21st Century, Action, Change, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

Rethink Everything

And start with rethinking worksheets.

I believe that in 7 minutes, you will never look at a worksheet in the same light ever again. What are we doing to our kids when we don’t take the time and effort to breathe creativity and agency into our classrooms?

If you are interested in taking this discussion further, take a look at The Ten Principles For Schools Of Modern Learning. This Whitepaper is the best thing I have read about education and change since I read Seth Godin’s Education Manifesto.

I have just started a course in Creative Teaching and Learning as (a final) part of my Masters Degree and my hope is that we will come up with practical ways to inject greater creativity into schools. One of my classmates shared this video and in it, the speaker tells of the need for knowledge in order to fuel creativity.

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The idea being that having knowledge helps you build creative ideas to problems  and challenges. Do you agree?  I certainly side with Tony Wagner’s thought that “it is not WHAT you know but what you DO with what you know” and believe that the ‘knowing’ and the ‘knowledge’ are important parts to being a creative person.

It comes as no surprise to me that Tony Wagner is an “Expert Education Advisor” for the award-winning film “Most Likely to Succeed”. A ‘grown up’ version of the animated ‘Alike’ this film is on my list of things to watch (when I write up my grant proposal to get the money for a screening).

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

 

 

Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

Begin as you mean to continue…

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I came across this on Twitter just before (or after) the New Year. It seemed timely and thought provoking and I have been pondering calling this my ‘motto’ for the year ahead.

In many ways, this is how I do things. I tend to take massive bites and try and wrap my head around large ideas (and ideals) in a very ‘gung-ho’ manner. My aim is not greatness but more the desire to do something of significance and magnitude.

But what if I have been going about it all wrong?  Would smaller nibbles that potentially yield greater outcomes be a better option? Maybe making a difference one person at a time rather than expecting a revolution?

Which method would help add the most value?

A wise thinker I know said recently:

The journey to disruption may be lonely but fundamental to our ability to serve and add value.

-Will Northrop What If Concepts

Is he advocating for a nibble approach? Or is he just reminding us that not every attempt to serve and add value will be done with fanfare and a loud support squad? And that some of our most important work might be the work done alone?

So which approach to take?

What will you do this year to serve?  To add value? To disrupt? To innovate? 

As for me, three separate opportunities recently were in my path. I put myself out there for all three and was summarily rejected. For all three. On the same day. This led me to question many things but then to reflect on the purpose for seeking those roles in the first place: to inspire, to lead, to learn, and to grow. Are these ideals now out of my reach? No. Just moved to a different (yet to be determined) context.

I then got three new opportunities (over different days this time!): to work on a project involving math videos for lower primary students, to share ideas on “Swamp Dwellers, Fence Sitters, and Go Getters” with a school developing a 1:1 iPad environment, and a book in the mail recommended by a parent in order to develop a personalized learning approach to how we do school.  Inspiring? Leading? Learning? Growing? Yes, on all counts.

I will continue to “choke on greatness” but also with the thought in mind that not all ‘greatness’ will be heralded by a crowd – or known to anyone at all for that matter.

Inspiration, Leadership

Raise Your Voice!

I read an article tonight about some students in Denver, Colorado who walked out of classes in a planned protest again the School Board’s recent proposal to that course materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strike or disregard of the law.”

High school students Bronwyn Elisha, center left, and Tori Leu, center right, cheer as a passing motorist honk in support of their protest against a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, at Ralston Valley High School, in Arvada, Colo., Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014. Students from at least two high schools walked out of class Tuesday in the second straight day of protests in Jefferson County. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)(Credit: AP)

As I looked at this photo,  I couldn’t help but think how incredibly proud their teachers must be. To have organized (via social media and texting) a peaceful, educated protest in order to have an education that allows them the opportunity to learn from history.

They were not the only young people using their voices for good this week.  Brown graduate and actress, Emma Watson, delivered a moving speech at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the HeForShe campaign, the goal of which is motivating men and boys to end gender inequality.

Her speech was a strong, educated, passionate example of how important it is to seize any opportunity that comes your way when given the chance to use your voice. Emma shared her own nervousness about her speech, offering the following advice to herself and to others who may question wether or not they should speak out:

In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt, I told myself firmly: if not me, who? If not now, when?” – Emma Watson, UN HeForShe Speech

Finally, motivation doesn’t get much more motivational than from high school football player, Apollos Hester. He delivered the following speech in response to his team winning their football game by one point:

All of these young people are remarkable examples of how powerful their voices are.  This made me question my own teaching and how often I encourage and give opportunity for students to raise their voices.

How do you allow your students to raise their voices in your classroom? Could you hang this poster in your classroom?  Would your kids believe you meant it?

21st Century, Leadership, Reflection

What Is School For?

What is school for?

According to Seth Godin, this is a question we’re not nearly spending enough time asking each other.

Today, Seth posted on his blog: The wasteful fraud of sorting youth for meritocracy. His post his brilliant.  I know that I say everything Seth does is brilliant, but this is really worth reading. It challenges us to rethink the way we ‘do school’ and the way we ‘sort’ children in school.  Is this what school is for?  A giant institutional sorting hat?

 My husband and I watched this video (and by this, I mean I played it over and over and he kept asking when my “very exciting video” would be over).  It did lead to an interesting discussion that we have had before on the purpose of school and what sort of education we want for our daughter. We realize she is still a baby, but it is good to talk about it.  It makes me wonder how many others are having this conversation too.  When we think about what we want for our daughter the list reads something like this:

-to be inspired to learn

-to delve deeper into things she is passionate about

-to become a caring, kind, collaborator

-to learn about the world she lives in and the people she shares the planet with

-to have fun, to play, to try new things

-to ask if she needs help

-to do something interesting, to figure things out

 

Does that sound like your school? 

Take a look at Seth’s Stop Stealing Dreams TEDx talk.  

 

“If you care enough about your work to be willing to be criticized for it, you have done a good day’s work.” ~ Seth Godin

So, again, What is school for?

Will Richardson posted 19 Back to School Questions for School Administrators.  The list is thoughtful, engaging, and would produce some pretty interesting dialogue.  I particularly like the following four questions that pertain to my new line of work:

  • How do you use technology to learn?
  • What was the last artifact of your own learning that you created with technology?
  • What expectations do you have for your teachers’ use of technology in their own learning?
  • What expectations do you have for your teachers’ use of technology in the classroom?

He then went on to ask his readers for a suggestion to round the list out to 20. I started off by offering this:

Tweet One

and then after reading through all of this from Seth, changed my mind to this:

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If you have not read Seth’s manifesto Stop Stealing Dreams and you care about education and the future of education, then I implore you to find the time to read it.  It doesn’t have all the answers but it has a lot to get you thinking – and it led me to Imagine A School of my dreams. 

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Inquiry, Leadership

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.

Leadership, Reflection

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!

Leadership

RIP Nelson Mandela

I had just finished uploading some photos of my six month old baby girl to Facebook when a beautiful picture of and an inspiring quote from Nelson Mandela filled my newsfeed.  And another.  And another. As someone who can’t hear his name without remembering the Free Nelson Mandela concerts, I feel like he is someone who I imagined would always be around.  How could he not?  The world needs his overwhelming goodness, kindness, humility, humanity, courage, and hope. And then I saw another picture and another quote:

Mandela 1

 

And I am reminded that whilst we no longer have Nelson Mandela with us on earth, we have this message which I truly believe resides within everyone who chooses to teach.  It’s why we do what we do.  And even though some days it feels so far, far removed from what we do, student by student, we are powerfully changing the world.

For the past two years, I have led The Passion Project with my fifth graders for their PYP Exhibition Unit.  This year, new school, new grade, things look a little different but the Passion Project will be remixed into a two week intensive unit (think a mashup of Passion Project and Genius Hour) in the new year.  I would like to dedicate this time to the memory and inspirational life of Nelson Mandela:

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Thank you to all those teachers dedicating their lives to changing the world.

Thank you to all those people who play big, who pick themselves, who live lives that are full and passionate.

Thank you, Mr. Mandela.

Leadership

Leaders: Born or Made?

Clearly inspired by yesterday’s post, Gaping Void asked the age old question today: Are leaders born or are they made?

Great question.

Hugh goes on to answer:

We won’t argue which side wins, but we all must agree that made or born, it starts from within. A drive to make a difference to those around you. A simple idea that many people just don’t get.

And summarizes his thoughts with this great image:

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This post is dedicated to Marina Gijzen, a born leader who has taken the time to develop and refine her leadership skills, driven by a pure vision from within to make a difference. You are exceptional – go for it!

Leadership

A Successful School Leader…

How would you complete that sentence?

What qualities are needed to be a successful school leader?

This is something that is important to me.  I have worked in a number of different schools in the 17 years that I have been teaching and it is becoming so much more important to me that I work for and with a principal and Head of School that possess the qualities of a great leader.  But what are these qualities?

For me, the qualities of a great leader are defined as:

  • Fearlessness: Not operating from a place of fear. Embracing the unknown.
  • Passion: Loving what you do and excelling at it.
  • Vision: Looking ahead, looking forward, embracing the unknown.
  • Action: Acting on one’s vision
  • Kindness: The world needs more of this.  Be kinder than necessary.

What would make your list?

Author, Jeremy Sutcliffe wondered the same thing: “What are the qualities needed to make a successful school leader?”  He asked this question and then published his results in a book (unimaginatively) called  8 Qualities of Successful School Leaders: the desert island challenge, published by Bloomsbury.

Here are his top eight:

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  1. Vision
  2. Courage
  3. Passion
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Judgement
  6. Resilience
  7. Persuasion
  8. Curiosity

In this article from the Guardian, the ideas behind the words are explained in a little more detail and make for interesting reading.

What kind of leader do you need?  What kind of leader are you?

 

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Leadership, Teaching

The Parent Trap

Any excuse to get in another photo of my cute little girl.
Any excuse to get in another photo of my cute little girl.

I have always said that the beginning of a new school year is one of my favorite times as a teacher.  Aside from the school supplies (come on – who doesn’t love new school supplies!) there is that option for things to be different – better, stronger, more thoughtful, more personalized….better. I think the day I start a school year without wondering how it can be better is the day I need to stop teaching.

Last year I began my year with massive intentions. I penned a letter to my incoming students and their families and I was so ready for an awesome year. While the year did not pan out as I had anticipated, it was a learning experience nonetheless and as I begin this year, here are five things I have learned with particular regard to parents:

  1. Be straight up with parents from the beginning. This can be hard but it is worth it. If you notice something in their child, see if they notice it too.  Don’t be quick to ‘fix’ the child, but let the parents know that you know.
  2. Stop unproductive parent interactions immediately.  I had the unfortunate experience of a couple of sets of very negative parents who would randomly bombard me with emails that didn’t move conversations forward or seek to solve problems. I am sure this will happen again at some point. When it does, I will ask to meet with these people so that we can solve the issue in a timely manner. I know this sounds logical but you know the type of parents I am talking about and for me anyway, it can be tough to initiate such a conversation.
  3. Tap into your parent body and share your why with them. In as much as I was more challenged in a negative way by parents last year than ever before, I was also more challenged in a positive way by parents too. Our parents are smart, educated, thoughtful, caring people. In the past three years, they have provided me with some of the best PD I have had through the sharing of resources, books, websites, and the conversations we have had back and forth. Thankfully technology means these conversations will continue, and I hope will be enhanced by interactions with my new parent body too.
  4. Be clear in your expectations. I find when parents know what you expect, they are more comfortable with what you ask of their children. Again, I think this goes back to explaining why you are doing what you are doing, not just outlining the nuts and bolts of a task.
  5. Thank your parents. A lot. For everything. Always.

I was reading an article titled 19 Meaningful Questions You Should Ask Your Child’s Teacher. The list is thorough, challenging, and as the title states, meaningful.  It would also be quite overwhelming as a teacher to be asked all 19 in one session – the author suggests parents opt for one or two to start and work their way through them as the year progresses.

Here is the list:

19 Questions Your Child’s Teacher Would (Probably) Love to Answer

  1. What academic standards do you use, and what do I need to know about them?
  2. How will you respond if or when my child struggles in class?
  3. What are the most important and complex (content-related) ideas my child needs to understand by the end of the year?
  4. Do you focus on strengths or weaknesses?
  5. How are creativity and innovative thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  6. How is critical thinking used on a daily basis in your classroom?
  7. How are assessments designed to promote learning rather than simple measurement?
  8. What can I do to support literacy in my home?
  9. What kinds of questions do you suggest that I ask my children on a daily basis about your class?
  10. How exactly is learning personalized in your classroom? In the school?
  11. How do you measure academic progress?
  12. What are the most common instructional or literacy strategies you will use this year?
  13. What learning models do you use (e.g., project-based learning, mobile learning, game-based learning, etc.), and what do you see as the primary benefits of that approach?
  14. What are the best school or district resources for students and/or families that no one uses?
  15. Is there technology you’d recommend that can help support my child in self-directed learning?
  16. What are the most common barriers you see to academic progress in your classroom?
  17. How is education changing?
  18. How do you see the role of the teacher in the learning process?
  19. What am I not asking but should be?

 

As teachers, we often lament the lack of interest or involvement of our parents.  I wonder what we would do if these questions were asked of us?  Would we be able to answer them in a smart, eloquent way?

As a new parent, I am a long way off from my first parent-teacher conference in the role of the parent. My husband has already vetoed my right to speak with my child’s teacher as he thinks I will be too scary. I think hearing the answers to some of these questions would be really interesting and offer insight into the type of person my child will be spending so much time with.

Questions 4,7 and 11 are grounded in the idea of assessment and progress and would be ones I would both want to know about as a parent, but also ones I want to be able to give really clear, honest answers about as a teacher.  Anyone who answers question 17 by referencing Seth Godin would rocket straight to the top of my ‘best teacher ever’ list 🙂

How do you initiate or encourage these types of questions from your parents?

How do you ensure there really is a partnership between parents and teachers at your school?