Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Entering a New Frontier

Envision learners jubilantly returning from winter break who are eager to connect with peers, staff, and to be empowered as learners. Excitedly they re-enter the learning space while having conversations and greeting others. It's possible that many learners were still connected with one another, and their teacher through platforms such as Edmodo over break. Remaining connected maintains that sense of family, and keeps conversations flowing so that when reunited as a team they can readily begin to synergize. 

How are you setting the stage for the new year with your students? What are your students anticipating returning to? As we enter the new year, consider one shift that you'll make to ignite students' passion to learn. Learning is a natural desire, yet when forced or if not engaging, students can shut down and lose their drive to learn. We need to be creating a sense of wonder within our students to foster deeper questioning which promotes innovative thinking. Who are we to teach today's students, yesterday's information? What's comfortable for both teachers and students isn't necessarily what's best. In fact, I find that when I am in a place of struggle or discomfort that it's a blessing because it signals that I'm in a place of growth. When we enter a new frontier it isn't meant to feel convenient or safe. However, that's where we need to be for continual improvement. As I consider the shifts I've made, I recognize that they're some of the main reasons my students eagerly anticipate returning to school.  

I'm wholeheartedly committed to flipping education to move beyond mandated programs. My goal is to immerse students into authentic, relevant, real-world problem solving, and empower students to own the direction of their learning. I'm incredibly fortunate to have been trained and to be provided with ongoing training in PBL by the Buck Institute for Education. Through my journey I've noticed that when students develop their own driving questions it propels their research, and they begin to crave learning including the next steps of their project. What I observed this fall exceeded my expectations. In all transparency, our class also hit rough patches. There were times when my students looked to me in search of direction or answers. Similarly, as educators we experienced moments where we had to go back to our training notes as we collaborated to reconsider our process. As a team we hit several moments of discomfort because it was so different than our classic ELA block. While we always utilize best instructional strategies and structures for learning, PBL definitely took us in a whole new direction. For me, it was refreshing. As for the students, it's evident that they're more cognitively engaged within PBL. During this winter break they've continued researching and posting links for their peers to respond to around their PBL focus on our Edmodo page. The depth of knowledge, success skills, and vocabulary that they have developed is incredible.

Our makerspace is still in the works, yet we have engaged in maker education within our own learning space. This was a completely new concept for students this year. When we started, students required reassurance that what they chose to design was their choice. They had to solve problems that arose along the way, but they knew that I was there to support them. Using inquiry as a driving force students worked through many issues. They're constantly learning how to appropriately interact and converse with peers during challenging times. As our makerspace grows I am devoted to carving out time for students to wonder, explore, and create. Makerspaces provide opportunities for students to create, build prototypes, explore questions, fail and retry, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, bounce ideas off one another and collaborate on building together. Innovative thinking blossoms in makerspaces.

Innovation Time
Last school year students had opportunities to explore their passions, and share their projects with peers through a variety of presentation methods. This school year I'll be integrating innovation time more purposefully within the second half of the school year. Sure, students have a lot of choices in class. Within PBL students have ownership over their driving questions, method of presentation, and community contacts. However, I want to extend learning to be increasingly student centered. During the second half of this school year learners will have opportunities to identify and explore their passions with purpose. As I reflect on the first half of the year I feel that beginning with PBL and makerspace has set the stage for students to continue forward into innovation time. They all share a similar philosophy and compliment one another well.

Culture of a Growth Mindset Embedded in Relationships
Fostering and continuously nurturing a culture of a growth mindset embedded in relationships has been one of the biggest factors in allowing PBL, makerspace, and learning in general to be extremely successful. Growth mindset along with relationships is one of the pivotal components that serves as the foundation for all that I work towards. In our learning space you can visibly see and hear that we have a culture of a growth mindset. It's developed through experiential learning, debriefing, and modeling as well as practicing how to emote through a variety of structures. We also consciously utilize the Habits of Mind and The Leader in Me. During math class students openly share when they've made a mistake in order to help their peers learn from what they've done. Their peers celebrate them by clapping and making genuine comments. This practice has encouraged students to share out often. Students also use a variety of talk moves to demonstrate that they were either thinking something similar, have something to add on, or new to contribute. All of these simple strategies not only maintain engagement, but also allow students to receive immediate feedback that others are truly listening to them and making connections. Student conversations have developed to be so purposeful that students clarify by asking their team members, "What do you mean by____?" or rephrase by saying, "In other words what you're saying is_____." The freedom to make mistakes, question one another, and clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment promotes deeper student learning as they become unguarded and open to risk taking to explore all areas of learning. 

Tech as a Tool
Using tech as a tool to foster the four C's is new for the students who enter my classroom each year, therefore it takes some time to integrate it. This school year students have been exposed to many different types of tech to enhance learning. The tech we've utilized has been scaffolded intentionally. We began using tech as formative assessment. Kahoot, Plickers, and Nearpod have been excellent to engage students while also providing quick and accurate feedback for reflection. At the beginning of the year it was messy. Students were unfamiliar with knowing how to login to websites and how to use basic functions on a keyboard. The experience provided me with a wealth of information, and I realized that I needed to back up the instruction more than I had expected. Taking the time to demonstrate, and allowing students opportunities to explore and ask questions made a difference. After working with formative assessment tools, we then picked up Edmodo as a communication and collaboration platform that also allows me to blend learning. Students are now creating and demonstrating their learning using Explain Everything, Prezi, and ThingLink. Once learners grasp how to use tech as a tool, they quickly find ways to integrate it independently and are prepared to choose the appropriate tool when necessary.

While all students participated in the Hour of Code, we as educators cannot just expose students to an hour of code. We need to examine what the needs are of today's learners. Today's learners are required to be literate in different ways than yesterday's learners were expected to be.  Dr. Ryan B. Jackson proposes that coding is the new literacy. I, too, believe that all schools ought to address coding as a significant need in today's schools.  It's inspiring to listen to students problem solve as they code, communicate effectively with peers when they hit an obstacle, and the excitement they experience when they overcome barriers.  If you're tempted to say that this is just one more thing being added in, we need to step back and look at the current job market and contemplate the fact that we don't know which direction our future will head. Our students are going into a future where many jobs will be newly developed. As educators we need to reevaluate what the greatest needs in our students are, and how we can reshape schools with flexible scheduling and interdisciplinary learning to promote innovative practices. 

Enter a New Frontier
As we move forward into the new year we need to support one another as educators, and be fearless in the pursuit of what's best for students. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to take on new initiatives, but it's exhilarating too. By crafting a clear vision with a focus that is student centered, you will surely find your footing. Consider how you will enter this new frontier as an advocate for learners. We are the change, together we make the difference.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

A New Era: Teacher As Coach

When colleagues have entered my room, at first glance they thought I wasn't there. I recall the bewildered look of one administrator who I worked for as he scanned the room thinking I had left it unattended. Typically one of the student leaders in my room will notice and point them in my direction. You see, as a coach I'm beside my learners as I question, reflect and provide feedback. 

Conflicting Titles
While I view myself as a learning coach, my current title reads as “teacher.” I'm hard pressed to identify a "teacher" who fits the description below from the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary.

teacher noun: a person whose job is to teach students about certain subjects.

First Known Use: 14th century

Definition of TEACHER for Kids:  a person who passes on information or skill

I interpret this definition of teacher as someone who can stand, speak, demonstrate, and ta-dah! Learners will absorb the knowledge. We all know this isn't the case. It seems crazy that we are using a term from the 14th century simply because it's the way it has always been. No longer are we a person who passes on information or a skill and we do not behold all knowledge. In the 21st century our focus has shifted to facilitating student learning while coaching students in diverse ways and to support them to reach their full potential by empowering students to take ownership in their education. Learners need to be equipped with the ability to collaborate, think critically, create and communicate. 

The art of teaching has transformed over the years and while we recognize it, we tend to hold onto familiar and traditional terms that are no longer fitting.  In our schools, it's critical that we facilitate learning as coaches who utilize formative assessment while providing a loop of feedback, assist learners in setting personal and team learning targets, contribute and are accessible to assist in reflection, and encourage learners to move beyond their comfort level of learning to support them to be future ready.

As we examine the graphic of the Teacher Continuum we can see the progression. Consider the term "coach." When I hear the term coach I envision someone beside me who is encouraging and supporting my effort, analyzing and reflecting along with me on where I can improve, as well as noting what I'm doing well. This reminds me of Notre Dame's head football coach, Brian Kelly's, coaching philosophy. As players make mistakes, he pulls them to the side to provide direct feedback without emotion so that the players remain confident in their abilities with a growth mindset to step back on the field to accomplish their goals. This is contrary to how many football coaches approach their players’ mistakes. 

We need to be cognizant as educators of our own demeanor so that students can maintain confidence and develop a growth mindset. The feedback loop is critical as it allows learners to grow uniquely based on their specific needs and continuously refine. I've found value in making sure that my facilitation of learning is diverse to meet the needs of all learners through thoughtfully planned mini-lessons and small groups, since there's no approach that is one size fits all. We need to maintain the role of coach at all times while remaining mindful of student learning needs and focus on visible student engagement in their learning.

Student Leadership 
In my classroom we take a proactive approach to learning in order for me to successfully facilitate as a coach. From day one, learners are identified as leaders in our learning space. I explain that while they may not feel like a leader yet, they soon will. As coaches we need to set the stage for learners to grow into leadership roles. This provides more of an opportunity for "teachers" to transition to being a coach and lessen the amount of teacher driven instruction. 
As the first month progresses learners begin to grasp that my role is coach and therefore we have a lot of shared responsibility. I'm able to be a coach simply because students are empowered as leaders in our learning space. When their partner is off task, they check in with them and redirect. If students have questions, they ask one another and are allowed to move around the room to seek others' ideas. This is modeled, practiced and feedback is provided in order for fluid interactions and transitions. As the year progresses, students begin to take further ownership to maneuver the physical learning space to meet their needs and they take initiative to ensure that their time is used productively.

Community and Structures
Shifting to coach places leadership responsibility on learners. By providing structures within a supportive community, students become trusting to take risks and confident to lead their peers. Our community is fostered during the first week and then enhanced all year through community building structures. We also use Habits of Mind and The 7 Habits of Happy Kids structures from The Leader in Me to cultivate a community where learning can be synergistic. When learners are empowered and grasp how to function as a community it allows ample time for me to connect as a coach to be beside the learner.

Learners benefit from both teacher as coach and student leadership. They go hand-in-hand to cultivate an authentic community environment where learners take ownership over their choices, learning, and develop the ability to lead their peers with empathy. I'm confident that in our learning space students are not only cognitively engaged in exploring, researching, and learning, but also developing skills to be independent, critical thinkers. I could not coach as effectively if our learning environment was developed based on teacher ownership.

Coaching Opportunities
Inquiry based instruction, guided reading, math talk, PBL, and open exploration within makerspace provides ultimate opportunities for coaching learners. As we coach learners individually or in teams,  they engage in collaborative conversations around content with one another by explaining their reasoning. They practice listening to the perspectives of others and develop a deeper understanding around the content while simultaneously sharpening communication skills. We need to model and then coach collaborative conversation intentionally in order for learners to engage in authentic and purposeful conversation. Meanwhile as students engage in being coached, they begin to transfer the coaching skills and utilize it with one another.  For me, this is when I feel enlightened. After all, we want to support students to be proactive in their learning and develop self-efficiency.

Each of us has the ability to shift and make improvements in the way we currently "teach" or coach. As pioneers in education we need to anticipate change because nothing stays the same. As the future continues to evolve we must think on our feet, be flexible, and prepared to adjust. By stepping into the role as coach our understanding of the learner grows to new heights. We can then further retool instructional strategy and refine student learning targets to meet the needs of each individual. Automatically my mind shifts to seeking, "then what?" There will always be a next step as we pioneer forward. I've shifted from teacher, to facilitator, to coach. As societal needs change and new careers evolve within our economy, it's exciting to ponder the thoughts of my next role in the classroom to support students in their journey of college and career readiness.

I dedicate this post to my closest thought partner, Michael Bostwick (@m_bostwick), who takes the time to provide insight.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ignite a Movement, Be a Trailblazer

If you've ever had the opportunity to attend a ropes course, it's likely that you felt intrigued while observing the varying levels of ability.  From novice to expert every individual moves at his or her own pace.  Others prefer to stand to the side and watch the action take place.  

Following a recent experience at a ropes course with my sons, I was struck with how schools are comparable.  While some teachers avidly advance forward as innovators who motivate and challenge colleagues to try new ideas, others want to know every minute detail and speculate all of the possibilities in order to grasp the big picture and purpose before committing to taking action.  We need to be in tune with the needs of the individuals in our organization, decipher what drives them, and how we can support them to move forward.  In our field, we need to aspire to empower every educator to be a significant agent of change regardless of their starting point.

Educators have the capacity to be the fire starters to ignite a movement when the culture and climate are robust enough to support it.  By movement, I mean a complete transformation in the way we envision and do school.  Individually we are making varying differences daily, but collectively we can produce a significant impact and provoke immense change.  In today's world we desperately need committed educators who spark awe and wonder within students, while encouraging the spark to spread contagiously as students continue to inquire, seek answers, and develop new questions around relevant topics.  Leaders alike need to do the same amongst their staff and colleagues shifting to foster a culture where educators feel supported to take responsible risks.  The culture of schools, with trust as the cornerstone, should be one that stirs up a crusade where teachers eagerly identify their passions and feel supported to take risks, grow, and challenge one another.

Foundation First
On the ropes course I had to feel assured that my sons and I were completely safe in our harnesses in order to proceed through the challenges.  Guides were in the vicinity checking in and also demonstrating safety, which promoted confidence in those of us on the course.

In any organization, relationships and trust are the pillars to a strong culture.  Educators and administrators alike need to feel supported.  If our goal is to increase innovative practices and opportunities for our students and teachers, we need to take a step back and analyze how we're nurturing the culture.  Fear can cripple a person and lead to avoiding risk-taking behavior and therefore stifle innovation.

In our organizations we need to know our people, understand and be empathetic to their needs, as well as listen to and value their ideas.   Our schools need to cultivate a culture of innovation so strong that it carries itself beyond any change in staff or leadership in order to continue to do what's best for students as our world changes minute-to-minute.

Connect With Thought Leaders
Coming together through connections with like-minded educators enhances the power to be trail blazers in education as we are able to support one another and share ideas.  Joining together through shared beliefs and dreams drives passion within individuals enabling synergy to develop.  Connect through Twitter or use an app such as Voxer that will provide you with flexibility to communicate.  This enables interdependence between educators to support and collaboratively move one another forward.  The more often we connect with a team of like-minded thought leaders we develop confidence.  Confidence is critical in order to make pedagogical shifts and face challenges head on.  We need to know who is by our side to support us without judging our alternative ideas and who will provide authentic feedback for reflection and growth.

Encourage Educators to be "Non-Compliant."
Compliance doesn't lead to change.  Compliance leads to complacency, which jeopardizes growth and success.  At the ropes course, I was tempted to call out to my sons to hold the rope, or to slow down.  I had to refrain because if I didn't want to suppress their growth.  My sons are both risk takers, and I had to trust the fact that they were using all of their senses to appropriately travel through the challenges in a supportive environment.

In thinking about the diversity that fills our schools, we need to examine what makes each individual most confident in order for them to join the movement.  Cultivating and sustaining a culture of innovation requires delicate balance. 

When we recognize risk-taking educators who are ready to soar, we need to clear the runway and provide encouragement along with the space to take off; but the key is that we also need to have them on our teams collaborating to provoke deep thinking, which can elicit others to join the movement.  Initiate conversations around how their ideas support the shared vision, what action steps they're taking, and see how others could gain from what they have to offer.  When we bring a diverse team of thought leaders together to collaborate we can promote growth from all angles and develop thorough plans.  Within every organization there are educators who are comfortable diving-in and just going for it, while others take time to adjust.  Honoring and celebrating individual qualities creates a no-judgment zone where educators know they're supported when they feel it's their time to fly.

Likewise, when we sense educators are uncomfortable about change, we need to be cognizant of the environment they're in, who are they connected with, and nurture the culture to support their individual growth.  Educators who require all of the nuts and bolts of a plan, or to see the big picture before moving forward, benefit from clarity of the vision.  When we engage in active listening practices and are genuinely empathetic, others are able to trust that they're supported.  As educators we can all highlight the strengths that shine within each individual.  Our role as educators is to empower, whether it's empowering students, colleagues, families, or ourselves. 

In terms of non-compliance, educators need to have the autonomy to do what they know is best for students.  We need to motivate educators to make every decision with students at the forefront.  Educators benefit from developing a shared vision with coherence by examining the world students are living in and stretching our means to support them to be successful and future ready.

As an educator,  I know I need to utilize the standards as the foundation of student learning, but traditional education as we know it is hindering our students' growth.  Is learning in silos effective and is it how we apply information to life outside of the classroom?  Educators in all positions need to challenge themselves by reflecting on why they're doing, what they're doing.  Being a continuous learner enables us to develop confidence in our endeavor.  As trailblazers who are shifting paradigms of education, I urge all to join in and be an influencer who walks the talk.

Inspire Others 
Through relationships we need to tap into each individual's passions and fuel their desire by celebrating unique strengths, contributions and involving them in a movement for the greater good.  Demonstrating our commitment towards the vision, leading by example and clearly articulating why and how we're shifting our pedagogy can influence others by inspiring them to take action.  I believe every teacher desires a successful team of students who are eager to arrive at school and demonstrate grit through rigorous and relevant learning.  Educators need to see the vast amounts of possibilities despite perceived barriers.  When a barrier presents itself we inspire others by relentlessly pursuing all options without defeat.

Educators in all positions of the field have the ability to ignite a movement.  Some of us go big while others prefer to start small.  Despite your preference I challenge you to consider what you believe needs to revolutionized and connect with like minded professionals, develop your vision, and craft your plan so that others gain clarity and feel supported to take action alongside you.  Our children deserve our very best.  They benefit from flexible learning environments that arouse creativity, innovation, honor divergent thinkers and provide appropriate challenges around relevant and engaging topics from educators who authentically value the child's personality, and foster genuine relationships.  As committed educators we're in it together to ignite this movement, we just need step forward.

I dedicate this blog to the phenomenal thought leaders at LeadUpNow

Monday, July 27, 2015

Unlocking the True Potential Within Every Child: Be Their Champion

You have the power to make a phenomenal impact in the lives of children.

I believe educators are astoundingly fortunate to have the honor of engaging in the approach of unlocking the true potential within every child.  Regardless of their background or circumstances, by pursuing all avenues to reach and inspire each individual child, we can all make a difference in our students' lives.  It's phenomenal that educators have the opportunity to be a champion to not just one child, but hundreds of children over the course of their career.  I believe that when we work collaboratively for a cause that's greater than ourselves, the impact will cause ripples that travel further than our minds can fathom.

Our profession is all about kids.  They're our future, and it's an enormous responsibility because our interactions will either inspire or discourage. 

A lot of conversations have been had around risk taking and failing forward in education.  While these words are tossed around and contemplated, each person has a different image of what this actually looks like.  

Developed progressively, every year my vision has shifted and evolved with each diverse and unique team of students I've had the privilege to work alongside.  I've gained a deeper understanding of why culture is critical and how to harmoniously refine the development within each new team.  In a community where culture is authentic and strong, students flourish and truly begin to seek risk taking, rather than simply being "open" to it. 

A considerable amount of time needs to be devoted to cultivating relationships with individual students in order to assist in developing their ability to take risks.  And this means daily, as it's an ongoing pursuit.  Sit beside the child, allow them to guide the conversation, seek information about who they are and what their passions and dreams consist of.  When we demonstrate that we genuinely care, students connect with us.  When we connect by sharing our commonalities and continue to ask about their individual interests, students know we're invested and truly care about their best interest.  

Our students need to feel a safety net around them from us as well as their peers.  Peer acceptance is a piece of their sense of belonging.  Tailoring experiences where students develop empathy for their peers is essential.  If we truly want students to develop the ability to take risks, they need to feel their basic needs are met and that others have their back.  Making the assumption that students come to school and feel safe, or that they belong, is risky.  We need to be intentional about how we craft our classroom culture by providing opportunities to build trust between students and teachers, as well as students and students.  Teachers gauge the level of trust within the room by observing, taking the temperature of the climate, and continuing to learn the idiosyncrasies of each individual student.  In looking at Maslow's Heirachy of needs, we see that if we want students to become risk takers, it's pertinent that all of their basic needs are met. 

Recently at the 2015 Model Schools conference one speaker focused on fairness in the eyes of a child.  Fairness is a child's perception, and perception is real to the beholder.  Will students develop the mindset to be a risk taker if the playing field doesn't feel level?  We need to communicate clearly, consistently, and remain cognizant of cultivating authentic relationships with each and every student.  Furthermore, students benefit from a level of comfort/safety where they're empowered to provide us honest feedback as their coach (teacher), and that is only possible in a classroom where students feel completely supported to take risks without repercussions. After all, in order to understand our students' perceptions we need to listen and validate their feedback.  When students provide us with feedback, we can then stretch ourselves to learn and grow from their input. Students thrive when they're embraced unconditionally.  Every child deserves a champion who will rally around them and validate their feelings while continually improve for their sake.

This past year I continually repeated "mistakes are proof that you are trying" as students collaborated on relevant and complex problem solving.  I hung this poster on the wall to be visible to all students.  By midyear all I had to say, "mistakes..." and the students would complete my sentence.  Rather than scolding them for giggling when I made a mistake, students grasped the fact that I too will make mistakes and they'd say, "It's okay Mrs. Bostwick, it's proof you're trying!"  It was liberating for them to identify that their coach is not the beholder of all knowledge, but rather the individual that was there to facilitate, guide, and encourage.

Life is filled with adversity.  How we choose to handle it is embedded in our mindset.  Fortunately mindset is malleable, and I believe every teacher has the ability to empower students to learn to fail forward, seek risks, and pursue their passions.  Setbacks are part of growth, and we need to provide experiences within a supportive environment to stimulate this understanding in order for students to develop flexibility in thinking.  Cultivating and nurturing the culture of a classroom provides the fertile environment for students to thrive and seek risk taking which leads to innovative problem solving and creations.  

Repeated failures can lead to success when students are inspired to aspire toward their goal.  The key is to foster their ability to identify their passions in an environment that richly supports risk taking through supportive and trusting relationships.

This summer my 10 year old son, Julian, who has always been a tinkerer and maker, was further inspired by the idea of makerspace as it's been a hot topic in our house.  Energized, he worked tenaciously to develop an obstacle course that would allow a ping-pong ball to travel from one point to another using random materials found around our home.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, he used an iPad to document his trials which demonstrate failure after failure that led to his success.  In watching his iMovie you'll recognize his efforts of making slight alterations in order to reach the intended goal as well as the sound of success at the end.

 See Julian's iMovie: Trial and Error by Julian

Imagine the impact that would transpire if all students were empowered to continue to persevere in the face of challenge, and yearned for the shear joy of the process of overcoming obstacles.  We can make this happen, and kids deserve the culture and environment that supports this.

Intrinsic motivation catapults students' determination and outcome of success.  As educators we have the collective capacity to share in the movement to empower students to be innovative problem solvers, who develop the prowess to examine situations from all angles.  Every child deserves a champion who will tailor and foster a learning environment for them to bloom.  Be the change you wish to see in education because #kidsdeserveit.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Endurance, Teamwork, and Growth Mindset to Persevere Through Challenge

While running this morning after taking four days off to attend the 23rd annual ICLE Model School Conference in Atlanta, my legs felt fresh and ready to fly through multiple miles.  I felt like a gazelle!  Then it happened... After 2.5 miles, my legs got heavy, my mouth felt dry, and I wanted to break.  The music played on and the lyrics really impacted my mindset.  

You can throw your hands up
You can beat the clock
You can move a mountain
You can break rocks
You can be a master
Don't wait for luck
Dedicate yourself and you can find yourself

Determined to move forward, I pushed past feeling uncomfortable so that my body could be trained to not want to break at that point.  I'll admit I take breaks in life but I go until the break is necessary, and typically opt to refuel rather than stop.  As I continued listening to my music this morning, the similarities between running and education become increasingly evident.  Days of accumulated thoughts and ideas during the time spent with my team at the conference, flooded my head.

I believe many of you in education can empathize when I say that there are times in our profession when we feel like we're traveling up a mountain.  It's a journey with no real end point where obstacles and stamina ebb and flow.  I pondered, as we move forward in shifts in education what causes some individuals to turn around and go back?  What causes others to stop and stand still?  And, what motivates and inspires others who choose to continue the journey toward the top?  After all, I just returned from the Model Schools conference where numerous identified model schools presented, whose staff exuded positive energy and determination allowing no hurdles to slow them down. 

When I reflect back at my running experiences (whether it was a 5k or half marathon) it was the people who encouraged and pushed me to accelerate.  It was those who showed that they believed in me.  There were people all along the way who cheered and held up signs.  Most of them were strangers and not cheering particularly for me, but it was their contagious belief that we runners were all making progress.  In fact it was as simple as a stranger who handed me a cup of Gatorade when I felt my legs couldn't take another step.  I persisted and refused to give up.  

Along with believers who encourage, we also need strategies that we can rely on.  The day I ran the marathon (half), I repeated the same song for the last 4 miles.  Now I'm clearly admitting a little insanity here, but I took a tool that worked for me personally when I truly struggled to maintain my pace.  I had hundreds of songs on my playlist, but chose the one I needed at that particular time.  I had a strategy in place to support myself in success.  With each new challenge, a new strategy may be necessary to move forward.  We can't expect the same strategy to work repeatedly.  Keeping that in the forefront we know that as educators and athletes we need to have a wealth of strategies to choose from for any given situation.

Ironically the morning of the half I expressed to a training partner of mine that my goal was to run under an 8 minute pace for the half.  Her response was that there was no way I could based on our training experiences.  As the event unfolded I recall chewing on her words, and even questioning my own ability as we quietly sat together riding to the start.  One of the thoughts that went through my head was the time during training when my knee gave out during a 15 mile run.  In a sense I failed the day I ran 15 miles since I couldn't continue.  But in the end I was stronger because I learned from the experience and corrected my mistake.  The mistake was simply that I had over trained that week and I needed to reevaluate my program.

I considered how I became stronger after that day and thought through all that I had done to prepare for this race.   The comment continued to replay in my head, and somehow was flipped into a challenge.  In fact, it ended up fueling my desire to prove that I could do anything I put my mind to.  It was my mindset kicking in.  

When we arrived at the starting area just prior to the beginning of the race, I began to follow her to where the 8 minute pacer was, but then something deep down inside me made me stop in my tracks.  I quickly explained that I was heading to where I gauged the 7:45 minute pace would be based on where the other pacer's were situated and asked her to join me.  She declined.  Looking back I wish I'd arrived at that epiphany sooner in our travels so that I had more time before the official start to encourage and motivate her to also believe in her ability and join me as a team member.

Whose voice do you listen to? Do you listen to those who encourage or discourage you?  If someone does discourage you, how do you take that information and use it to reflect or strengthen your abilities?  What does your own voice say when you truly listen to it?  When you're faced with naysayers or those comfortable living in the status quo, do you feel uncomfortable taking risks or inspired by the challenge? Furthermore, how can you link arms with each other and move forward as a team?  A team yields the greatest results after all.    

My pace that day for the half ended up being a 7:42/minute for 13.1 miles.   As for my training partner, she continued training hard because she saw that if I could do it, she could too.  We continued to strengthen one another.  And as for this morning's run, I didn't stop when my body wanted to.  My mindset pushed me as the music played on. 

You could go the distance
You could run the mile
You could walk straight through hell with a smile
You could be the hero
You could get the gold
Breaking all the records that thought, never could be broke
Do it for your people
Do it for your pride
How you ever gonna know if you never even try?

Surround yourself with those who inspire you.  A team is only as strong as its weakest member.  Take the members who you're with, identify and celebrate their strengths and encourage them to continue to take steps forward.  Collaborate to grow and push one another to greater heights.  Keep in mind that your team isn't solely the people who teach in your grade level, wing, or district, but are also the people on the sidelines who are encouraging you.  In education we extend our team by engaging and empowering all stakeholders.  When these key players are embraced, they provide increased levels of support and become integral members in helping us climb to greater heights together.  And if you or your team members fail - reflect, debrief and reevaluate to improve.

The most inspirational coach I've had the honor to run for would give us slips of quotes prior to races.  One of my favorite quotes that sticks with me is, "pain is temporary, pride is forever."  What greater pride is there than being able to impact children in their current place and especially their future?  Each individual has a different threshold and pace, but the key is to continue moving forward, foster a growth mindset, encourage, and celebrate one another along the way. 

I dedicate this post to all of my #leadupchat tribe members who are my inspirational thought partners, and my extended team at Horseheads Central School District with whom I'm blessed to be on a journey toward excellence.  #OwnItHCSD #ModelHHDS

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Learning Beyond Four Walls

Learning Beyond Four Walls: Students Engaged in Education 
of the 1800's Compared to 2015 
In April, our fourth graders had the opportunity to explore life as it was in the 1800's.  Students began the day in Heritage Village, Painted Post by raising the flag on a wooden pole.  Master Roberts greeted students from the front of the one room school house and directed the boys to enter through the door on the left, and girls the door on the right.  Once in the school house the students took their seat and began comparing and contrasting the stark differences of the classrooms of the 1800's and 2015. 

Classroom Then and Now
Listening to students make observations about the school room compared to our classroom in the year 2015 was extraordinary.  In education we've moved from single desks in rows, maps on the wall, and rote memorization into a world filled with endless possibilities including access to information with the touch of a fingertip.  We have Google Earth to explore geography all over the world, and ability to connect through Skype to anyone on any continent.  Our students are beyond sitting at a desk memorizing what is in their book, but rather are engaged in collaborative conversations creating their own focus questions, planing for investigations and explore independent interests through passion projects.  The list goes on...

Still, while exploring life in the 1800's in Heritage Village students gained a vast appreciation for life of the past.  In exchange for games on Symbaloo they were challenged by how many pins they could drop into a bottle, get a ring on the stick, walking on stilts, and pushing a ring.  Laughter was heard all around!

Blacksmith Shop
In the blacksmith shop students could feel the heat blasting from the fire as the blacksmith cautiously softened metal to shape into a nail and S hook.  While he hammered away at the malleable metal he told the story of how boys were often sent off at age 12 to be an apprentice to a blacksmith so that they could make money.  The boys in the group raised eyebrows at each other as though they couldn't fathom the idea, but they humored the possibility.  

Kitchen Duties
Following the blacksmith we walked along the pebble path to the kitchen where we met Sarah.  The kitchen was humid and smelled of maple syrup and smoke.  Sarah was straightforward and matter of fact.  The students were enamored by her!  Sarah spoke to them as though they were the travelers from afar who had just reached The Benjamin Patterson Inn.  They learned a lesson about the duties children had such as tending to the root cellar, caring for siblings, and how the young ladies assisted in the kitchen.  We heard about the miles they traveled and Sarah used inquiry to facilitate thinking and conversation on the flow of the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers, means of transportation, and survival in the brutal winter months.  Next came cooking!  Students had the opportunity to crack eggs, grind corn, stir the mixture, and vote on the sweetener (maple syrup or molasses) to make Johnny Cakes over an open fire.  The Johnny Cakes had mixed reviews! 

Life in the Barn
Our final stop was at the barn.  Within the barn students had the opportunity to use a saw and an ax to get a sample of the work children did in the 1800's.  Our fourth graders were exuberant due to the hands-on experience to grasp life of the past, and their wheels were spinning with just how much life has transformed over the years. 

While our life has incredible differences in comparison to the 1800's, our students not only developed a better understanding for our culture today, but an appreciation for how their very own life came about due to the settlers who endured a multitude of challenges for a chance at life in America. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Empowering Student Voice Through Classroom Culture

Empowering student voice transforms a learner from being an observer to an initiator. We’ve all seen students who walk in the door on the first day of school with a fixed mindset.  Their previous educational experience has led them to believe they may be great in math, but struggle in reading.  These students come to us expecting to experience the same struggles and emotions they have in past years.  Students may lack confidence, and be unwilling to take risks.  As educators, how can we support the development of a growth mindset that will lead to empowerment of student voice?  After all, the most valuable voice in the classroom is the student's.

Ongoing Community Building to Support Growth Mindset
Educators grasp the importance of team building, but to take it further in order to shift the culture, I utilize Laurie S. Frank’s “Journey Toward the Caring and Collaborative Classroom 2nd Edition: Using Adventure to Create Community.”  The structures are designed intentionally to support the development of students into responsible risk takers within the framework of experiential learning.  Students participate in collaborative activities that work through the stages of cooperation, trust, problem solving and challenge.  The debriefing period at the end of each activity is where students make growth in their ability to process, reflect, and emote.  This is the foundation of student voice in the classroom as they progress though stages of growth.
Habits of Mind
Each month I focus on one trait from the Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind.  These soft skills are the skills and attitudes support success in school, work, and life.  Students use rubrics to monitor and reflect on their growth.   Together we practice perspective taking and I structure activities that provide students with the opportunity to remain open minded.  You can select traits to focus on that best support your learning environment.
Empowering Student Voice
Strategically establishing a culture that promotes responsible risk-taking opens the gates for the empowerment of student voice.  Those who never envisioned themselves sharing perspective, advocating for a cause, or respectfully disagreeing with another’s perspective develop the ability to do so.  As educators we need to put all the structures in place to support the empowerment of student voice.  Integrating community building and the Habits of Mind promotes a growth mindset.  In my classroom, when we make mistakes we fail forward together because our classroom environment is supportive and non-threatening.
Classroom Tip
Create an anchor chart on the art of collaborative conversation.  Model it, have students practice, reflect, and integrate it as a part of daily instruction in math, ELA, STEM, and SS.  Have students peer assess each other on the Habits of Mind using a rubric.  Students can assess themselves and compare rubrics - then reflect for growth.  Personal reflection is the core of growth mindset, which in turn creates a positive culture where empowered student voices echo throughout the classroom.