Always Pick Yourself

Pick Yourself. It is a phrase coined (or popularized perhaps is a more apt description) by Seth Godin.  At his NYC day event that I was fortunate enough to attend two years ago, he gave out guitar picks with this written on them.

Pick yourself

I grabbed a handful of these at the event and they will often appear randomly around our house.  We just moved and whilst unpacking, I came across a purple Pick Yourself pick in a box. It now sits on my daughter’s bottle drying rack in our kitchen.

Pick Yourself.  Pick Yourself.  Pick Yourself.

This is a good reminder for me on a number of levels and yet I still often value other people picking me (external validation) over my own belief in myself.

Since I started sharing my thinking via this blog I have been approached by people asking for help with getting into international teaching, by people who would like to repost my posts, by publications wanting to publish my posts as articles, by the IBO to lead initiatives in sharing practice and in technology education. I have been validated by these people: “We pick you!” “We choose you!” I also am a sucker for the stats that are generated by WordPress.  How many pageviews?  From how many countries? These external motivators do just that: they motivate me to keep publishing, keep posting. They are not my only motivation but I am suckered in when I see other people “picking me”.

Today, I met with my principal to have, essentially, a “Pick Me” conversation. I want to be picked to continue on next year with some work I have started in my role as Curriculum Coordinator. The conversation was good and whilst I do not know the outcome of our discussion in terms of me continuing in the role, it has had me thinking all day: am I picking myself or waiting to be picked?  What if I am not picked? Do I pick myself anyway?  Do I do the work for free, in my own time? Do I show that titles don’t matter, having a heart for change is what is important?

I know what Seth would say:

It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work.

If you’re hoping that the HR people you sent your resume to are about to pick you, it’s going to be a long wait. Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound.

No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.

~Seth Godin, Reject the Tyranny of Being Picked: Pick Yourself

 

So I started to do this.  I wrote what is essentially my own “job description” and I have a plan for what I would like to do. There is still a part of me that questions: How do I know that the opportunities I see and the problems I want to solve, match the vision and purpose of my school? Do I wait for our paths to align or do I pull them together? This is where the permission-seeker in me dwells: in that place between ruckus-maker and rule-follower.  Between employee and innovator.

The whole process has been thought-provoking. The outcome, unknown.

The Internet – Friend or Foe?

Mind/Shift shared a photo via Twitter on my Facebook feed. The image was a modified London Underground Map.  The purpose of the map was to provide students with options for transitions when writing:

Map created by @jamieclark85 - click on image to visit his website for further information and to download the map

Map created by @jamieclark85 – click on image to visit his website for further information and to download the map.

 

I love it when people use slick design combined with relevant ideas to communicate with their students.  When Mind/Shift posted the photo, they acknowledged the source via his Twitter handle.  A quick search on Twitter, led me to his profile where I quickly made him someone that I will follow.  It also pointed me to his WordPress blog which I also followed so that when he posts more gems, I will be one of the first to know. Having done this, I perused his blog, downloaded some of his files for use in my classroom and then created this post. During all this, I found another link to UKEDChat, who had written about the use of maps in classrooms to help students make connections with ideas, given links to an online tool to create your own map, and provided photos from teachers around the UK who have already put this idea into practice.

And then I watched this:

 

“This media we call ‘social’ is anything but…”

Now, granted, I have not engaged in a conversation with Jamie, we are not friends – yet we are “friends”. I have watched this video three times today and I have been amazed by the number of people who have shared it. When I first started using social media I was a Facebook only person.  That has expanded over time to include my blog, Twitter, Pinterest…and more.  But how I use social media is also changing.  My feed is spattered with pictures of sunsets, plates of food, people’s kids, and snapshots of idyllic lives being lived. But it is also full of politics, world news, educational links, discoveries, ideas, passions, and things that make me think, wonder, and want to connect with others either by sharing what I find or by using what I find in my classroom.

I agree that we need to look up more. I wish I could embed a video of the giggles let loose from my daughter’s two-tooth filled mouth as we pushed her on the swings in the park today. But that would have meant I couldn’t be grabbing her little legs with my hands and staring into her adorable little face.  I didn’t want her to see a rectangular box as she swooped down, but our crazy, happy faces almost touching hers. And yet without social media, I don’t think I would be the same teacher I am today.  I don’t think I would have the ability to connect with people who are liked-minded, to make new connections, and to renew connections from years ago.

I am grateful that I get to add @jamieclark85 to my tribe. I am grateful for the reminder to look up.

Internet – friend or foe?  I am going to go with friend.

Find the Others

A colleague at school today asked me how long I had been blogging.  Two years.

Two years.

Some of that has been prolific.  Some of that, stagnant.  All of it has been inspiring me as a teacher.  The more I made connections with others beyond my immediate proximity – those “others” out there with their like mindedness, passion, and curiosity, the more I was motivated to do more. My goal was never to build a massive following. My goals were:

  • to have a forum to think through ideas that would enhance and transform my teaching
  • to share best practice – or at least, share “my best” in the hopes of becoming better
  • to give back to a profession that had been so generous in helping me develop who I am as a teacher
  • to never shy away from saying what I think

Slowly, I have built a little following.  Seth Godin would say, I have gathered my tribe. I am motivated by the possibility of something better than what currently exists in education.   I don’t want to sit passively and wait for change.  I want to seek change. Kick it out from it’s dark corners and musty shelves and shine a light on it.

Over time, I have found others who share my philosophy, who challenge my thinking, who offer similar – yet diverse- perspectives. A new follower of my blog sent me the following link.  I have a new-found love for Graphic Novels so this appealed to me not only for its style but its message.  Take a second to click on the image below and read the whole story.  And then, find the others. Your soul will thank you for it.

Find the Others

1000 Pinholes

Two weeks ago, I went to the opening of the Matisse Cut Outs Exhibition at the Tate Modern.  It is the largest collection of his paper cutouts ever assembled and included a couple of fascinating movies of the artist at work, culminating in his magnificent paper cut outs transformed into stained glass windows – breathtaking.

Henri Matisse is the embodiment of persistence.  After becoming ill and no longer able to paint and sculpt, Matisse turned to his scissors.  His work shows the transition from the fluidity of the brush to the more definitive slicing of paper.  Undeterred by the change in medium of expression, Matisse would simply cut and cut and cut, adding layers and shapes to his cut outs to achieve the desired look.  He would pin his work in place before gluing it down.  One of his pieces had more than 1000 pinholes in it as he continued to arrange and rearrange to get the desired outcome.

1000 pinholes.

Persistence.  It is something we talk about, encourage in our kids, hope to embody in our own lives.  Sticking with something until it’s done – whatever that looks like to you.  Matisse had persistence in spades.  He was often commissioned by philanthropists and art lovers to create bespoke work and during this process, would often have his designs and colors perpetually rejected.  He embraced this rejection.  Embraced it.  An elderly man, in failing health, and he chose to live his life having his work critiqued and rejected, offering him the opportunity to put together different colors, shapes, patterns – all with the goal of finding a palate and design that was perfect for his client. He was inherently persistent.

So how can we build this in our kids?

I think one of the things we need to be doing is continually pointing out the gains that are being made as learners – even when these ‘gains’ are not necessarily directly related to the acquisition of knowledge. What do I mean?  Say you had asked your kids to write a persuasive essay.  Your student works hard but ultimately their work is not meeting the agreed upon criteria.  If all of your focus goes on the product (the essay) the motivation to persist in the face of perceived “failure” may be quite low. If, however, you were to employ Guy Claxton’s Split Screen approach, you would still take time to evaluate and discuss the essay, but then you would ‘split’ your time by discussing the process. What tools would have helped more?  What questions could have been asked?  What was good about the way the work was initially organized?

Split Screen

By “splitting” between process and product, students can see that they ARE making progress and growth in their learning.  The skills you help them see that they have developed can be transferred to the next task.  They will be more likely to persist when they can see the possibility that exists within themselves.  As teachers, we have to help shine a light on that possibility.

Inspired

*I have written previously about Process-vs-Product.  Check it out here.

Change the Conversation

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This is today’s gem from Hugh at GapingVoid.  Of this image he says:

“If your company isn’t innovating, it’s likely because no one is facilitating the right conversations.”

So what are the right conversations?

Well, one conversation I would like to be having is with practical innovator, Marc Prensky.  Marc has been an advocate for innovation in education for some time.  His latest conversation embraces the idea of Future Oriented Education. He challenges us to ask ourselves the question: “Is this future-oriented education or is it ‘past-ucation':

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There is nothing Marc would rather do than change the conversation about the way we educate in schools. His writing on technology, innovation, 21st century learning, digital natives, and the changing teaching paradigm are all priceless – and so worth reading. I started highlighting the points that really resonated with me from the following four articles and was soon swimming in a sea of neon.  It is all worth reading. Check out his Global Future Education Advisory Archive.

His thinking about technology really resonates with me.  Read this excerpt from his third GFEA:

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It’s not about stuff.  It’s not about different ways to do what we do now. Technology is an extension of our brains.  It is a new way of thinking. And it is a conversation worth having if you hope to lead an innovative school.  In the same way that no teacher who dismissed writing or reading or math as “unimportant” or something to be scheduled once a week, would ever get hired, should someone who is not willing to embrace the use of technology as an extension of thinking be given a job as an educator? Is it ok for teachers to say, “That’s not for me”.  “I am not comfortable with that” and continue with their past-ucation ways?

Today in a problem-solving math class I asked the students if they should be allowed to use laptops and calculators when solving the problems.  There was a resounding “No!” and cries of “Cheating!”. Really?  Further discussion led to some children conceding that perhaps it would be ok….sometimes….but only for really hard problems.  I suggested that in using technology to help solve the problem, they would still be required to think like mathematicians and evaluate the reasonableness of their answer before submitting it. Does it look right?  Does it seem possible?  A few more converted.

In thinking about the future of education and where we need to be heading, it is pretty clear that what we do need to keep doing is having conversations that push us closer to innovation. If a one-woman schoolhouse that is actually a boat equipped with solar panels to juice up the internet floating from house to house to pick up students and bobble around teaching them all day on water can move ahead from ‘how things were done’, why can’t we?

For your reading pleasure: Carl Hooker on How Technology Trends Have Influenced the Classroom.

 

 

 

The Value of a Critical Friend

One of the things I have often talked about, is how grateful I have been to work with people whom I could discuss educational ideas with and who would give me thoughtful, honest feedback.  They would provide a different perspective, reinforce my beliefs, or challenge me to think more deeply.  The more I have traveled, the more I have come to realize that these friends are ones to be treasured – and they can’t be found just anywhere.

This week, I had an appraisal visit by our Assistant Principal.  It is my second of the year and it begins with a 10-15 minute discussion about the lesson to be observed.  I sat down with my appraiser two days prior to the lesson and confessed that I had no idea what I was going to be doing.  I am pretty sure that I did most of the talking, punctuated by a few softly spoken but well directed questions that kept making me expand and clarify my thinking. I left that short meeting more inspired and enthusiastic than I had been in a while. The lesson that grew out of that meeting was the one I just posted about on my blog and on a shared blog for inquiry teachers. It was a great lesson and quite honestly I owe most of that to being given the opportunity to sit with someone and share my thoughts knowing that this person wants me to succeed, is interested in ideas about inquiry, and is really listening to me and the needs of my classroom.

Do you have this person (or group of people) at your school?

criticalFriends

One of the things I have always said is that there is a wealth of talent within the faculty of a school.  A lot of important professional development can come from people meeting to discuss ideas. But it has to go deeper than that.  There has to be a level of accountability. There has to be some kind of tangible purpose.  You have to be prepared to have someone hold the mirror up to your teaching practice really closely – and then you have to be prepared to potentially change the way you do what you do.  It is this that motivates me about teaching. The variety.  The opportunity to try new ideas.

Thankfully, it seems that life has a way of connecting such like-minded individuals together.  But what if ‘life’ forgets to connect?  At the beginning of our school year, our Deputy Head of School wanted to initiate a Critical Friends group.  He wanted about 8 or so people who were willing to commit to meeting, discussing, observing, and of coming together with questions about their teaching in order to improve their practice.  For scheduling reasons, this group never took off.  Now, more than ever, I am convinced that this is the type of forum that is beneficial for me as an educator.

One of the key factors that makes a Critical Friends group different from say, a PLN, is that the Critical Friends are all from within your own school. By working collaboratively with the support of the school you are no longer trying out ideas in isolation nor are you swimming alone as you try and navigate new waters of ideas.  In an ASCD article, Deborah Bambino cites four roles of Critical Friends groups:

  • Critical Friends give feedback
  • Critical Friends collaborate
  • Critical Friends find new solutions
  • Critical Friends collaborate

There is a protocol to be followed when being a critical friend.  It can look something like this:

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If you are interested, here is some further reading on the topic of Critical Friends – and not just for teachers!

A Geometry Inquiry with Attitude

One of my concerns is that math in my classroom is not as inquiry based as I would like it to be.  My students and I just began a unit on Geometry.  I gave the pretest and for the most part, students had a spattering of knowledge and the test was completed with much hair pulling and cries of “Man! I KNOW this….but….I forgot!”.  When we went over the paper, I could see a collective “aha” from the majority of the students as they started to dust off the vocabulary sitting at the back of their minds.  So, what to do?

I did some scouring of the internet and came up with a couple of really interesting reads: Angle Measurement – An Opportunity for Equity, and Inquiry Maths: A Parallel Lines Inquiry.

After reading these articles, the next day my students and I sat with the pretest and pulled the vocabulary from it.  They spent the lesson with math dictionaries, math tools, the Khan Academy, and various math text books from the classroom shelves in order to create an understanding of what these terms meant.  They found all these connections that I wanted them to know but didn’t want to just tell them: that perpendicular lines were also intersecting lines but not all intersecting lines are perpendicular.  Same with equilateral triangles and isosceles triangles (all equilateral triangles are isosceles but all isosceles are not equilateral). Some asked if they could work on their “Math Dictionaries” at home.  Others took screen shots of Khan Academy videos and added their own notes.  I told them they were preparing for an inquiry and they needed to be well equipped!

The next day, we discussed the idea of using math as a language. I drew a rectangle on the board in purple marker.  If this were to be described using the English language, I would call it “Purple Box”.  If it were to be described using Math language, I would call it “A rectangular quadrangle with interior angles of 90 degrees each (right angles) formed by a set of horizontal, parallel line segments and a set of vertical, parallel line segments. They got the idea.

I told the class that this was an open, collaborative inquiry. That meant they were free to consult any source they needed in order to extend their inquiry and that the work was collaborative in that I wanted them to build off each others ideas.  I have 18 students (I know, I am blessed!) and so I printed off 9 pictures (3 of each image) so that children had a choice of where to work in the small room.  I also wanted to be able to have them come together with other groups during the next lesson to share and compare their findings. Before I showed them the images, I shared the Success Criteria for the lesson:

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Here are the images I used, the first one from the Parallel Lines inquiry and the second and third from another Inquiry Maths Inquiry:

Image

Image

Image

 

My students were shown the pictures, reminded of the Success Criteria for the lesson,  and were off!  It was fascinating.  They partnered up in a similar fashion to the day before when they were creating their vocabulary understandings and quickly started to use their knowledge to describe their image. I “casually” asked if anyone wanted a protractor (YES! YES! YES!).  As I wandered around I saw children reading, questioning, measuring and using their math language to describe the image in front of them.  “Can we draw on it?”  Yes!  For one group who had the star shaped image, this led to some pretty crazy coloring/marking which to my naive eye looked more like silly scribbling than serious math but I let them keep going.  One group started talking about symmetry and I found some mirrors and laid them on their table which started another investigation into where that line of symmetry actually was.

This was supposed to last 15 minutes but it was clear they had more than 15 minutes of math language in them!  As the end of the lesson neared, I asked them to briefly group with the other people who had the same image to get an idea of what others had done. Cries of, “I was going to do that next!”, “I hadn’t thought of that!”, “I forgot to put that, too! ” and  “Where did you get a mirror from?!” were heard around the room.

I have a really great class of kids but like all kids they need to be asked to think about why they do what they do and how they are behaving.  As a PYP school, we offer a values-laden curriculum so teaching about attitudes is part of what we do.  We are currently working on the culminating project of the PYP – the Exhibition.  It requires a lot of group work and one of the things I am noticing is that students need more than to be physically placed in a pod of four students, for group work to be successful.  We have been looking at the type of attitudes we expect to see at our school and I wanted them to see the connection to this in math class so I gave them the following exit slip for the lesson:

Success Criteria

 

Their comments were so insightful:

curiosity…because I wanted to see just how much I could write in math language

confidence…because I knew I knew a lot about this and I knew I could describe the picture in a lot of details

respect…because I listened to the ideas of the person I was working with and also added my ideas

and the student that I thought was goofing off:

creativity…because I was able to add really colorful and interesting designs to our star and it looked really good and then it also helped my group see patterns within the star and we were able to add a lot more information

 

I think the students were not the only ones learning something today!

To download a PDF of the lesson plan and materials used today, click here