Sunday, October 15, 2017

I see your lips moving...

…but all I hear is “blah blah blah”.  Yep. That’s exactly what goes through my head every time my husband and I meet with our financial planner, Jason. While we’ve been working with him for 4 years now, and I know my financial literacy has improved, I still found myself sitting in our meeting with him last week thinking, “Focus, Sarah! He’s saying important things!” But after two hours of talking about financial goals and investments, my brain wasn’t processing any more information.  All I heard were words like, “credit quality, return rate, value investing, etc.” THOSE ARE IMPORTANT WORDS! And I know they apply to our current financial state and obviously our financial future, but I didn’t care enough to know more about those words at that moment in time. And then it happened. Jason made a statement that brought me back to focus and instantly created a space where I realized WHY I needed to know more about those words. He said, “One of your goals is to save enough for Jared to get a new truck. Your savings account isn’t making enough interest to help us build up the truck fund. We can use investments to make up for that, but obviously stocks aren’t always reliable for that purpose. Let’s turn to bonds!” We proceeded to explore two different bond options and evaluated which option would help us best meet our goal by applying our learning about the words that didn’t mean anything to me just moments ago.

You see, the turning point was when Jason used the content vocabulary in context. He focused our learning by:
1.     Referencing the problem we are trying to solve/the goal we are trying to accomplish
2.     Checking in on what we already knew in relation to the new learning ahead (you know..what those words meant and how we might apply them)
3.     Engaged us in a conversation/exploration specifically related to ONE question (“How can bonds work for us?”)
4.     Allowed us to apply our learning in a way we saw best fit to solve our problem/accomplish our goal

A common phrase I hear from PBL/PrBL educators is, “I do Know/Need to Know (K/NTK) lists” often followed by scaffolding activities (mostly conversation or lecture style workshops) which have little or no direct or stated connection to what students needed to know! The result? Students hearing “blah blah blah words words words.” Words that are important…and I’m sure they know they are important to their current and academic futures, but they don’t care enough to know more about those words at that moment in time. (SOUND FAMILIAR!?!? If not, go re-read the first paragraph.)

It’s time to break the cycle, my friends….you know, the one where you know information is important, and you’re working your tail off to make sure your students understand, but they just stare at you…waiting…longing for you to help them make the connection to the problem they’re trying to solve, which leaves you frustrated that you’re working harder than they are.  That said, I offer you this Jason-inspired framework for using your student-created need-to-knows to drive instruction (at least until they begin to understand how to make connections on their own).

·      Step 1: Before starting class, identify which targeted content standard or skill (of Oral Comm, Written Comm, Collaboration, or agency) you will be teaching. Then, comb through the list of NTKs your students created early in the project (and hopefully have updated/revised since the project launch) and identify ONE question that students asked which will help them connect this new learning to the project context. 
·      Step 2: During class, when it’s time to begin the scaffolding activity with students, first re-state the problem they’re trying to solve. This could be as simple as revisiting the problem statement using a sentence starter such as:
o   “We know that we are trying to….. “
·      Step 3: Identify what they already know/have discovered that has led to today’s learning adventure. It might sound something like this:
o   “So far, we have learned about ____, ____, and _____ which helped us respond to these need-to-knows:    this is where you point to or reference the need-to-knows they’ve unpacked already.   Or you might say…
o   “We’ve already investigated _______ and ______ which have helped us begin to solve that problem.”
·      Step 4: Name the student-created need-to-know that students will be exploring a response to through your scaffolding activity (…you know…the NTK that you identified in “Step 1” before class started!!) Write it on the board as a visual for them to see and connect with. It might sound like:
o   You also asked, ‘  read the NTK to them here…in their words so they have ownership. Because it’s about them…it’s not about you! Let’s explore this question today.”
·      Step 5:  Always, ALWAYS end the scaffolding activity (the learning experience) by re-asking the NTK you started with! If you’re really using their NTKs to drive instruction, students should be able to answer their own question (which you’ve pre-selected to align with your instruction that day) at the end of the learning experience. Then take it one step further and create the space for them to think about how they might apply this learning to solve their problem/meet their goal.  Here’s what that could sound like at the end of the learning experience:
o   “You originally asked, ‘ re-read their NTK that you started with in Step 1 and 4’. How would you answer that now after learning this new information? (Give them time to share out loud, or do a think-pair-share, or have them journal their thoughts, etc.) What new questions does this raise for you? (Add these to the NTK list to give you MORE teachable moments to support their learning and problem solving.) How does this help you get closer to solving the problem/ accomplishing the goal?” (restate the goal from Step 2 if needed)

I’m sure for some of you, you’re thinking, “Great idea, Sarah….but NOT A SINGLE NEED-TO-KNOW that my students stated connects to what I want to teach them!” If you’re in that boat, we need to talk about how you’re designing the Entry Event and facilitating the Know/Need to know list. SO…if that’s you, let me know so I can either reach out to you directly or write about that next week. ;)

Peace, love, and learning with a purpose,

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Stop! Collaborate & Listen

As many of you know, my little Owen is almost 23 months old now (side note: I can't wait until I can stop counting months...) and Domino, my lab, will be 11 in November. As nervous as I was to see how the two of them would get along, knowing Domino had me all to herself for 9 years, I must say...they get along SO WELL together!!!! Or.... at least that's what I tell myself. You see, it's moments like this one that make my heart smile to watch the two of them coexist:

And while I love re-watching this moment, the educator in me also reflects on the behaviors Owen is learning and showing both at home during playtime with Domino, at the library during story time with other toddlers, and even interacting with his cousins at Grandma's house! You see, at New Tech Network (NTN), we believe that collaboration involves behaviors under the control of individual group members including effort they put into group tasks, their manner of interacting with others in a group, and the quantity and quality of contributions they make to group discussions. (You can take a look at the individual behaviors we feel lead to successful collaboration here, on our NTN Website. Because of Owen's age, let's glance at the Elementary - 2nd grade, Individual Collaboration Rubric, shall we?!)

While Owen never hesitates to share his ideas/ramblings with others, and often shows interests in what others working/playing around him are doing by offering help (whether they need it or not), he CLEARLY struggles to follow group norms and processes. (Re-play that video if you don't believe me!!!) At his age, it's my role as his parent/his teacher to offer supports as he learns to navigate in situations with others (hopefully so that tears aren't shed every. single. time!!!!) I know that he will learn to understand his role in group situations once these other behaviors are learned and refined, so for the time being, I'll choose to focus my energy with him on "Supporting Equal Participation" and "Using Group Norms".

What about the students in your class? Don't be fooled by their ability to play nice in the sandbox!!! I need you to look closely and see if they're showing behaviors which allow them to not just sit in the sandbox together, but actually build a sandcastle as a team!!! How are you supporting each INDIVIDUAL student in their learned behaviors to support collaboration? Which TEAM dynamics could be strengthened to give students a strong foundation when their progress is stuck, or to reflect on successes and challenges?!

If we aren't supporting the individual and team behaviors to become effective collaborators, it's likely that one student will run the show and that others will allow that to happen. Why? Because they don't know what any other "normal behavior" looks like....

Peace, love, and Ice Ice Baby,

Monday, September 4, 2017

Prep for the Occassion....

There are plenty of things I remember from my general education courses at Ball State University, and plenty of information that has been filtered out of memory at this point in my life. I do remember, however, my Theatre History professor preparing us for our assignment one day (which was to go to an Off-Broadway show on campus) and he concluded the lecture with, "Dress Up. Go to Dinner...not at a place with a dollar menu. Spend time fixing your hair for the show. Why? Because you can always walk in and sit down at a show to see the show. But, taking the time to prepare for the show and making an evening out of it ...THAT'S what makes it a memorable experience."

At the time, I'm sure I questioned this professor's logic to a degree, but I would take any opportunity to get off campus for dinner as I could, SO my friends and I dressed up, had a nice dinner, saw the show and had everyone over afterwards for some quality time around the firepit. I remember that evening like it was yesterday (I wore a black dress, we had dinner at Johnny Carino's Italian restaurant, saw Cabaret, had s'mores and adult beverages while trying to figure out what we just witnessed on stage). I've seen plenty other shows on stage, movies in theatres and been on dates that were more planned/put together than others, and the events that resonate so vividly in my memory are those which came with just a little extra effort. So maybe there really was something to my professor's theory!!!

Think about the students in your class. You want them to prepare for presentation day, yes? Well, how are you supporting them in making this is a special occasion, and not just another "stand up and share something in front of the class" experience that they are part of every day? How about trying some of these...

  • Rearrange your classroom to create a different look/feel for presentation day
  • Find another place in the school (or even a place off site perhaps) to allow students to present in a different location than the classroom they learn and collaborate in each day 
  • Arrange for students to share their knowledge with an outside audience member (physically bring them in, or go to them, or communicate electronically) during their presentation that would care about how they've applied their knowledge (I know YOU care about how they apply their learning, and the other students do too, but wait until you see the difference by bringing in an outside expert too. The way students operate with a level of urgency that rivals every other day is simply beautiful.)
  • Message that the presentation day is a chance to go beyond showcasing their learning but an opportunity to inspire others with the way(s) they've applied their knowledge and thinking..... MAKE IT WORTH DRESSING UP FOR!!! 
Think about yourself in your next upcoming staff meeting or staff PD. You walk in that room every time hoping it's not a waste of your time, right? Well... are you treating this as a special occasion in your daily work routine or waiting for the "actors on stage" to do all the memory making for you? How about trying these....
  • Take 5min before walking into the meeting to "turn off" the noise of the day or week leading up to that point. Use that 5 min to name ONE thing that you hope to get out of the experience. (And consider stating that to the facilitator too!)
  • Keep a special notebook or Google Folder dedicated just to your learning from staff meetings and PD conversations... use it as a running log of the knowledge you're exposed to & thoughts it leaves you wrestling with
  • Sit next to someone different than you usually sit with. (We don't want this to feel like your lunch time...we're going for a special environment here!) Choose to sit by folks who you don't always agree with as a way to push your thinking (and make note of how it's being challenged in your notebook)
  • For those of you facilitating the meetings and PD sessions: Design the time so that this is a chance to go beyond sharing information you probably could've sent in an email! Create a space for new learning, challenged thinking and conversation among those in attendance... MAKE IT WORTH DRESSING UP FOR!!! 
You get the idea....put in a little extra effort. I promise it will make more of a lasting impact than going with the regular flow. 

Peace, love, and fancy pants,


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Collaboration? Cooperation?

Crossfit competitions always have a way of opening my eyes to the human capacity around me. I competed in an "End of Summer Throwdown" this weekend with three of my fellow gymmates. I train alongside them all the time at our gym, but for whatever reason, the thought of competing with these three that I respect so much was freaking me out! I stressed out over being able to keep up with their pace during the workouts, lifting as much weight as they could or as I needed to so I could hold up my end of the partnership, wondering if I'd be able to stick with the strategy we'd developed together.....    And then it was "go time." As the first workout ended, I felt relieved. Did I put up as much weight as the others? No. But did they encourage me and correct my form while I lifted? YES. Were they ready for me to tag them in when I couldn't lift anymore? Absolutely.   Then the second workout...a sprint relay. We don't run that often at the gym, but we run enough to know each other's strengths so we plotted who would take each distance of the relay and hit the pavement. No biggie. Workouts 3 and 4 were lung busters!!! Too much jumping, lifting, throwing to name but what resonates with me the most is that each time I jumped off the pull-up bar, my teammate didn't miss a beat before getting up to knock out 20more reps. Or when my quads weren't going to let me squat, another teammate swooped in without hesitation.

How did they know!? How were our transitions so flawless?! How did we manage to support each other when we were all SO EXHAUSTED!?!?  I'll tell you how:

  • We have spent time (pre-competition) getting to know one another's strengths and areas of weakness
  • We never ONCE hesitated to say "This isn't my strongpoint, can you back me up?"
  • We intentionally spent time before the workouts to talk about the process...the strategy... that would get us through each workout
  • We took on the responsibility of picking each other up when we needed support 
  • We celebrated together...during and after each workout. And left each workout developing a plan for any modifications to our previously mapped out strategy based on strengths shown in the moment. 
That's COLLABORATION, my friends!!!! We weren't just cooperating by moving through the work together then expecting each of us individually to figure out our own next steps.  But that didn't happen overnight. Years ago...we were cooperating...figuring each other out and how to best support one another. With a challenge in front of us though, that required all of our input to solve...we finally found ourselves collaborating. 

In your classrooms, do students sit together and learn alongside one another only to complete their own "pieces" of the project (cooperating)? or are they actively working together to create a solution to a problem (collaborating)?  What environment do you aspire for them to operate in?  How are you/have you supported them in cooperating with one another so they are able to have a culture strong enough to support their learning in service of a common mission?   ...which begs the question, how are you operating among your staff? Are you still working in isolation or are you at least cooperating by leaning into the learning? Perhaps you've already begun collaborating by thinking and learning with your colleagues in service of a common dilemma.   Here's a little visual from that might help you think through both:

Peace, love, and intentional teamwork,

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Game day

The student section is roaring, the parents are cheering for their kids on the field, the coach's spouses (like myself) are proud of the hard work their husbands have put in to prepping for the big game.... ahhh yes, 'tis football season, my friends!  I have to tell of my favorite things about watching football games is waiting to see how well the opposing team did their homework and if they're ready (or not) to respond to each play. This week, at the Lawrenceburg Tiger's season opener, I had a chance to witness one of these moments, and it. Was. BEAUTIFUL!

Offense stood at the line, the quarterback got the ball, faked the pass by quickly moving & keeping it behind his back, and ran at least 5 yards before the opposing team's defense realized he still had the ball... and he was within 6 feet of those lineman! From the bleachers, you can't help but wonder how in the world they missed that (even though I was glad they did)! He was clearly running without the use of one arm (since it was behind his back) and the running back obviously wasn't carrying anything as he ran for the end zone.... how could Defense not see it?!   Well, let me tell you why... because on the field, when you're in the thick of the game, you see helmets blurring in front of you, arms moving as if throwing something and another guy who seems to be catching something, and you see your teammates executing the defensive movements you prepped for, sweat running down your face, guys grunting all around you....(you get the picture).

Unfortunately, this happens far too often off of the football field too. We find ourselves feeling scattered, overwhelmed, way off course, longing for "peace and quiet"...for our time on the bleachers. While other times, we feel capable of offering others advice because we've allowed ourselves to step away from the center of the of the clear our heads, make sense of the bigger picture, then re-enter the situation with a better view of the end goal.

I know what you're thinking...."You're right, Sarah, but I'm way too busy during a day to stop doing my work to just reflect on things."   Well, you're wrong. I mean...I know you're're right there. But if part of your "busy schedule" doesn't include 30-45min to go park your butt up in the bleachers, to get a larger perspective of what's happening around you and with those you're supporting, then I promise you're always going to be chasing a guy running really fast who isn't even carrying a football! DON'T BE THAT GUY/GAL!!!

For my educator friends, try this... use ONE prep period this week...just one (or for my administrators and instructional coaches... build in a "leadership prep period" for yourself...thank me later) to go sit on the bleachers. Use this time away from doing your work to watch the game film, to get a better sense of what's happening around you. Time for reflection and processing IS part of your work! Need some help figuring out how to use this time? Try one of these:

  • Walk down the Ladder of Inference - identify the action you took that's causing you stress, which is based on some belief you hold even if you don't express it, in order to figure out the meaning your head/heart gave to data you observed so you can then determine what other data was around you that you weren't paying attention too (like the QB running 5yds with only one arm swinging)
  • Gain perspective with the Circle of Viewpoints - you work with a whole lot of people every day that all have different and diverse perspectives. Those perspectives are undoubtedly pushing on the work you do, so why not create space to put yourself in their shoes for awhile?
I'll be anxiously awaiting the results of your time analyzing the action on the field...

Peace, love, and Friday Night Lights,

Sunday, August 13, 2017

New year, new you!

With the beginning of a new school year, we often find ourselves settling in a bit, yet still slightly anxious and overwhelmed about one thing or another. The design of our curriculum is different than what it was before, our student's personalities are different than last year, we have a new team teaching partner, new administration (or perhaps new faces on our leadership team), etc. And amidst the changes, we often find ourselves waiting for x,y, or z outcome to happen with little to no progress. Why? Because many of us (myself included) are doing just that... going through the motions and WAITING for something to happen.

Here... let's try a little experiment.  When you cross your arms, which way do you fold them? Go on... cross them. Then look down at them. Which one's on the top? Which is on the bottom? Which hand(s) is(are) tucked under your arm? Which hand(s) is(are) resting on your bulging biceps?

Ok... shake them loose. ( it!)

Now cross the again, only this time in the way opposite of what you naturally do. Tuck the hand you didn't before and keep the one on top of your bicep that you might have tucked the first time.    (AHHH... had to stop and think about it for a minute, didn't ya?)   Ok... shake them loose.

Now try crossing them that same way (the "new" way) one more time.   ....I'll wait....

Easier? My guess is yes. It probably still took a second to think about what you were doing, but certainly easier than the first go around when you were paying attention to every detail.  Why? Because you're building a new habit.  (Wait until you try it tomorrow morning... gets even easier the more you try it out!)

We're creatures of habit, my friends. If we aren't paying attention to outcome while actively trying new routines and repeating the new behaviors long enough for them to BECOME a habit, then you might as well accept the unproductive waiting game.

So I ask you, what you are feeling about "antsy" about? What's the first item of "frustration" you share with a friend/family member when you go home at night?  There are probably things within that issue that are out of your control, but certainly plenty of things you do have control over.... THOSE are places to begin building new habits! Maybe it's ways to use your prep period more effectively, or a communication strategy that needs some tweaking with a colleague, or the way you think about "homework" so you aren't grading so many papers EVERY night, or ________.

With the new school year in full swing, this is the time to establish new habits, new culture, new areas of productivity!

Peace, love, and criss cross applesauce,

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The DEEP end!?!?

Really, July!? It was just too hot out and you couldn't handle it anymore, huh? Fine... we'll see your departure and raise you 180ish days of inspiration and learning! #winning

Welcome back, my friends to what I anticipate will be an amazing 2017-2018 school year! I do hope you prioritized some down-time for yourself this summer! While the Leiker's didn't take as much time off as we would have liked, I definitely found some time to soak in the summer sun at the pool... unfortunately, it was for Owen's swim lessons, so it wasn't always as relaxing as one would hope. We had him in the pool last year for lessons at 6 months old and things went very well, but THIS year... as an 18 month old... not quite the same experience. While he was screaming "Mommy!!!" from the top of his lungs, mid-back float, I was off to the side wondering why his swim instructor took him straight into the deep end and didn't let him waddle his way in so he could get comfortable with the water first (thinking that would have helped). I was talking to one of my colleagues about this, whose son is a swimmer, and she quickly said, "Getting in the pool at the deep end will feel the same to him as getting in at the shallow end. He's either going to feel water on his legs with the safety of running out of the shallow water, or he's going to feel water on his legs knowing he has to swim to get out. You do want him to swim, don't you?"

Ughhh... she got me! And that made so much sense! It's the same "sandwich effect" I often despise as school years unfold. (I'm guilty of this myself.) You know, where you ease your students into your learning environment & talk about how they'll learn, watch them problem solve their hearts out the bulk of the year by actually using those learning strategies, then ease them out with "standardized test prep" the last month or so. If PBL, or any good inquiry-based learning experience, is so impactful with our students... why do we ease them in and out of it instead of just making that the place where they swim all the time?!?

The start of the school year is crucial. To acclimate students in your class to you, to one another, to the a culture of learning and engagement! So why not start the year in the deep end and begin with a project where they're learning the "standards" of your school culture and applying them as they begin to navigate your class, subject area, hallways, cafeteria, parking lot, etc.!?  Have an open house coming up in the first few weeks? WHAT A GREAT PRESENTATION FORUM! Have students investigate your syllabus, essence of collaboration, importance of the PBL process, etc. in the first week or so and prepare a presentation where they can showcase these "standards" to their parents? (THEIR FIRST PRESENTATION! impressed will those parents be, huh!?)

Yes, your students will need support from you in this process. That swim instructor didn't throw my little Owen into the pool without being their to catch him and support him as he learned the skills needed to go under water and kick his way to the wall.  You can't open the doors to your school/class and say "PBL TIME!!! GOOD LUCK, LITTLE ONES!!!" without having a floatation device off to the side at the ready to support them through their learning and experience.  But if you expect to ease them into new learning.... know that it will be easier for them to run out of the pool screaming for the familiarity of what they know from worksheets and direct instruction every day and having you answer all their questions instead of getting them to think for themselves. Instead, I challenge you to take them to the deep end so it becomes necessary for them to learn to problem solve (swim) their way to new conclusions.  I will also say... "brace yourself." They will probably 'scream' a little in the process because it's new and uncomfortable. But, it's in the supported discomfort that real learning happens.

Peace, love, and pool time,


P.S. Now, after this summer's swim lessons, Owen DID learn to come up from under water, turn to face the wall and kick his legs to propel him forward. Despite the screaming, he really WAS learning and now enjoys jumping in from the wall all by himself!