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Happy Accidents

I once took a quilting class with a group of very diverse learners. Our one required project and final assessment, if you will, was a hand-pieced, hand-quilted sampler. It was amazing to see the diversity in our final products even though everyone had the same instructions and same expectations. As I finished my quilt top, I realized there wasn’t enough of my fabric to finish the border. My teacher used this as an opportunity to introduce the concept of a happy accident.
There are times we have detailed plans and clear expectations and then unexpectedly have to make adjustments. And sometimes those modifications turn out better than the original plan. I had to choose another fabric to add to the border of my quilt, and it turned out I liked it even better than the original choice. That was a happy accident. Happy accidents can occur not only in quilting but also in the classroom. So where can you look to discover some happy accidents?
We are accustomed to looking at specific sets of data such as graduation rates, state assessment data, and passing percentages at the end of the grading period. We also usually wait until the end of the school year to reflect on how things went. While those number sets bring a much-needed perspective in May or June, there are so many more places to look to get a surprising and sometimes even clearer view of learning smack dab in the middle of the school year.
Conduct Some Spontaneous Interviews
Find some students—those who find science easy and those who struggle—and ask them what they would change if they could. Ask parents what they like most about their children’s school. Challenge a teacher to share something that has brought a smile today. 
Survey Lesson Plans
Take a big-picture look at lesson plans to see how many days are spent on lab, how many days are review, and if content matches the district scope and sequence. Make this data a part of informal conversations, asking teachers to predict district trends, and then share what you have discovered. 
Find Out Who’s Doing the Talking
Step into classrooms to see what types of discourse are taking place. Is it teacher to student, student to teacher, or student to student? In a given amount of time such as a class period, which students answer many questions and which students don’t answer any questions at all? Are the questions posed in a yes/no format or do they require thought and reflection on the part of the students? All of this information can give food for thought to educators as they analyze their own practice.
As we approach the halfway mark of the school year, offer up an extra acknowledgement to the students and teachers who keep plugging away even when learning is hard because teaching and learning can happen in some amazing and unexpected ways. Let’s embrace the happy accidents that move us closer to the goal of satisfied, fulfilled teachers and well-rounded, scientifically literate students. Being an amazing educator is rarely an accident, but it can make both teachers and students pretty happy.        


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