I once worked for a principal who always said,
"They don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care."
Do your students know how much you care?
As I read this post over at Four o'Clock Faculty, I realized that I am not alone in this struggle to make everyone remember that empathy is important in this business. The post uses John Acuff's explanation of empathy as “understanding someone else’s needs and acting on them.”
These past few weeks have been tumultuous around here. In a week and a half, this community has experienced a multitude of shootings, three murders, and a child abduction. As adults, we have been shocked. Has anyone asked how all of this impacts our students?
When that five-year old girl girl was snatched from her driveway and found chained to a tree the next day, I heard adults discussing what happened that morning as the authorities were searching for this girl. I asked them, "What about her classmates?" No one had thought about how this might be impacting their performance in a classroom. WE WORK IN EDUCATION - yet no one thought about this.
I ran into an old friend the other morning as we both dropped our kids off at school. She also happens to be a teacher - a GREAT teacher. She's the teacher that other teachers send kids to when they need a "change of scenery" for behavior reasons. She was commenting about how difficult the last few days had been. Her students were acting out more than usual and she even had to send some to the office - which she almost NEVER has to do. I casually remarked, "I wonder if it has anything to do with the two murders in their community this week." It was like a light bulb turned on. She hadn't made the connection. The gang violence in her school community had reached an all time high recently which was adding to the unrest and resulting in these shootings. In her defense, things had been busy at her school as they were busy preparing for intersession and then there is the fact that she doesn't live in the community.
How did I know all of this was going on? No, I don't live in the community affected by the violence and gang activity, but the father of my children is a law enforcement officer. Every night my daughter asks, "Is dad safe?" before she goes to bed. Some nights she insists on calling or texting him. Her father is gone a lot. Some nights, the only time the kids see their dad is on the news in the background as the violence is covered by the media. Some nights, they can't sleep, which means I can't either. News coverage of violence against law enforcement officers has us on edge, too. Does this impact their performance at school? Absolutely! Does anyone that teaches them (this year) think about that? I can't say that they do, but it's likely that they don't.
Perhaps it's because they don't act out at school and they still manage to get their work done. Or is it because they are white. Maybe it's because they don't live in a community in turmoil. Or it might just be that we, as educators, don't always stop and ask ourselves why a kid - ANY kid - might be sullen, angry, or not doing their work. In retrospect, I probably was guilty of this, too.
We as educators are in the best place to make a difference in a student's life. At any stage of their education. It's never "too late" and no student is incapable of learning. We just need to take the time - which I know we don't have a lot of - and try to understand them and help them learn where they are.
We can make a difference.
As I was catching up on The Twitters while waiting on my youngest to finish softball practice, I saw this post:
When we got home, I sharedthis Google Doc with her and her brother - both teenagers. They were on board before I could even finish talking about it! We took turns manning the stove top dinner prep and making our personalized game cards. Sounds like nothing special, but it was.
You see, as they build their cards, they analyzed the terms that Dave Burgess included in the word bank. I heard them asking what some of the terms had to do with the election...and then they looked them up! I was so proud of them for instinctively investigating and arming themselves with more information.
With dinner finished and homework done, we popped some popcorn, got in our PJs and piled on my bed to watch the debate. The youngest, also pen hoarder, passed out highlighters. Finally - it was showtime!
As we watched, I was impressed with how they really listened. They were engaged and learning - not just playing a game.
This morning, I captured this image of our cards from last night. While her brother and I made notes in the margins and wrote additional words - some that one candidate seems to have made up entirely - my daughter turned hers into an art project.
This was another insight into how they learn and process information.
On the way to school, I asked them who they felt "won" the debate. Each gave a different answer. I will also add that I didn't expect the answers they gave, but their justifications helped us understand each other, even if we didn't agree.
I so want this type of learning experience to become the norm for all students - not just the ones I am raising. Following all of the posts on Twitter in response to one tweet by Dave Burgess, I predict that with the next debate, there will be more teachers making this a homework assignment.
I start a lot of sentences with "...but why?"
Mainly because in my role, knowing why a teacher wants to do something allows me to connect them with the right tools for the job...to help their how. In our conversations, I have them explain to me what their vision is and then we work to make it happen. However, I almost always find that the end result they are looking for isn't just a creation or product. They sometimes leave out that it's the baby steps along the way and what each teaches the students that really make the end result what they are looking for. That is why I ask why! I remember those moments with my students. Seeing that spark in their eyes when all of the pieces fall into place - truth be told, I think that is why many of us that became teachers have stayed teachers.
In education, it's easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day minutia and legislative demands. I get that. I do. But I feel that those little things, if allowed to drive the BIG things, can do tremendous damage. So often, decisions are made to do things that are easiest for adults and not best for students. In education, if your why isn't anchored in what's best for students, then Houston, we have a problem.
I'm currently reading two books: School Culture Rewired and The Innovator's Mindset ....the first one was required, the second was personal choice. What I am finding is that there is a little bit of overlap. At the weekly meeting where the first book is discussed, today's activity involved this video:
Immediately I made the connection between this and what I read in the first part of The Innovator's Mindset . In talking about school culture, the question was raised: have schools forgotten their why?
This is EXACTLY what is written on page 18 of The Innovator's Mindset. I feel this is the best question anyone can ask.
I want to take a statement I made earlier in this post and extrapolate.
So often, decisions are made to do things that are easiest for adults and not best for students
I think to move forward, it is about more than this. In education, and in life, we know that no two people are the same. In order to really made a difference, we have to do what is best for each student. Doing that is definitely not easy for adults. But it is rewarding in those moments when you see that student grow.
Individualizing education; personalization; allowing student choice; helping them find their voice; encouraging them to be uncomfortable - that is where learning occurs. That's my why.
Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling the kids not to stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students?
Think about that...in everything you do - you have a choice. You can focus on the positive or negative. The choice you make impacts the outcome of what you are doing. Your mindset determines the success - or failure. I am a firm believer in the power of positive.
I've started the book, The Innovator's Mindset. As part of the #IMMOOC, book study, PLN, I will be documenting thoughts and reflections on my reading. So far, I am finding that some of my blog posts align quite nicely with the overarching theme of this book.
Innovation is the key to making a change in education. Innovation is not a term limited to describing those in positions of power in a school or district. It is a mindset that must be pervasive to be fruitful. I see it in so many teachers and I'm witnessing what this shift in thinking can do for students. It's an journey that has no end, nonetheless I am thrilled to be a part of it.
Define where you are, where you need to go, and how to get there. By the way, you will never "arrive."
As I watched the first YouTube Live session, The main thing I took away was: Embrace change. Change is an opportunity to grow. It is an opportunity to be amazing. So often in education, things happen because they are easier for adults, not what's best for the kids.
As Dave Burgess, Katie Martin, and George Couros talked about this, I immediately thought of schools in our district who have really embraced change lately. I am seeing amazing things happening among the teachers at these schools...and the kids are the winners! I'm working hard to continue this momentum. I believe that enthusiasm is contagious...let's make it an epidemic! #leadup
Last school year, we facilitated a book study on Blended Learning. I hate to call it a book study, though. While the book was the inspiration for the action, and definitely was the scaffold for the teachers involved, this was FAR more than a book study. This was pure AWESOMEness!
There are a few key things to remember when embarking on a blended learning journey.
Leadership is important to the success of blended learning, but relationships are the key. Leadership is more than just the principal. Identify and empower your experts! Your Media Specialist, ITF (instructional technology facilitator) or Instructional Coach can be just the support teachers need - it takes more than one person to champion the vision. It has to be shared. Honestly, it has to be contagious. That is just what we saw in one of the schools that participated. It started with a few teachers and it spread...one teacher shared what was going on with his students and it piqued the interest of another teacher. It was amazing to watch.
Turn perceived roadblocks into mere hurdles.
"We don't have enough devices!"
"My students keep forgetting their passwords."
"They don't all have Internet access at home."
These are just a few of the comments we got in the beginning. Valid points, but they aren't reasons why there can't be blended learning in a class. They are excuses for those that don't feel ready to try something different. Get into the habit of finding solutions instead of complaining about the problems. If you only complain about the problem, you become part of the problem. Brainstorm ways to turn roadblocks into hurdles - and overcome them!
With risk there is reward. The school leaders acknowledged the strengths of the teachers and let them take some risks to maximize learning for their students. The teachers worked together to plan and create experiences that engaged students. Growth was noticed in many forms - not all growth is measured my a number. Let's not forget that growth is also not limited to students.
This year, I've seen the blended learning ideas shared last year spread to another school. I think great things are on the horizon. Remember, it always starts with one. One visionary leader, One inspired teacher. One curious student. One step towards changing the way schools educate students. This is all that is needed to start a revolution.
When we know where to find information, we’re less likely to remember it — an amnesia dubbed The Google Effect by a team led by psychologist Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University.www.mercurynews.com/2011/07/14/google-is-changing-your-brain-study-says-and-dont-you-forget-it/
There has been research on how Google is changing our brains. I can totally see that...in fact, I do believe that with the immediacy of information and the need for it, it is ever more important to know HOW to efficiently find the information - we have before us a generation of strategists not simply memorizers. This is Google, as a verb. It's definitely changing things in our world.
But what if I said that Google Tools can be used to make your brain work better? Google as a collective noun referring to the ever growing number of tools available. Our school district is a GAFE district. We are big users of Google Apps for Education for all teachers and students in grades 2 - 12. I was fortunate enough to be able to attend an EdTech Google Summit this summer. I attended a session I chose because of the title: Your Brain on Google. While it wasn't quite what I thought it would be, it was inspiring nonetheless.
I finally finished this book over the summer. And as I read it, I thought about all of the Google Apps for Education that we use in our district EVERY DAY. I made notes in margins, in journals, in an app on my phone, on post it notes, on my hand...everywhere. I finally decided to start putting the pieces together for a presentation on not just Google and the brain, but how to harness the power of GAFE specifically to make learning experiences for students. It's still a work in progress...the cover image is at the bottom of this post.
My goal is to hit all twelve of the rules Medina discusses in the updated and expanded issue of his book. I'm having a lot of fun putting this together. The activities are designed to make teachers think about not just the the brain rules, but about how to teach the way our students learn - not the way WE learn. In many ways, and in different ways, Google has changed this for everyone. It's time we started taking steps to keep up.