In Case You Missed It: TED’s First TV Special

I enjoy the occasional TED talk, so it was great to find out that their first TV special that aired this past Tuesday on PBS centered around Education. The musician, John Legend hosted, and talks were given by several education leaders trying to emphasize some of the things needed in education.

Some of the speakers included Angela Duckworth on Grit, Bill Gates on Measures of Effective Teaching, Sir Ken Robinson on the need to start a revolution, Geoffrey Canada on education reform, and Pearl Arredondo telling her own personal story of grit. My favorite talk, though, was Rita F. Pierson’s. Her topic was about what I think matters most in education: Heart. It’s always about the connection and relationship you make with the kids, and your belief in them. You can watch her short talk below, or click the PBS link above to see them all.

The Language We Choose to Use with Students and Its Impact

Last week, as part of our parent speaker series, my school hosted Dr. McCurry. A clinical child psychologist, his talk was titled: The Anxiety Dance: A Parent’s Guide.  He spoke mainly about how we can either react or respond to behavior regardless of whether you were a parent or teacher. His talk provided us with several examples and strategies of how to help children who have anxiety whether or not it is clinically diagnosable.

A week before that, I attended part of Evergreen School’s speaker series’ presentation by Allison Master: Mindsets Revisited: Exploring the power of growth mindset and word choice in motivating children.

Every once in a while a book comes along that can be transformative. In terms of teaching, Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset was one of those for me. Master who has co-authored a few articles with Dweck, began with a quick introduction defining the two kinds of mindsets that have been researched, fixed and growth. The word “mindsets” is becoming overused and can describe a lot of things not related to Dweck’s theory, so if you’re unfamiliar with her work, search using the terms “fixed,” “growth,” and “mindset” and that should get you going in the right direction.

One of the most important things I’ve learned abo about helping students manage anxiety or fostering growth mindsets is the language we use with them. What we say as parents and educators can be so influential. The feedback we give can impact a child for years to come.

There’s a huge difference between saying to a child, “You’re a good drawer!” and “You put a lot of effort into that drawing.” The first places value on the ability. The latter places the value on the effort or process. Which one do you think privileges actual learning? The language we choose to use with our students influence mindsets profoundly. A healthy dose of anxiety is normal, but it too places value on the process rather than the event. You acknowledge the event and feelings with a timestamp, like, “I can right now that you’re frustrated…” Then give the child agency to make a decision to move away from a fixed idea of their frustration to one that will pass.

A great book our faculty is reading is called, Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Minds by Peter Johnston. It cites Dweck’s work and goes on to show how powerful the language we use can affect the way children perceive themselves. He uses the terms “fixed” and “dynamic” to describe the way we think about ourselves. Basically, learning is something that we can change and knowing that our brains are plastic and adaptable is  important. When a child is having an, “I’m stupid,” moment, it’s imperative to help the child recognize that it’s just a moment, not a fixed idea. A child with a growth mindset is going to have less anxiety, learn throughout life, and develop resilience. As adults, it’s natural to want to rescue a child, but as an adult you have to know the difference between pushing a child out of the way of a speeding car and doing their homework for them.

Furthermore, both Master and Johnston show the evidence of how language influences social and moral agency. If we put a fixed label on ourselves, it becomes very different to find the value in others and develop the empathy needed to work with those with differing views.

This works for adults too. I can learn from my colleagues and they can learn from me, but only if we are willing to see that. The next time you’re giving feedback to a child (or a peer), instead of a simple, “Great Job!” be specific.  For example, “I really like the choice of words in this paragraph.” If you can’t think of anything specific right away, at least praise the effort. “Wow! I can see you put a lot of work into that!”

I haven’t read McCurry’s book yet, but I highly recommend the other two. They might just change a life.

Getting Comfortable With What You Don’t Know

One of the sessions at the NAIS conference was titled ‘Unplugged’ which was organized as an ‘unconference’. I attended this for a few reasons: 1)  my friend and colleague, Liz was involved, 2) I am a proponent of this format as a way of learning, and 3) NAIS was taking a risk and trying something new within the larger conference.

There was another reason that didn’t become apparent to me until we started. The ‘unconference’ format is an open one where the participants set the agenda. There were large sheets of chart paper on easels for those wanting and willing to facilitate a session or conversation on any particular topic.Usually, someone who is eager to share something they’ve been doing for a while at their school.

There was a good turn out, but there seemed to be some reluctance in people volunteering to lead a session at first. Now, while there are topics in education that I’m passionate about and would feel confident in leading a discussion, I instead decided to pick a topic I only know a little about, and have only tried a couple of times in my classroom: “using design thinking in social studies.”

My hope was that any drawn to this topic would have their own stories to share and I could learn from them. I also wanted to practice facilitating which doesn’t require you to be an expert, but to be able to listen and move the discussion along.

This was a great experience for me as I wasg able to step outside my comfort zone, and in doing, so learned a lot from others. Our group described projects they had done with their kids using this process, the successes, failures, and challenges. We discussed how it was similar to, yet different from project or problem based learning. It was a great example of educators sharing what they knew with each other and what they wanted to know. We talked about how to use it to solve larger school-wide problems.

What I like about design thinking is that it starts with empathy first. It’s the part that’s missing from a lot of other problem based strategies. The first step in design thinking is to find out more about the user before defining the problem. What are their needs? How do they feel about it? For some school problems, the users are students, other times it’s teachers. Sometimes, it’s even parents.

Empathy can be achieved through surveys, interviews, and other means. After this, the second step is to define the problem as it should become clearer. The next step is to collaborate to brainstorm as many ideas as possible, then selecting a few top ideas and creating prototypes.

It’s the final step in the process that becomes a challenge. The challenge with design thinking in the classroom or even in a school is the lack of time to test the prototype/product and go through many iterations of the process. We could use design thinking to work on improving a master schedule, for example, but once a schedule is set, revising, refining, and changing it throughout the school year is not very practical. Still, it’s a process that has a lot of potential and perhaps needs to be matched with the right kind of problem. Also, the steps in this process are not mutually exclusive of each other.

Stepping outside one’s comfort zone isn’t easy. Right now I’m trying to do this with my class’s home learning assignment. I don’t know much about the game Minecraft, but there are several students in my class who are obsessed about it. So, it’s an option on one of their assignements. The game as a learning tool was mentioned by one of the speakers at the NAIS conference and featured last week in the Washington Post. Of course the students’ learning target is to be prepared to share what they have learned at home. The medium, be it Minecraft or a cake, will be their choice.  I can’t wait to learn something new from my students.

Below are some resources for design thinking in education:

Design Thinking for Education

Virtual Crash Course from Stanford’s d.school

A great segment on 60 minutes on design thinking from earlier in the year:

http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50138327n

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One of my students’ beginnings of a penguin habitat.

What Makes a School Great?

Almost a month has past since the NAIS annual conference, and many of the ideas shared are still present in the back of my mind. The theme of the conference was “Think Big, Think Great,” and outgoing president Pat Bassett asked us to come up with our list of 25 factors that make schools great. His list is quite impressive, and it was hard to come up with 25 of my own. Instead, as I read each one, I began to see some commonalities among them all.

Relationships: Whether the focus is on students, teachers, families, administrators or the greater community, the things that make a great school on Mr. Bassett’s list all depend on forging strong relationships.

Communication: To achieve all those factors, a school needs to have excellent communication among all constituents.

Values: Whatever the values are for a particular school,  a school needs to be purposeful in its endeavors and have that work shaped by its values.

It’s hard to come up with a list of 25, but if you click on the link above and look at Mr. Bassett’s, I think you’ll see these three things woven throughout. Maybe you’ll see more.

All It Takes Is One Person

There were so many great ideas shared at the NAIS conference. Some were new, some validating, and some that challenged my own philosophy about education. While I need time to process and reflect, I also want to dive right in and push myself to try new things.

The theme of the conference was “Think Big, Think Great” and the main keynote was Jim Collins, known prominently for his work “Good to Great.” He left the audience with 12 questions to ponder which I hope to do in the coming months. Rather than summarize his entire talk, which you can find here, I want to highlight something that stuck with me. He said that a great enterprise, be it a business or school had to pass three tests:

  1. Superior performance relative to your mission.
  2. Makes a distinctive impact on the world it touches. (If your school went away, would it leave an unfillable hole? Who would miss you truly and why?)
  3. Achieves lasting endurance, which means it’s great beyond any one leader. (Your school is not great if it cannot be great without you.)

Throughout the conference, I was reminded about these three things several people I heard speak. Here are two examples:

One of the general session speakers was Tererai Trent who grew up in what is now Zimbabwe. Married at 11 and mother of three by 18, her biggest dream was to get an education. She earned a doctorate in interdisciplinary evaluation. With the strong belief that education is the way out of poverty and a way to stop the mistreatment of women, she wanted to start a school back in the village where she grew up. As of today, she has helped build 8 schools.

Another session I attended was led by Lee Hirsch who made the documentary “Bully.” You can see the positive impact the film has been making at CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 page here.

Both these speakers set examples that pass the three tests mentioned by Jim Collins. Whether their intention was to impact one life or hundreds of thousands, their mission remained focused. It was clear to me that they let their projects become bigger than themselves, big enough to endure without them.

Both speakers did not do it alone. Tererai Trent, for example, received help from Oprah. Their dreams of change, however, were their own, and their belief that this change was achievable never seemed to wane.

The kids we teach are all dreamers. For lack of a better analogy, those dreams are like seeds. Maybe we play a role in planting some of those seeds. Maybe we don’t. Whether those dreams impact one person or many, part of our jobs as educators is to nourish those seeds and help them grow.

Reflecting on Presenting at #NAISAC13

One of the things I love best about learning is sharing that experience with my students. After all, learning is what I ask them to do each day. I learned so much from presenting at the National Association of Independent School’s (NAIS) Annual Conference, and it’s great to share the process with my second graders.

Today, for example, two of my students had to present something to the class. One shared with the class the adventure of her Flat Stanley, and the other presented a book report. It was important to let them know that what I am asking of them isn’t arbitrary, but something their own teacher engaged in last week. I didn’t talk about the topic of the presentation as that wasn’t pertinent to them, but I did briefly talk about the process.

The session at the conference was called “Revolutionize Your Professional Development.”

Description of session from conference program.

Description of session from conference program.

I presented with Kim Sivick, Liz Davis, and Shannon Montague. We all teach in different states, met initially through social media, and all had different reasons for wanting to present on this topic. One thing that we all had in common, though, was that we were passionate about this model of professional development, and wanted others to bring it to their schools.

Kim is a founding member of edcamps and on the edcamp foundation. Liz was instrumental in getting edcampIS to happen and has been involved in many other unconferences. Shannon and I have both helped organize edcamps, and Shannon recently organized PD in her school using the unconference format.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of risk involved when collaborating with four educators from four different parts of the country, but we trusted each other and we trusted the topic.

I remember that we all had this grand idea that we’d run a mini un-conference in order to inform, persuade, and have participants experience the process itself. The beauty of unconferences is that people get to partake in the conversation, not just sit and listen. We wanted to model good teaching practices and move away from the ‘sit and get’ lecture format that large conferences and other professional development workshops tend to favor.

During our first google hangout, about halfway through the meeting, after we had talked about resources, chart paper, and getting people moving out of their seats, we realized that we were possibly headed in the wrong direction. We needed to think about who our main audience was, and what our space would be like.

We all worked on what we thought our strengths were and started there. Liz suggested the framework: “What, So What, Now What.” We worked on our parts and played with google presentation, so that we could collaborate on the same document. Then once we were more or less agreed on our slide deck, we transferred them to Power Point and shared it through our dropbox accounts.

I was happy to give the ‘So What’ part of the presentation as I am a person who will dive head first into anything if there is a clear and meaningful purpose. I can list many reasons why I believe in this format of professional development, but I’m not an expert, so I pulled experts where I could. Daniel Pink for motivation, Carol Dweck for mindset, Roland Barth for collegiality, and Sir Ken Robinson for teacher leadership and bottom-up approaches to things (in which he used the word ‘revolution’). We couldn’t be happier. Just for good measure, I threw in a quote by Albert Camus for people to reflect upon when they were leaving. I knew it might have been a little much, but there are those who love philosophy. Besides, the quote fit, which was what was important.

“Methods of thought which claim to give the lead to our world in the name of revolution have become, in reality, ideologies of consent and not of rebellion.”

I also agreed to try and go through our slide deck and try to give it a uniform look, while respecting the content of my colleagues. I’ll share my thoughts about Power Point in a later post, but all four of us came from the same place, so that was easy.

The four of us met several more times virtually, gave each other feedback, revised, edited, and finally met in person the day before to make our final tweaks.

I have to say, I was anxious. Public speaking is not my strength, but I believe strongly that I  have to push myself to do what I ask my students to do. I also believe that in order to get better at it, I have to do it.

Well, I’m glad I did it. To spread the word of something I believe in, to collaborate with such amazing educators, to push myself to try something new, to have my school recognized, and to learn, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m glad to be back in my classroom, but glad to know when I say to my students, “I know what I’m asking you to do is hard, but it’s rewarding,” I can say so truthfully.

Thanks to Kim and Shannon for uploading our slides.

Inspire Life-long Learners by Being One

Today, I had the added privilege of presenting at the conference and was both humbled and honored with the opportunity to do so. I’m also amazed at the kinds of innovative success stories that are being shared. I am learning plenty!

Needless to say, after day 1, I’m completely exhausted, but I thought I’d try writing about the first session I attended: ePortfolios – Teaching Children to Curate and Manage Their Digital Footprints.

Right now, student work is celebrated on bulletin boards, when parents visit classroom events, uploaded to the class website, and by sharing it with each other.

According to the Garrison Forest School in Maryland, students often ended up with huge stacks of paper. But before embarking on their project, they wanted to make sure there was purpose to creating ePortfolios. The lower school team had very compelling readongs. One of their considerations was time. They needed something simple so that students the work of scanning documents, etc didn’t take so long.

Then, they had to find on a format. One that would be customizable and easy to use. They considered google sites (which they used at their middle school), edublogs, or Evernote, and , for the lower school, they decided Evernote was the simplest.

I think it’s important to learn how to control your public profile as well as to highlight your work digitally. One of the things I really liked about this presentation was that they recognized that first graders would need help from adults to curate their digital portfolio. The part I liked best was that the children would use these to showcase their work, assess it, and learn to choose which pieces of work to include.

Giving children some autonomy is necessary to its success, and when children choose their work, the idea of growth becomes evident to them.

The group did a marvelous job presenting and gave compelling reasons which you can read here: bit.ly/NAISePort

There are challenges to this of course, but once you have a common vision of why ePortfolios are important, these difficulties will naturally dissipate.

As I mentioned, It’s been a long day, but I hope to share with you the main points of my presentation and the experience leading up to it, Jim Collins’ keynote address, and the final panel of four voices, each with a take on youth culture and social media.

Tomorrow, I look forward to hearing from the filmmaker Lee Hirsch of the documentary “Bully.” He’ll be interviewed on AC360 on CNN tonight. I’m also looking forward to hearing Tererai Trent’s story of overcoming obstacles and turning oppression into opportunities in a session called, “Education is a Human Right.” I will also be attending sessions on purposeful use of technology in classrooms and Cathy Davidson who will try to convince us that education needs a paradigm shift.