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