is new to me, my students are building their confidence with language.

I can already tell some of our experiments are working. Many of my students are speaking more French in class than they have in a long while.  We moved into a new classroom a few weeks ago, and I think that has helped as well. It was a fresh start in a different, new space with different, new expectations.

I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to try out so many new things in my classroom all at once if I didn’t have such wonderful support from my Cohort 21 team, my Montcrest colleagues, and our school administration. Their encouragement that I’m on the right track definitely keeps me going on days where I’m feeling particularly hot mess-y.



  1. Leslie Farooq

    Hi Jennifer,

    This sounds like productive organized chaos. I cannot wait to find out which strategies have worked well enough that you have tried them twice or more. Getting students to speak French more often is a huge win. I am so happy for you! From one organized list lover to another, hang in there! You’ve got this!

  2. Erin Imrie

    Here’s to hot messes!

  3. Mackenzie Neale

    Jennifer, I absolutely love this post! Thank you for making me feel like I’m not the only one who is (always) a hot mess. I used to be an organized person before I became a teacher and now I feel like I always have a pile of papers littering my desk that never end up either back in the hands of students with good feedback, or filed properly in neat little folders. However; I feel like my students are getting so engaged in speaking French that all the other stuff doesn’t matter as much. Yes, I know I have a lot of work to do on giving kids feedback so that they can better set their own goals, and I can improve upon my data collection so that I have an organized snapshot of each child’s progress, but isn’t the most important part of our jobs to help kids (learn to love) to speak French?

    I also love how you’ve linked ideas from this blog post to previous posts! So smart 🙂

    • Jennifer Bairos

      Thanks, Mackenzie! I literally just bought myself a pretty desk tray for all of the random papers that cross my desk in a day, so at least I didn’t look like a hot mess to my students. I totally agree with your point about feedback as well. I’d love to give my students more meaningful feedback as well, but right now I’m okay with their errors as long as their happy speaking French. Refinement will come later.
      See you soon!

  4. Garth Nichols

    Jen, I don’t think you’re a hot mess. I think that you’re embracing the ambiguity that comes from really generative change. It can feel as you described, and it can be scary and empowering all at the same time.

    What are some pieces of advice you have for others who are ready to take this approach on as well?

    In terms of oral technologies, I would recommend checking out Voicethread. My colleague and Cohort 21 alum’ Lee Hamr (@lhamr) just demonstrated how she uses it, and it is worth looking into. Reach out to Lee too, she’s a great resource!


    • Jennifer Bairos

      Hi Garth,

      Thank you for the encouragement. I tinkered a bit with Voicethread ages ago and had forgotten all about it. Thank you for the reminder.

      Advice I’d give others for experimenting with their program on a large scale is to set small, meaningful goals. I tell myself that my students haven’t had this level of expectation in terms of their interactive communication with each other before (at least with me as their teacher), and I want them to feel successful. If we can do something brand new for 10-15 minutes of a lesson, and all feel good about it, that’s progress! And then we take another step tomorrow.

      Secondly, this process has really taught me what I’ve been doing in my classes that can easily be dropped, and I’ve had to learn to let things go. It always feels like we never have enough time to do all the things; however, when you find a new “thing” you’re passionate about for your students, it eventually becomes much clearer what can be weeded out.

      See you soon, Jenn

  5. Lee Hamr

    Just read your post and Garth’s comment . Sounds like you have some great work afoot! I’ve been using Voicethread in science and social science, but I trained as a French teacher, too 🙂 Please feel free to reach out if you want to find out how Voicethread could help you tackle some of your communication goals. It might be a good match.

    • Jennifer Bairos

      Thanks, Lee! I used Voicethread ages ago and had totally forgotten about it. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

  6. Jennifer Weening

    Such a great post, @jbairos! It sounds like you’re doing amazing work in your classroom, modeling exactly what we want our students to be doing: being willing not to be perfect but try new things, challenge themselves, and be okay with things going wrong. You’re setting an amazing example for them, and for your Cohort21 colleagues (like me!)


    • Jennifer Bairos

      Thanks for the encouragement, Jen! It means a lot.

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