Tag Archives: teaching and learning

The Best Classroom Management Develops Classroom Leadership

At the beginning of a school year, I had a student named Michael (not his real name) who had some issues the previous year, so I decided to welcome him outside the school before he even walked in.  Now I assumed that he might have had this “talk” before, but I wanted to change it up.  Instead of giving him a reminder about his “behaviour” and being an example to others, I asked him to look out for a couple of younger students that were struggling at school.  I told him about his ability to influence others would ensure that he could be my “go-to” to help those other kids.  Showing not only that I valued him, but that he was going to be a part of making the school a better place, empowered him to have a very successful year.

We always talk about “managing” people or students, but you manage “stuff”, not humans.  Instead of trying to “fix” a behaviour, it is important to tap in and try to unleash what people already have.  Think of your own work situation?  Do you not go over and above for a boss that not only values you, but taps into you for the well being of your organization?  The principals that trusted me with leadership were the ones that I would go above and beyond for and would gladly do the things that I once hated.

Kids are no different.

Show that you value them and their strengths, tap into them, and get them to help you create a better environment for everyone.  It won’t necessarily be perfect, but for me, I found it to be so much better.

What if I give you a good answer?

 

You probably have either seen it, been a part of it, or done it.

The time that someone asks the question with a negative connotation that basically is giving them the out of doing whatever it is that you are saying.

It will usually start off with something like, “I really like all of the stuff that you said there…but”

The “but” in many cases is the exact reason that they are going to cite why they are not going to try it later.

“But what about cyberbullying? But what about creepy people? But what about our kids not exercising enough? But what about time? But what about balance? But what about the tests that we have to teach?”

These are all logical questions for a lot of the stuff that I talk about, and like many people that I work with, I also see these as concerns.  In my mind they are not reasons to NOT do things, but they are reasons that we need to be proactive.  Ignoring a problem will not make it go away.

So when I am about to give my answer to the “ya but” questions that I will inevitably hear, I might have a question back before my answer.

“What if I have a good answer?  What will you do then? WIll you consider changing the way you do things or will you stay on the same path?”

I don’t think you should ask this in a condescending way, but in a way to open up and have someone think about what they are going to do if they are provided new information.

The idea of a “fixed” and “growth” mindset is fantastic, but I believe that you can actually have both.  Many people that you see that are really “open to change”, are the same people that will not go out and try new restaurants, new experiences, or are set in their ways in other parts of their life.  On the notion of schooling, I have a “growth mindset”; on the idea of bungee jumping, I would say that I am pretty set in my ways.  You do not have one or the other, but probably a combination of both.

But maybe sometimes, we should help people identify where they are at when they ask a question.  Do they really want to hear the answer or is their question just a way of digging their feet in without them even knowing it?

Can we promote a “growth mindset” in subtle ways in the people that we work with?  I hope so.

5 Ideas to Help You Blog

I sent out the following tweet regarding some “simplified” steps for blog that are crucial to the process:

Although blogging comes easy, putting your thoughts out there and writing isn’t so easy for others. I often get writer’s block and have trouble sharing my thoughts but I push through as a personal challenge to myself.  I try to average one post every three to four days.  For others, it is tough to start:

The nice thing about someone asking about tips on how to get started blogging is that it gave me a topic to blog about.  In reality, Twitter has been great for pushing me to blog more because sometimes (most times) 140 characters is not enough to go deep into anything, but it can definitely be a spark for going deeper into our learning.

So based on Andrew’s tweet (thanks!), here are some suggestions that have worked for me to help me to blog.

1. Read other blogs.  Seems like a common sense idea but it took me to really start reading other blogs before I felt comfortable to share my own voice.   It helped me to some examples of what was being shared and either build upon or challenge ideas.  A lot of people use things like Feedly to help aggregate blogs, but my two favourite “apps” for reading the work of others is Zite on my iPhone or iPad, any InoReader on my computer.  I have also really enjoyed reading books on my Kindle app, not only because of the ability to carry a ton of books on one device, but more importantly, the opportunity to highlight and write notes and have them shared in one place.  Those passages that I have highlighted often give me ideas to write about and build upon.  When organizing reading became easier for me, so did the writing.

2.  Always have some place to write down your thoughts.  A lot of great writers suggest that you always have a notepad and so I tried to learn from them to do the same.  The problem is that I never have a pen or notebook, but my phone has notes on it from years ago.  Observation is also important and although I will write ideas down from professional development to write about, I often get my inspiration from situations that are outside of the realm of education. I also love running with my iPhone because my best ideas often come from a clear head, yet by the time I got home, I would lose those ideas.  Those little ideas that you write down, can often turn into something bigger, but you have to write those initial thoughts down somewhere.

3.  Write for you and for what you need.  When I first started blogging, I tried to write the university essay style.  Then I was reminded that I hated writing that in university, so why would I do it on my free time?  Sometimes I write numbered lists, sometimes I write down reflections, and sometimes I share videos and have two sentence reflections.  My biggest thing is that if you met me and I talked to you, I would sound a lot like my blog.  I write how I talk (I end a lot of sentences in prepositional phrases in real life as well).  People often suggest that you should “think about your audience”, but I really think that if we are trying to do this to learn, we have to think about what we need to write at that time.  The idea that anyone can read this post makes me think a lot more about what I share, but it also doesn’t determine my writing styles at any time.  This blog is mostly to clarify my own thinking which makes me want to write, as opposed to some external motivation.  When writing becomes an internal need, you are more likely to do it more often.

4. Start with questions instead of answers.  When I start to blog, many times I do not have an endpoint.  It is sometimes to work my way through ideas.  I love this quote:

I write to understand as much as to be understood.” – Elie Wiesel 

Going back to how Twitter facilitates blogging, I often will tweet a statement or question that I am thinking about, and read the responses.  That does a great deal for my thinking, but I don’t really learn until I make the connections for myself.  It is great to have ideas and answers for others, but it is also great to work your way through something you don’t know.  It shows a definite vulnerable side, but it is also a humbling experience.  Both good things.  If we are going to ask our students to “start with questions”, blogging is a great way to model and go through that same process.

5.  Decide how many times you are going to write in a period of time, and stick with it.  Forcing yourself to write is tough but it also helps facilitate the process.  I try for twice a week as a minimum, although I used to try once a day, which was pretty impossible.  I do know that the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to come back.  It could be once a week, once a month, or something else.  Whatever it is, try to stick with it (if you miss here and there though, I promise you will be fine).  I have found that having this “schedule” in my head, helps me to look around the world more, and I try to find inspiration for blogging.  Like anything you want to get better at, practice is important.  You want to become a better writer? Write more :)

As teachers, we often have DEAR time (Drop Everything And Read), but do we promote the same amount of time for kids to just write about what they want?   That is what I love about blogging.  I can write about sports, family, my dogs, or anything that I find relevant.  I love trying to make the connection between the “real world” and education when I write, and I think that is a great practice to promote with our students as well.  Perfection is not the goal; learning is.  Paraphrasing Dean Shareski, “if we want to become better teachers, we need to blog”.  I took that advice to heart, and ultimately, if it makes us better learners, we will definitely become better teachers.

Where’s the evidence?

This is one of those posts where I might just ramble on but I am trying to clarify some thoughts in my head…

When talking about new and innovative ways to teach students, a question that I constantly get is “where is the evidence that this works?”  The problem with trying something new, there is rarely evidence to support it because it is new.  That being said, I am seeing many educators be the “guinea pigs” themselves and trying out new strategies for learning on themselves and with staff.  If there engagement and learning is improving from their own experience, it is more likely to make an impact on students.  We have often believed that teachers should be experts on “teaching” when the reality is that they should be experts on “learning” first.  Immersing themselves into learning opportunities will help them get closer to that standard than simply reading about teaching techniques.

As I have started to think about the “where is the evidence” question, I am wondering if it should be asked right back.  Where is the evidence that what we used to do was knocking it out of the park for all of our kids?  When I went to school, many students struggled then in school and it wasn’t the utopia that so many people have made it out to be.  Are grades the measure?  If they are, do we look at factors such as socio-economic status and their impact on test scores?  Do we believe that any one thing is a direct result to improved grades?  If you look at any school division that has improved, do they usually only have one initiative that they can directly correlate to a numerical improvement, or are there multiple factors?  Does critical thinking improve learning? Does helping students make healthy choices improve learning?  Or would a combination of both have an impact?  Or would one make an impact on one student, while the focus on another might be the different for another student?  It is tough to make standardized assessments on individuals; each person is unique and needs different things.

This brings me back to a conversation this morning that I had with one educator who had mentioned that her admin “didn’t think that kids would do well with this type of learning”.  What I told her is that we should never limit a kid to what we, as adults, think that they can or can’t do.  There is a saying that “whether you think you can or you can’t, you are usually right.”  It is one thing to have this mindset for ourselves, but when we decide our kids “can’t” before giving them a chance or showing a belief in them, their opportunities to grow and achieve something great are limited.

So I guess the next time when I am asked, “Where is the evidence that this works?”, my response might be that nothing works for all people. It never has and it never will.  Some kids will do better with pen and paper, and some adults will do better with a laptop; we have to be able to provide options that work for our students, not just ourselves.  I also believe that sometimes our faith in our kids could be as important (if not more) as some of the evidence we collect.  If we believe we can help our students do amazing things, continuously grow, and make the world better, isn’t it more likely to happen?

A conversation starter…

I saw the following image online: Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 7.50.43 AMWhat surprised me about the conversation about it was that most educators (that I connect with) thought the student was ingenious for this “invention” and applauded them.  They were “fighting the power” and found a way to snuck in their device to a classroom. A couple of questions I have when I see this picture… Why would the kid have to create something like this? Why would adults not have to do this?  (I know that if I am disengaged I might gravitate to my device, but I also know that if I am engaged, I also tend to gravitate to my device.) Do you think this is wrong by the student, or cheer them on for their subversiveness? What do you think?

5 Ways To Influence Change

“At the end of the day, what qualifies people to be called ‘leaders’ is their capacity to influence others to change their behavior in order to achieve important results.” Joseph Grenny

In a time where the only constant in education is change, people involved with education need to become “change agents” more now than ever. You can understand pedagogy inside out, but if you are unable to define “why” someone should do something different in their practice, all of that knowledge can be ultimately wasted.  People will take a “known good” over an “unknown better” in most cases; your role is to help make the unknown visible and show why it is better for kids.

Look at the debate over “new math” right now.  Many people, including educators, are pushing back over the new curriculum based on the idea that math was taught in a much better way when we were kids.  Simply explaining the process and the way we teach and learn math is not enough.  It has to go deeper.  Ultimately, you want people to feel that this is so much better than they were kids, and that their children are better off.  Innately, people want what is better for kids.  Tap into that, and people are more likely to move forward.

“To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources—not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.” Daniel Pink

So how does this happen?  Below are some things that I have seen effective leaders to have not people only accept change, but embrace it as an opportunity to do something better for kids.

  1. Model the change that they want to see.  Although this might seem extremely “cliche”, it is the most imperative step for any leader in leading the “change effort”.  Many organizations talk about the idea that people need to be “risk-takers”, yet they are not willing to model it themselves.  Until that happens, people will not feel comfortable doing something different.  It is also the difference between talking from a “theoretical” to “practical” viewpoint.  Have you ever seen a PowerPoint on “21st Century Change” from an administrator who does not exhibit any of the learning that is being discussed in the presentation? Me too.  People will feel more comfortable taking a journey to an unknown place if they know that the first steps have been taken by someone else.  Although I believe in the idea of distributed leadership, the idea of “leaders” is that they are also ahead; they have done things that have not been done before.  Chris Kennedy has shared the idea that leaders need to be “elbow deep in learning” with others, not only to show they are willing to embrace the change that they speak about, but to also be able to talk from a place of experience.
  2. Show that you understand the value that already exists. The word “change” is terrifying to some because it makes them feel that everything that they are doing is totally irrelevant.  Rarely is that the case.  I have seen speakers talk to an audience for an hour and people walk out feeling like they were just scolded for 90 minutes on how everything that they are doing is wrong.  It is great to share new ideas, but you have to tap into what exists already that is powerful.  When you show people that you value them and their ideas (and not in a fake way which is pretty easy to read through), they are more likely to move mountains for you., and for themselves.  Strengths-based leadership is something that should be standard with administrators to teachers, as it should be standard with teachers to kids.
  3. Tell stories. Data should inform what we do and is an important part of the change process, but it does not move people.  If you look at major companies like Coke and Google, they use stories to elicit emotion from people.  Of course they have numbers that they use in their process, especially when it comes to stakeholders, but organizations know the importance of telling a story to make people “feel” something.   To inspire meaningful change, you must make a connection to the heart before you make a connection to the mind. Stories touch the heart. What is yours?
  4. Bring it back to the kids. What does a 80% to a 90% tell us about a kid? That they are now 10% better?  Most educators got into the profession because of a strong passion for helping kids, so when we reduce who a child is to simply a number, or teaching simply to a process, we lose out on why many of us became educators. To help kids.  If you ever get the change to see Jennie Magiera speak, watch how she shows kids in her presentations and it shows the impact of her work on them.  A 10% difference does not create the same emotion as watching a student talk about something they learned or have done.  I have shared a video of Tony Sinanis doing a “newsletter” with his students and I have watched educators all over the world engrossed by what they are seeing.  Think about it…it’s a school newsletter.  Imagine if I handed out a piece of paper to educators and asked them to read a newsletter from another school.  Do you think they would care as much as seeing the kids, their faces, and their emotions? Don’t let a grade tell a story; let the kids do it themselves.
  5. Get people excited and then get out of the way.  I have been to schools, watched administrators encourage their teachers to embrace something different in their practice, and they make that change impossible to do.  Giving the answer that “we need to change the policy before you can move forward” not only encourages the detractors, but it kills the enthusiasm in your champions.  When “yeah but” is the most commonly used phrase in your leadership repertoire, you might as well just learn to say “no”; it’s essentially the same thing.  The most successful people in the world rarely follow a script, but write a different one altogether.  Are teachers doing something better “because of you” or “in spite of you”.  If you want to inspire change, be prepared to “clear the path” and get out of the way so that change can happen.

“Increase your power by reducing it.” Daniel Pink

The change process is a tough one but simply being knowledgeable is not enough.  Some people that actually “know less” but “influence more” create more change than some of the smartest people you know.  Education is not about “stuff” but about “people”.  Tap into that and you are more likely to see the change that you are hoping to see.

Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

There has been a lot of talk about this video that was anonymously shared by a teacher from Chicago Public Schools:

The outrage shared by many educators is that this is a terrible way of professional learning and it really undermines teachers.

It is almost like we are treating them like children…right?

I just wonder how many hits that video (over 130,000 at the time I am sharing it on this blog) would have received if it was a classroom full of students doing the same thing? Would people have cared as much? They should. I also wonder if someone in that session will use the same techniques with their own students? Often we teach the way we were taught and if we do not change the experiences teachers have in their own professional development, we can’t really expect them to change anything in their own classroom.

The question I have been asking a lot lately is, “would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?

If this wouldn’t work for me (which it wouldn’t), then it is not going to work for my students.

Something Every Teacher Needs

Listening to Erin Gruwell (of “Freedom Writers” fame) this morning at #NCTCA2014, it was inspirational to hear her share stories of her students, and how some of them came from some very horrific situations and went on to be successful.

Was it a specific teaching method that she used to help change their lives? Nope.

Was it some sort of new technology that inspired them to do some great? Nope.

What I saw and felt in her talk this morning was one word.

Belief.

I have always believed the importance of relationships and how they are foundation of a great school, classroom, or organization, but having “belief” in every student you interact with, no matter how hard it is and where they have come from, can make all of the difference.

If we don’t believe kids can change the world or even just make it a better place to live, they are already starting in deficit.

Embodying that one little word, can make a huge difference for a kid who needs you more than you will ever know.

More Than A “Blog”

Sometimes I write to just process my thoughts but have no idea where I am going…this is one of those posts…

“And not for nothing, but if teachers using blogs to connect  their kids to global others is ‘best practice’ in 2013, then what was it some 12 years ago when we were doing that in my lit and journalism classrooms? Mercy.” Will Richardson

I read those words from Will Richardson, an educator and thinker that has really pushed my own thinking, and they stuck with me last night.  To be honest, one of the biggest initiatives that I am behind in my district is a “Digital Portfolio Project” that is pushing blogging as a platform that we want to use in our district for students to share their ideas and learning throughout their entire time in our schools and beyond.  If you break it down to the core though, if it is simply a blog and blogging, in my opinion, is a technical skill that can be taught to some level, within minutes.

So is blogging the epitome of what we are trying to do?  I don’t think so, but on some level it could look like a very trivial task.

On a much bigger level, there can be so much more to a blog than writing, but the literacy component is an important and fundamental start.  As I heard Yong Zhao say once, “reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling”, and I am a big believer that if you can get kids to not only read, but to write, learning opportunities will open up in all areas.

That being said, my belief is that a blog will give kids opportunities to share in so many ways other than writing, while developing a strong digital footprint.  Videos, sound, images, and basically anything that you can see and hear can be put into a blog, which gives students options in the ways that they can share their voice and their passions.  The way the world used to be is that you needed permission to share your voice.  Not anymore and we need to work with kids to share theirs in differing and meaningful ways.

Once they start doing this, in my opinion, is where “entrepreneurial spirit” comes into play.  As much as people hate someone like Justin Bieber, the reality of his world is that he would probably not exist and have the opportunities he has had in his world if YouTube didn’t exist (yup…I brought Bieber into this).  Although he has gone a little nuts lately, if you break down what he has done, he shared what he loved doing through social media, and now makes a living out of his passion.  Wouldn’t you want that for your students/kids?  We need to teach kids to empower their voice, but also give them opportunities to have different ways to share it.

For example, there are so many educators that believe in the importance of teaching the “arts” (myself included), yet it has been something that people have traditionally gone away from because they don’t necessarily see opportunities for their future in the area.  The difference now is that student who has made some amazing pieces of work, that no one might have seen before, can easily post them onto their own space, and if they are great, the opportunities will come their way.  My ideal is that we don’t teach kids to work for other people, but that they can learn to leverage their own voice and create opportunities for themselves.  If you could go back to a K-12 system as a student yourself, knowing what you do now, wouldn’t you want that same guidance?

If you look past what a blog is, I see something much more than writing on the web.  I see great learning, but I also see opportunity and possibility, and yes, sharing that with the world. Does a kid need a blog to share and create opportunities?  Not really since things like Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Flickr, Vimeo, etc., still create a great opportunity to share many different things, but blogging can incorporate all of these things.    We have to give students the freedom to write about their passions and not use that space as a place to simply post “school work” but look at how they can use this space after their time in school.

One of the hurdles to overcome is that if you are going to really any leverage any of these things and make this type of initiative powerful, they take time and longer than a year in any one person’s class.  It takes a shared vision at the school and district level to get to a point where a “blog” is much more than a blog.   It also takes commitment, dedication, and patience to stick with something that takes perseverance to do well.  Many educators talk about kids having short attention spans, yet we too often move on to the “next” thing before we knocked out of the park in any of our prior initiatives.

Should we in education brag that our students can write a blog?  Absolutely not. Maybe though, we need to start to look at the opportunity to share in open spaces as more of a beginning than an end.

Past, Present, and Future


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Ibrahim Iujaz

I was thinking about how we work with students every day, and how we often we caught up in teaching a grade or subject, instead of a child.  There is an inherent difference in that language.  As a simple concept, I was thinking about when we focus on our students, how does it help to have questions and focus based on the concept of a child’s “past, present, and future”.  Quickly jotting down some thoughts, here are some ideas that have helped me to refocus on things that I can do to help students.

Past

Some of the questions that we have to answer is not only “what does this student know?”, but we should also know where a student comes from, some of the things that they love and how we can build upon that, and some of the things that the have had trouble with, not only in school, but personally as well.  This helps an educator to set up a great “learner profile” and focus on a child’s strengths.

Present

We spend a lot of time talking about “what’s next” in education, but we need to spend time just catching up to now.  For example, things like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Vine, are all things that are part of a child’s life right now, but we spend little time talking about how kids are using these services, and what impact they might have later, or even right now.  Also, working with students to develop healthy habits now is going to help them live much more productive lives.  There is a lot of conversation on preparing kids for the “real world”, but they are already living in it.  How do we help kids make sense of many things that are very relevant to them right now and empower them to be leaders today, not just tomorrow?

Future

What will this child need to be able to do in the future?  A curriculum is often a bet on what a child will need for the future, but unfortunately, sometimes it is wrong (how often do you use a haiku?). Educators should focus on how we can help kids to become adaptable to different situations, develop a love of learning, and help them to see change as an opportunity to do something great.  That will help them to not only survive, but thrive in many situations.

If we started with this focus on the child as an individual, would teaching a curriculum actually become easier?