Sunday, August 20, 2017

"Once you stop learning, you start dying." Albert Einstein

George Couros The INNOVATOR'S Mindset—Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity

Last spring I finished a 500-level course at a university. Class participants were required to purchase four books with an option for a fifth. The topic was relevant and meaningful, and I was eager to add new thinking to my practice as a learner and principal. The challenge was the extensive reading assignments felt more like an extensive to do list with an explosion of content, ideas, and theory. I sat in my row each week facing the speaker feeling “traditionalized.”

I continued to be frustrated throughout the coursework sessions. The delivery was passionate and relevant, but I was not coming away with different or new thinking. During our midterm break, I had the opportunity to read Innovators Mindset, sitting on a beach chair next to the Pacific Ocean. I was rested and relaxed, and author George Couros helped me see clearly why the learning for this educator was not happening. To make the most out of my coursework and apply my new knowledge my approach needed to change.   

Not to change just for the sake of change, but to enhance my learning with innovative thinking. Couros defines innovation, “as a way of thinking that creates something new and better” (p. 19). This means we can invent something entirely different, or make a change to something that already exists. Innovation as a way of thinking rather than a to do list, an undertaking, or an object to acquire and it starts by asking “What is best for the learner?”

At the heart of innovation in schools is to reflect about “why we do what we do” with students at the center (p. 21). Couros references Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset, but he takes it a step further with adding the thinking of globalization theorist and New York Times op-ed author Thomas Friedman. For our students to compete in the now outsourcing job market for an employment requires more than what you know. It is how our students will use what they know that will matter most. Since our future belongs to all of us, this reasoning also applies to all educators, including the principal.

As a former administrator, Couros understands building leaders are often faced with limited budget constraints. Practical application of new or outside the box thinking will also require us “to learn to innovate inside the box” (p. 36), and continue to ask, “Is there a better way?” (p. 42). An innovative principal is willing to model risk taking and creatively be a problem finder to find an enhanced approach to learning for each of their students. So rather than encouraging our students to look for answers, consideration for how to inspire our students to develop their questions and then find the answers should be a topic of collaborative conversation with building leaders and teachers.

And it starts with creating a culture where relationships are the priority. “In fact, relationships are critical for innovation . . . The three most important words in education are relationships, relationships, relationships” (p.69). If there is one big takeaway from Innovators Mindset is would be just this. The meaningful connections we make with our students and staff matter. Getting to know them is an investment, not expenditure and an opportunity to build up their strengths. Our role is to empower them to see themselves as innovators as they pursue new passions and interests.

Although, it is important to remember new is good if it’s better, not just because it’s new. The question becomes how do we make learning meaningful for our students and how do we empower our teachers in this process? Couros advocates for shared ownership of this responsibility. When teachers invite the students into the conversation of learning and get feedback on how we are supporting where they want to go as learners, everyone benefits. It opens the collaborative discussion with the opportunity to move forward in our practice as teachers and students rather than “fixing” a problem.

I did not get to choose my coursework assignments, but I can choose what practices I incorporate as a learner.  Rather than reading all the assigned content in my coursework and receive that coveted A, I could model learning that would enhance my innovative leadership practices. “Focusing on a few key things promotes innovation in teaching and learning. And this sharp focus allows you to do more—with less confusion” (p. 164-16).

Saturday, August 19, 2017

BOLDly Going Foward

Weston Kieschnick BOLD SCHOOl—Old School Wisdom + New School Technologies = Blending Learning That Works

I had the chance to take members of our leadership team to the Model Schools conference this summer. Being this would be a significant expense, I reached out to school improvement consultants and colleagues on their recommendations regarding which sessions would be “Rigorous & Relevant” (no pun intended—well maybe a little) for the team to attend. I created a well thought-out five-day agenda with dates and times for sessions we should all attend together. It was going to be great.

We left the day after our student’s last day of school. To say it was a hectic time for teachers to head off to a conference and pack up their classroom to end the school year and travel to the other side of the country was truly an understatement. We all boarded the plane on a red-eye approximately 30 hours from when our last student left for the summer, and we were all exhausted.

After boarding and waiting for the plane to take off, I realized the agenda I painstakingly created never got sent. For an instant, I felt sheer panic. Then I looked up. All of the leadership team members were on their digital devices accessing the Model School app and collaborating on which sessions they were going to attend---together. There are so many lessons for me as a leader at that moment, but the one I want to compare it to was from one of the first sessions we attended as a team.

Author Weston Kieschnick shared with our leadership team and other attendee’s insights from his book, BOLD SCHOOL, Old Wisdom + New School Technologies = BLENDING LEARNING THAT WORKS! With an endorsement from John Hattie; “Bold School…needs to be a part of every educator’s toolbox,” we were all hooked. Kieschnick’s enthusiasm for teaching was evident in his conference address as well as on each page of his book. Through familiar characters found in well recognized iconic movies and his personal experiences as a teacher and instructional coach, we learned both the definition of blending learning and the framework needed to create a Bold School.

In Kieschnick’s book, BOLD SCHOOL he positions Hattie research and the list of what works in education to support student learning. A Bold School doesn’t move away from those instructional teaching practices that evidence and research have proven to be impactful. A Bold School continues to create blended learning experiences for students with a “mix of traditional face-to-face instructional time and digital instructional tools” (p. 5) with a “goal-strategy-tool paradigm” (p.28-29).

“The Bold School Framework for Strategic Blended Learning is a thinking process” (p. 36). This progress includes moving from identifying the priority standard or academic outcome, selecting an instructional strategy that works aligned to your student’s needs, adding an intentional digital tool to support the learning goal, planning for rigorous application of the pertinent new skill, and continuously self-assessing the effectiveness of instruction by monitoring and measuring student progress. The student's new knowledge needs to be rigorous for our students and relevant as we prepare them to think critically as they engaged in the world around them now, and for their future not yet known.

Why the book is such a treasure for teachers is the guide he provides to go BOLD with, Blended Instructional Strategies. He encourages teachers to blend evidence-based instructional strategies shown to impact learning with technology.  Although to be BOLD it requires strategic thinking and planning on how to use high effect size strategies with technology that are tools, not pedagogy. He dedicates each of the last thirteen chapters is to a different instructional approach accompanied by a technology tool to engage the student and make the experience relevant.

There is an application in this book for how a school leader can approach adult learning as well. The goal of heading to the conference was to give members of our leadership team an opportunity build on our school improvement initiatives and come away with new ideas and insights for our work. The plan for how I was going to achieve this goal was in a top-down mandate of which classes they would be required to attend as a team. The Voxer chat group we created was to be our tool to communicate new learning. The goal, strategy, and tool paradigm were all in place, but without first considering the strengths and insights of our adult learners, opportunities can be missed. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Literacy Impact K-5 with Hattie, Fisher, & Frey

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, & John Hattie Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom—K-5 Classroom Companion

Fisher, Frey, & Hattie have once again empowered educators with a clear understanding of the elements of instruction needed to enrich and impact our students with their new book, Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom, K-5 Classroom Companion. For those who teach our youngest learners the love and power of reading, the book is a must have.  For those who desire to teach more literacy, this companion will be a key resource when planning, implementing and reflecting on their instruction.

Throughout the text, Fisher, Frey, & Hattie give authentic snapshots of what visible learning and teaching looks like in an elementary school classroom. There is something truly magical when both students and teachers are authentically engaged in the learning.  There is a rhythm and a beat as students move toward the learning intention guided by skilled teachers, “who have worked to make learning visible for their students and have impacted learning in significant ways” (p. 4).  It is not easy, but it is purposeful and driven by a desire to make learning relevant for our earliest readers.

Hattie’s effect sizes from Visible Learning are revisited. The authors strategically outline when during the instructional teaching and learning cycle they are most powerful at the surface, deed, and transfer level.  Moving many of our students up to meet their grade level learning intentions requires catch up growth. Teachers must be purposeful on what instructional strategies to implement and when. With the limited amount of time they have with students, teachers must choose wisely and do what has proven to work, rather than what may have worked in the past.

Fisher, Frey, & Hattie remind us literacy is more than just reading. Students must be learning to write and reflect about what they are reading, listen and respond to the text, articulate their thinking about a piece of text, and view text to understand and navigate the author’s meaning and purpose. These skills include; using language, cognitive thinking, creating and reading text to develop fluent readers. Not to read for the sake of reading, but to find the rhythm and fluidity of meaning of text in our complex world.

The authors give the reader a practical framework to use in our literacy lessons.  Included is the power of authentic assessments and how they are used to guide the teacher’s next instructional step.  Allocating consistent time within the school day to develop and teach literacy skills is important, but so is including these instructional strategies throughout a student’s entire school day. Fisher, Frey, and Hattie stress balancing whole group and small group instruction and what specific components are listed in the lesson from the start of the lesson to the culminating activity and everything that should happen in-between to ensure that learning is transparent.

Students are not passive participants in the process of learning. They are informed, engaged, and developing ownership of their learning. The authors describe them as “The Visible Learner.” With clear guidance and direction, they; determine what they are trying to accomplish, use strategies to support their learning, navigate and monitor the effectiveness of their attempts, and finally determine their next steps. Their skillful classroom teacher recognizes this is not an easy task for the learner, but as partners, they learn the value of showing persistence and effort.

Teaching Literacy in the Visible Learning Classroom is a comprehensive instructional planning companion for teachers in our elementary classrooms. The K-5th-grade classroom guide could also be utilized by as a book study by coaches and administrators who want to purposefully and mindfully rollout it’s important teaching and learning strategies in chunks of learning strategically throughout the academic school year. Using data as a guide, coaches and administrators can collectively determine together what instructional strategies will impact your students to improve their learning.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Out of Oz and Staying in Kansas

Kristin Souers with Peter Hall Fostering Resilient Learners—Strategies for Creating a Trauma Sensitive Classroom

Being a school leader is an incredibly time demanding profession. There are some days when there is truly not enough hours in the day to accomplish all the tasks that are simply mandatory. To start this joyful madness, there is one task I prioritize and hope to never lose sight of. The first person students see each day when they walk through the front door is me, followed by their grade level teacher as they walk into their classroom.

Our school improvement efforts are focusing not on what we can’t control, but what happens when student immediately enter our schools and classrooms. Our goal is to build positive interactive relationships where students feel appreciated and valued for what they “bring to the table.”  Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers with Pete Hall reminds us, “How we ‘set the table’ often determines how successful our students will be” (p. 35).

Each of our students has a story to tell, and their often “complicated, stressful lives can create conditions that present massive obstacles to learning” (p. 14). We don’t know their whole story, but we often experience the effect trauma has on their lives every day. The authors refer to the trauma a child can experience as adverse childhood experiences. These events may include poverty, substance abuse in the home, parental divorce, witnessing domestic violence, family incarceration, and physical or emotional abuse which has “a powerful negative effect on students’ readiness to learn” (p. 20).

During this traumatic experience student’s brain switches gear. It kicks into a stress response releasing chemicals into the body to allow the brain to survive these states of stress.  Normal operational development then leaves the brain as elevated stress hormones take over affecting learning, disposition, retention, and other executive functions (p. 22). As teachers and leaders what we do know is each of our students handles stresses differently ranging from constant disruptions to ceremonial withdrawals.  Souers and Hall help us as understand as educators we can support student’s responsiveness by teaching specific self-care strategies on how to cope.

The author’s references the work of Dr. Dan Siegel, from the UCLA School of Medicine. When students are in the fight, flight, or freeze response their thinking brain is “downstairs” and not in a state of learning----yet. Our goal as educators is to support student’s recognition when they are in this state. We can provide them with the skills and strategies needed to regulating their behaviors and move their thoughts back upstairs so they can think, reason, and learn (p. 31).

What I appreciate most about the author’s perspective on this growing challenge we are facing in schools is the solutions in the form of certain self-acknowledging strategies we can implement in our schools and classrooms. In their words, Souers and Hall recommend to “Stay out of Oz,” and “Remain grounded amid chaos.” Beware and avoid getting sucked into student tornados by admiring the problem and getting whisked off to Oz, to teaching them how to self-regulate and staying grounded in Kansas. Although to be successful in the classroom we need to be more of the Good Witch and not allow our triggers to guide us. There is no place like home in our upstairs learning brains (p.59).

None of this happens without the persistent connections we make every day with our students.

As we greet our students with the traditional Hellos and Good Morning, we also need to genuinely listen to their responses, make eye contact, and let them know they matter. Here you are safe, respected, and yes even loved for the talent and abilities you have and are acquiring as you are becoming a resilient learner both academically, socially and emotionally.