Friday, April 24, 2015

Silence can be our worst enemy...

We hear all the time that words can be hurtful and words can be painful. This statement is often quite true...

But, I'd like to push a little and say that for an organization, sometimes the words that aren't said can be just as damaging to the overall culture and climate.

So we are all on the same page in regard to what 'culture' and 'climate' mean, here are two good working definitions from Todd Whitaker's (@toddwhitaker) and Steve Gruenert's (@stevegruenert) new book 'School Culture Rewired:'

School culture is like your personality... very difficult to change and not easily adjusted. 

School climate is like your attitude... very easy to change and susceptible to significant swings back and forth.

I'd like to focus more on culture and how the words we don't say often times are much worse than those actually said.

We've all been to that meeting when someone starts to speak and then continues on a path that really isn't beneficial for anyone else in attendance.

This individual continues speaking unchecked and really takes the conversation to a place where salvaging the time becomes nearly impossible.

The words we didn't speak here allowed those on the sidelines to remain on the sidelines... our silence actually emboldened those who agree with the unchecked speaker... and lastly, those in disagreement with the speaker became paralyzed because they now believe they are in the minority.

Silence in this case caused significant cultural damage that will require lots of time and effort to repair. By being silent, we sent a message that what was being said really wasn't that bad or really wasn't that far from the truth.

Sure, sometimes we need to sit and listen and gather as much information as possible before responding or before saying anything. That's perfectly fine and in fact, should be encouraged. We have two ears and only one mouth for a reason, right? :)

But, there are other times when taking action and speaking will trump getting all the information first. Don't allow silence to be your passive agreement and don't allow others to speak for you when they really don't.

Don't allow silence to be our worst enemy...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Reinvention is the key to survival...

There are many wonderful things about working in education. I mean seriously, in what other profession can one be charged with influencing and guiding the direction of all youth and ultimately society?

It's a pretty awesome power and pretty amazing responsibility that which we hoist upon our shoulders every single day kids walk through those school doors.

Having said all that, with great responsibility comes even greater expectations.

It's no secret we live during a time of high and increasing levels of accountability. To make things more interesting, no educator can walk 5ft without talking to someone who's experienced the education system. This means we are surrounded by lots of 'experts' who definitely won't shy away from telling us how we can do our jobs better. :)

The key to all this responsibility is the ability to reinvent oneself.

If you're a veteran educator, take a moment to think about how the educational front has evolved and really transformed itself over the years. If you're a mid-career educator, you too have experienced and seen first-hand the fluidity of the educational process. For those brand new to the profession, you might not have seen widespread systemic shifts, but you've no doubt seen smaller shifts that impact your school and your district within your community.

If you've survived a systemic shift it's because you were able to reinvent yourself.

You were able to adapt and you were able to adjust based on the prevailing winds.

Some of your strengths required a retooling while some of your weaknesses were pushed to center stage.

But you survived and you persevered...

You might have even thrived and come out even stronger on the other side...

The beauty is that all these changes we are experiencing in life and society are a direct result of educators reinventing themselves and adapting to quickly moving landscapes that are constantly evolving. The more we educators reinvent ourselves, the more quickly the landscapes outside of education transform. This is quite the double-edged sword conundrum!

So, in closing, don't be afraid of having to reinvent yourself and don't steer away from taking a risk to do something you've never done before. Keep your repertoire sharp and keep it fresh. And remember, sometimes a fresh start or new direction is just what we need...

Monday, April 20, 2015

10 ways to finish the school year strong

1). Make the word 'intentional' your new favorite word. Be precise and be focused on how you use this time. There are a lot of things happening at school during the last few weeks, so keep the focus on doing a few things really well rather than trying to simply 'cover' a lot of things to finish out the year.

2). Try something new you've never done before. Your evaluation is most likely done and you probably have a job for next year. Your kids have also seen all the plays you have to offer in your playbook. So, now is the perfect time to take a risk and do something you've never done before. Perhaps it's something you've read about... heard about... or simply thought about... now is the time!

3). Focus on maximizing this time and amplifying the learning opportunities your students have engaged in so far this school year. You've by now built a solid learning and experience foundation with your students the last 7 or 8 months. Now is the time to take something and build upon it and take it to the next level. Perhaps you simply didn't get to go as far or as deep as you originally wanted, so take advantage of this time and take that 'good' to 'great.'

4). Allow your students to really take the lead and take charge of their learning. You've most likely been the conductor of many of the learning experiences so far this school year. Take a seat in the caboose and allow your students to take the lead and allow them to explore, discover, expand upon, or simply build upon something they are interested in learning more about. Allow their natural curiosity to be the intrinsic motivator they need to finish the year strong.

5). Spend a little extra time to get to know those students with whom you just haven't been able to connect. You've got a lot of students, and just like all our relationships, sometimes some grow more quickly than others. Specifically target and engage a few students with whom you haven't been able to develop a strong rapport. Learn more about these students and focus on asking good questions and listening to what they have to say. It's these most recent interactions that could make all the difference.

6). Connect your classroom or an activity you are doing to the global world that surrounds us all. The world continues to get smaller and more connected. Use these last few weeks to help your students understand and appreciate the connectedness we all share. Whether it is doing a Google Hangout or Skype session with an expert in the field or another group of students, now is the perfect time to show that we may be thousands of miles apart, but what happens in one part of the world affects and impacts what happens in other parts of the world.

7). Start getting excited for next year by searching out your 'next big' thing. Sure, this year isn't over yet, therefore don't shut that door just yet. But, there's nothing wrong with looking ahead toward the future. Think about that new approach or that new activity you want to do next year. Start building up that excitement and anticipation for how it might look or the resources you might need. Keep one eye on the present and one eye toward the future.

8). Fresh air and physical activity benefit us all... figure out a way to include them in your classroom activities. Go outside since the weather is most likely more accommodating and while you're out there get your students moving. There is a ton of research that supports movement and different landscapes/learning environments. This time of the year is perfect for both... bonus, figure out a way to use the outside as a learning precursor to something else to make the learning more connected and relevant.

9). Disengage to stay engaged... taking care of yourself. This time of year it's especially important to take time to take care of yourself. Don't be afraid to take an evening off and/or enjoy the weekend without thinking about or doing any school related work. Take the necessary time to enjoy your family and make an effort to disengage your brain from work. It's this personal disengagement that will keep you fresh to keep what happens in the classroom completely engaged.

10). Keep it together... remember, we can expect to get what we expect. Don't take off the last few weeks of school. Don't turn on cruise control and coast your way through the end of the year. There will be plenty of temptation (both students AND your colleagues), but don't take the bait. Keep your expectations both high and realistic, and recognize that finishing strong is just as important as starting strong.

What other suggestions would you add as a way to finish the school year strong?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A healthy disregard for the impossible...

Larry Page, Google's CEO, encouraged attendees at an event back in 2012 to have a healthy disregard for the impossible.

It's this message that he's infused into the workplace and work environment at Google which has resulted in revenue growth at IPO date of around $800 million to now just under $20 billion... quite remarkable really.

Having said that, what if this kind of mentality and mindset was infused into the educational setting? How would this type of approach affect education and impact the overall structure and organization?

There are almost 4 million educators and nearly 50 million students in the United States who are literally shaping and writing the future of our existence. It's the ideas being discussed in classrooms around the world and the concepts being taught that ultimately define what we believe and how we engage in this crazy thing we call 'life.'

Traditionally speaking, and true more often than not, educators tend to play it safe and tend to be those who are good at doing what they are told. Many educators were the 'good' kids in school and tended to excel in a schooling model that rewarded compliance and obedience.

The world we live in now has shown time and time again that it's rewarding and acknowledging those who aren't just thinking outside the box, but rather those who are literally creating an entirely different box.

It's this thirst and unyielding commitment to transforming life as we know it that is so vigorously sought by society. Society yearns for 'new' and demands for 'different' yet we are still working within a schooling model that wants compliance and obedience.

What if instead of saying 'we can't,' we started saying 'why not?'

What if instead of reprimanding those who question 'why' and instead empowered them to be a part of determining the 'what' based on their own individual 'whys?'

What if we encouraged students and educators to challenge the status quo by rewarding and acknowledging those who go against the grain rather than those who merely drift with the current?

What if the impossible wasn't something we feared and avoided but rather something we focused on obtaining and exploring further?

The next Google won't be born out of talking about and focusing on what's already possible.

The next Google will be born out of solving a problem somebody previously said was impossible to solve...

The next Google will come from an insatiable appetite of being challenged with something others avoided.

The next Google is in our classrooms and in our schools right now... let's make sure we are removing the barriers and unleashing a tidal wave of excitement toward making the impossible possible!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

5 ways to gauge student engagement

Student engagement... a topic that is commonplace in schools and school districts around the world. The goal being that we want to have highly engaging classrooms where our students are intimately and passionately engaged in whatever task they are working on.

Engaged classrooms are where learning occurs and one of the defining characteristics of a great teacher is the ability to have his/her students engaged in learning.

But...I find student engagement to be a tricky and slippery slope at times because how we define student engagement can vary from educator to educator.

For example, when looking at a student who is working and doing what they are supposed to be doing, can we automatically assume they are engaged? Are they cognitively engaged or are they merely compliant and obedient? What about the kid who is passionately doodling and completely ignoring whatever the rest of the students and class are doing? Do we assume the student is not cognitively engaged because the student isn't compliant and obedient?

My point is simple... student engagement and the gauging of student engagement really aren't as easy or straightforward as some would think.

Also worth noting... I believe most of our kids are truly engaged at most times during the day. The question is... are they engaged in what we are wanting them to be engaged in...

Having said all that, here are 5 ways I feel pretty confident about in terms of knowing if your students are truly cognitively engaged in the learning occurring in your class.

1). Your students are asking in-depth questions that are specific and relevant to the learning occurring in your class and the questions go beyond simple yes and no answers.

2). Your students are curious about the topic and are expressing an interest in exploring the topic further beyond even your original intent.

3). Your students are taking the initial and baseline information and are creating and designing something completely different and completely new.

4). Your students are able to explain the purpose and reasoning behind learning what they are currently learning and see how it relates to their lives and the bigger picture.

5). Your students can clearly explain and articulate where they are in terms of their learning progression... they know where they are doing well and they know where they are still struggling.

What other signs and indicators would you say constitute true student engagement?