Empathy, Reflection, Responsive Classroom

Genuinely Proactive

Today I joined our Middle School teachers for a Responsive Classroom all-day workshop. We have been introduced to RC through faculty meetings but it was great to spend the whole day learning ‘from the ground up’ as this is something our Primary School has been working on prior to my starting at NIS.

The day offered a lot to think about:

Responsive Classroom - 1

With so much going on, the biggest takeaway for me was to be genuine and proactive in my dealings with kids. I really like that RC gives you permission to “go slow to go fast later” in the way you take the time to set up a strong social/emotional foundation on which to build academic growth and understanding.

I know I need to be more intentional and more specific in my language and continue to look for ways to have kids actively involved in their learning.

Most of all, I really appreciated the time to reflect on how things have started this year and how I hope to improve them as we move on. Here’s one idea that was sparked in our faculty meeting yesterday, percolated in my mind during the workshop and was refined in a 2 minute cafeteria conversation with our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen:

Rest Area!

During a discussion about regulatory zones and helping kids who have trouble self-regulating, there was a “blue zone” with the symbol for a Rest Area:

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I have taken this idea and have prepared a rest area sign for my room. I modeled to one class how they might choose to come here to take a breath, re-focus, or simply rest. Students were intrigued. As well as choosing to go there, I also said I may invite some students to hang out there if I felt they needed a rest. I was happy with this idea as a proactive way of addressing potentially problematic behaviors. Marina then suggested that when introducing this area to the classes I teach, I let the kids know that “Today, everyone will get a chance to use the Rest Area. When I come by and tap you on the shoulder, just head over there and stay long enough for you to feel what it is like to be there.”  The idea of Responsive Classroom is that redirection is not punitive and discipline and punishment are not synonymous.  There is also an expectation of interactive modeling so students will know what the expectations look and feel like.

I am looking forward to engaging with students in a genuinely proactive way in our coming classes.

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Inspiration, Learning, Mindset, Reflection

At Least I Tried….Again.

A year ago, I published a post on this blog titled At Least I Tried.  It referenced a daily cartoon from Gaping Void that was accompanied by this text:

In light of yesterday’s post, this was (again) very timely for me.

But this post is also about the power of our words and how a few thoughtfully chosen ones can really help a person who needs to hear them. Within hours of posting, four different people from different parts of my life reached out with words that I needed to hear. It made me grateful for these people but it also made me think how important timely feedback is.

As educators, how are we supporting our students with our words? 

For EXCELLENT advice about feedback including what it is, what it sounds like, what it isn’t and how to use it effectively, take a look at this 2012 ASCD article by the late Grant Wiggins. His work is an amazing reminder of the talent and wisdom we lost when he died last year. “7 Keys to Effective Feedback” will also give you insight into the difference between feedback and advice, and feedback and grades/evaluation.  It is a great read.

Last year’s post also made me think about Seth Godin’s mantra to “Pick Yourself” – in reference to the idea that waiting for someone else to validate you is nonsensical. Time is precious and your ideas are worthwhile and waiting for someone to ask for them will get you nowhere.

So last night, I reached out to an author I admire with a suggestion for a potential collaboration idea based on a comment she made on Facebook. And I drafted a new book idea for building momentum in schools.

Opportunity is everywhere.  You just have to look – and leap.

pick+yourself+seth+godin
Photo Credit
Reflection

Connected Feedback

Today was a great day.  It may have something to do with the fact that we start a two week spring break today.  But it also was a day in which I made connections with the following ideas:

1. It is great to be a connected educator. 

2. You can be connected online or within your own school environment. 

3. Feedback is essential to move forward.

We have recently started blogging with students and so I have been looking for ways to help students connect on each others blogs and leave feedback for each other.  With one grade level, we are looking for students to comment on each others posts. In another, students have made videos and were seeing feedback.  I found this video which I thought was good but still wanted a little more:

Today, a 4th grade teacher shared Austin’s Butterfly with us. It is a great example of the power of feedback and how specific feedback can help a student in their learning.  The progress made by Austin is amazing but even more amazing is the powerful reaction of the students in the video who are guided through the feedback process.  It is so powerful:

Austin’s Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work – Models, Critique, and Descriptive Feedback from Expeditionary Learning on Vimeo.

As I sat down to write this post, I first glanced at my Twitter feed and Grant Wiggins was at the top with a new post:

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The post he shared, was an article about the use of video footage from different angles so baseball players could see specifically what they were doing, how they were responding, and how they could improve.  Watching footage of themselves prior to a game, was become just as important of a part as stretching in order to make sure they were optimally prepared during Spring Training.

Both of these examples of feedback, point to the power of specific, timely, accurate feedback in order to best move the learner forward.

When I zapped off an email of thanks to my colleague, she replied with a link to a post where she had got the video from in the first place – fellow COETAIL participant, Reid Wilson, who’s work I have shared a lot of in the past. His post has a wealth of ideas of how to draw better comments from your students when giving feedback on the work of others.  Well worth a read.

I feel really lucky to work in a time when we are not limited to our immediate environment for inspiration and ideas in our teaching. I love that there is so much out there to help me become a better teacher and a more reflective thinker, and I am so pleased that I have invested the time into growing a network of educators who inspire.

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:

Tweet Two

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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Inspiration, Reflection

Note To Self

Three things I need reminding of today…

1. Be not a slave of the ordinary.

2. Shun the non-believers (thanks, Patty!)

3. I love what I do. 

What do you need reminding of today?  What reminders could your kids set themselves to keep them focused on their learning journey?  Who inspires them?  Who inspires you? 

 

Note to SelfShun the Non-BelieversI love what I do

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!

Learning, Play, Reflection

Empathy Inside Us

Elisabeth

I have a (gorgeous/beautiful/smart/funny/amazing) 12 week old baby girl. She is awesome.  It is hard being back at work while she is so young, but easier knowing she gets to stay home with her dog and her dad. Most days, she comes and visits me at school and on those days, she will sometimes still be in the classroom when my kids come back from one of their single subject classes, before they go out to recess.

It is fascinating to watch the way they interact with her.

  • They are so loving and gentle and kind – even (especially!) the boys.
  • They look for nice things to say about her: complimenting her smile, her strength when she grips their fingers, her awesome hair, her clothes, how awake she is, how curious she is, how cute she is when she is sleeping – or awake – …pretty much anything.
  • They want her to be comfortable – they try not to crowd her, they want to hold her or tuck her blanket around her or get her a toy.
  • Their sole purpose in those few minutes is to make a connection with her.

After seeing this happen a couple of times, I decided to bring it up to the kids – my observations.  I told them what I had seen (the list above) and then I asked them to think about not when they first met Elisabeth, but when they first met each other.  Did they treat each other the same way they were treating Elisabeth: with the sole purpose of making a connection?

It was interesting and a little sad to hear their reaction.  The overall consensus was that she was a little baby and would be cute and nice no matter what they did (within reason) whereas they didn’t know when they met each other if they would be kind to each other or if the other person would make fun of them or ignore them or tease them.

This sentiment is mirrored by my hero Auggie, from the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio.  When thinking about meeting new people, Auggie says:

The thing is, when I was little I never minded meeting new kids because all the kids I met were really little, too. What’s cool about really little kids is that they don’t say stuff to try to hurt your feelings, even though sometimes they do say stuff that hurts your feelings.  But they don’t actually know what they’re saying.  Big kids, though: they know what they’re saying. And that is definitely not fun for me.

-Auggie

Having Elisabeth at school reminded me of a program our friend Kate and her baby Eli had participated in at a school in Canada: Roots of Empathy.  The premise of this program is to help children become more empathetic by engaging them in a series of ‘lessons’ with a parent and child in which they observe the interaction between the two, the way needs are met and communicated, and how the bonds are created. For more information on this program, take a look at the slideshow of photos from Kate and Eli’s year or read this article on her experience.

Roots of Empath

 

I am fascinated by how my kids react to my baby.  And even more intrigued when I shine a mirror back to them of their behaviors and then sit back and observe their reaction.  How do kids lose this innocence and how can we help them keep it even a little bit longer?

Inspiration, Reflection

What Do You Want In A School?

I have taught in New Zealand, Laos, the United States, Germany, Thailand, Japan, back to the US, and now back to Germany.  Each year I spend time wondering what sort of year I am going to have and each year I keep refining what is important to me in a school.

My list of criteria is long and verbose. I have ideas about leadership, personalization, community, inquiry, passion, and action – to name a few. As I was thinking of how to include these ideas in one succinct statement, I heard from a friend who shared her daughter’s summation of her summer camp experience.

Imagine arriving at a school with the following sign – and then knowing that every person in the school believed this with all their heart:

Vv Wisdom

How will you make sure this rings true in your school this year? My suggestion: start small:

  • Be kinder than necessary.
  • Smile.
  • Read more books.
  • Be a person you would want to hang out with all day.
  • Ask for help.
  • Offer to help.
  • Start every day with good intentions.
  • Get enough sleep.

The following quotes were shared during one of our orientation meetings yesterday.  Do you know how much of an impact you have in your school?

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers

Reflection, Teaching

The Awesomeness of Vi Hart

I love Vi Hart.  There is something about her crazy videos that I just adore.  I almost feel like I hold my breath when I watch her work in case the sound of my breathing causes me to miss out on something she has to say! Today I learned that she doesn’t care if I like her or not – she is still going to make her videos the way she wants to make her videos. Which kind of makes me love her even more.

Her latest creation is on how to deal with negative comments in a digital world – although a lot of what she says could easily apply to the real world too. I love that she says that “I didn’t make this for your approval”. She creates because she loves it – mirroring the other person in my hall of fame, Neil Gaiman, with his charge to “make good art”.

As a teacher, I often let the comments of a few drown out my own inner voice and then my art becomes less “good” and more “doubted”, “mediocre”, or just plain watered down.  I am a good teacher – I honestly don’t think I would still be doing this job 16 years if I didn’t truly love it.  And yet, unlike Vi Hart, I am sometimes scared, I do seek approval, and I dither over comments people make like nobodies business.  I think this is where the drop-off in my blogging comes into play. In addition to life throwing me a lot to deal with, I also began wondering if I had any good art left to share – or even any art worth sharing.

Today we had Kathy LeMay come to our school. This woman is fearless. As I sat in my classroom listening to her answer the questions my kids had for her on pursuing passion, I realized that we are always going to have nay-sayers in our world.  People who will tell us it won’t work, can’t happen, isn’t right.  We can choose to listen to those people and put our art in a deep, dark cupboard. Or, we can choose to move around these people and continue to do our thing.

It isn’t going to be easy.  But I can almost certainly guarantee it will be worth it.

What are you waiting for? 

 

PYP, Reflection

A Joint Effort

 

One thing we learned last year during the Exhibition is that it really does help for the parents to be ‘in the know’ and supportive of their child.  It also helps when those unwritten expectations of fifth grade  (being timely, organzied, thoughful, perserverant) are made explicit to students and parents so that we are all on the same page.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be working on the following prep sheets with my class and their families.

Click on each image to enlarge.  Click to download a PDF copy. 

We will do the student portion at school and the sheet will go home to be shared with families and for parents to offer their input.  My main goal?  To create conversation. To get students and parents and their teachers talking and sharing and supporting one another.

We say it is a team effort – now let’s work like we really mean it.