Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mirror mirror....

The end of the school year is a great time for student self-reflection, but also for your own adult self-reflection. With a profession as challenging as teaching, self-reflection offers educators an opportunity to think about what works and what doesn't in your teaching practice. Regular reflection (and certainly now at the end of the end of the year) serves as a great way to analyze and evaluate our practices so we can focus on what works and model a growth mindset for those we come in contact with every day.

That said, set 30min. aside for yourself... YEEESSSS, you CAN make 30min to better yourself this week... and reflect on these questions. Seriously, write down your responses! Send them my way if you want some accountability...would be happy to support!

  1. What has been your greatest success this year? Have you been successful in meeting your professional goals? What specific examples can you provide?  Note: If you're thinking, "I'm not even sure what my professional goals were," then to me! Let's get you focused before next school year starts!
  2. What has been your biggest challenge this year? How have you adapted your professional or personal practice to meet and overcome this challenge? Do you feel you were successful? Why?
  3. What has provided you with the greatest joy in your work this year? How have you found your work enjoyable?
  4. Where do you go from here? What is next for you as a professional challenge for next year? Look ahead and predict what type of goals you would like for yourself in the 2017-2018 school year. 

Peace, love, and do you see what I see!?


Sunday, May 7, 2017

"I just felt like running" - FG

Based on the number of marathons that take place at the beginning of May, I think it's safe to consider this the beginning of the summer competitive road racing season!!! In Cincinnati, we had the Flying Pig Marathon this weekend as well the Indianapolis half marathon just slightly farther north. Congrats to all who participated in any of the weekend events and know that I HIGHLY admire your persistence and commitment to the goal that kept you motivated throughout all of training season!

In a recent, monthly check-in with Derek Leininger, Director of Towles MS in Fort Wayne, IN, we were talking about a conversation the Towles staff was having about supporting a culture of engagement as the weather changes (along with ourselves and our students) at the end of the year. Being a former Cross Country and Track Coach, he spoke in metaphor (which I loved) about these last few weeks feeling a lot like running a mile on the track. Four laps around a track is one mile. When you're 3 laps into running a mile, your body tends to want you to stop. But, to maintain that final push, you actually have to INCREASE your pace in order to make it.   That's right... you have to go faster at the end just to keep up with your performance level in the beginning.

Most of you are just three weeks away from the end of the school year. Each week will naturally be more difficult than the previous week. This is the time to push. Take a deep breath, be intentional with your planning, and don't stray from your training. This is not the time to revert back to disconnected worksheets, video clips, or lecture every day only because it feels like all you can muster up right now just to stay sane. You've been sane since August... and you've been doing amazing things with students (even if at times, they challenge your ability to see that). You've been creating learning opportunities for your students that have purpose and meaning. You've been training in PBL/PrBL all year.... THIS IS YOUR LAST LAP!  Stay the course. Trust your training. Give a little more now to keep up with where you have been all year (you're going to have to... between your student's mental state and your teaching, it's the only thing you actually have control over)!!!

As your coach, I beg of you.... DIG IN! Make this the best school year finish you and your students have ever experienced. YOU. CAN. DO. THIS.

Peace, love, and Personal Records (PRs),

Sunday, April 30, 2017

So many options...

It's Springtime here in Indiana... so every time I leave the house, I make sure to have a winter coat, umbrella, and pair of flip flops with me as I leave in shorts and a t-shirt. (Thank you, Mother Nature...) I thought I was "safe" as I left for church this morning, but I neglected the fact that the air conditioning unit would be turned on this week. You see, I sing at our 9:15am mass almost every Sunday and mid-hymn last week, one of the parishioners turned the AC on, sending my hair on a "choke-Sarah-while-she-sings" rampage. This morning? Same story. There am I getting ready to lead the congregation into our next prayerful song and all I could find myself doing was weighing every option for winning this hair blasting battle:

  • Tuck your hair behind your ears
  • Quick! Find a hair tie! A rubber band...anything!
  • Toss a book over the register on the floor
  • Turn your music stand & mic to face South so you're facing the gush of air
  • Move down one step and take the mic with you
I'm telling you, friends... my solution finding efforts were on par this morning! Of course there was a downfall to each option... I despise the discomfort of a chunk of hair behind my ear, I was lucky to remember my son's Pooh bear this think I remembered a hair tie!? Covering the register is selfish...what if it's hotter "out there" than it was "up here"? If I face South, the sound doesn't reach the back of the church as well and moving the mic is going to create a lot of shuffling noises....   But I had to choose one because not only was I eating hair instead of hitting the high notes, but now I missing out on the service too!!! 

I wonder how often your students become distracted in class from trying to make "the right choice" also? Or maybe they're only given time to think of one option so they just roll with it. There's a fine balance in the way we create opportunities for and facilitate a student's agency in "tackling and monitoring their learning." 

Before sending students off to complete a task or begin research on a project, be sure to scaffold their ability to identify the problem/task at hand and create space for them to figure out what they might need to know to complete the task (like if there's enough space on the step in front of you for yourself AND a mic stand!! oyi!) 
  • In a PBL/PrBL curriculum, we do this by having students articulate the goal of a project (often using a Problem Statement template to organize this thinking). Using Know/Need to Know lists, or asking "What's Clear?" and "What's not clear?" also supports this skill.
  • With a daily task, you might conduct a mini-K/NTK list, spend time highlighting/underlying key words in the directions of the task, have a student repeat the directions, ...
Some students are intimidated by the difficulty of completing a task, and therefore struggle to identify strategies and options for tackling the task! That's our job as educators to scaffold this for them (or they will forever be tasting a mouth full of blowing hair during the next hymn)!!  Here are some suggestions to support your students in strengthening that skill set this week:
  • Have them choose (or hone in on) one question... just one problem that they're going to tackle. Then have them state what action step they think will help them answer this question. Examples:
    •  Read _____ section of the textbook about ____.  
    • Do an online search for _____ using the keyword search, "_______". 
    • Ask our team's peer tutor this question, _____, so that I can then ____. 
    • Request a workshop on the topic of _____ from the teacher.
  • Have students respond to a quick discussion post or daily warm-up using a prompt such as, "What would I like to spend time talking to my classmates about to help me understand this problem/question/task? Why... what will this help me to understand about my work?"
  • Ask students, teams of students, or the whole class, to identify the Topic they're uncertain of, a resource where they might find information about that topic, and take it one step further by having them outline characteristics that will determine the validity of the resource. Here's an example:

Resource (must be specific)
Validity of Resource
Causes for bees to be on the endangered species list
World Animal Protection
Contact number, person.
Summary of website.

The bottom line is this.... problem solving is difficult!!! If we are doing our job as educators... as architects of learning for our students... then we are not only designing problems and tasks for them to learn content, but we're creating opportunities for them to wonder! Wonder which option is best. Wonder which resource will provide the best response to the problem. Wonder if they are making informed decisions.  We're also designing support for our students along the way so it's not so scary. So they can tackle and monitor their own learning in a way that is strategic, weighs multiple options for finding a solution, and allows them to articulate what avenues they took to engage in their own learning. 

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go shave my head so I'm ready for next Sunday while you figure out how to support your student's ownership over their learning this week.

Peace, love, and chew on this...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

With Love, Your student....

Dear Teacher,

I know you're tired and a little bit stressed. I am too. We've been problem solving our way through class for the last seven and a half months...that's a lot of thinking and trying to hold people accountable for their work. Oh, and I saw your to-do list on the sticky notes on your desk the other day. No wonder you seem as excited for summer break as most of us are! 

I guess that's why it seems like a good time of year to say "thanks." Thank you for taking the time to build a relationship with me this year. I know it wasn't always easy, but the fact you believed in me and have guided me since August is pretty awesome. I hope you don't give up on me now either....especially because we're all so tired. Truth is, I need you now more than ever. I need your calmness, your ability to shrug off the small things, your redirection to the purpose behind our daily activities and conversations. I need to know your daily support for my learning and well being is intentional... that you still show up every day to make a difference in my life. Because you are. I promise you are. 

I know you're the one designing learning experiences for me, but if you're feeling overwhelmed, don't forget... you've taught me what responsibility looks like. With my own learning, with my classmates, with my technology, and with the role I play in our class. I love when you structure learning for us, but I love knowing you let me choose the method of learning that helps me accomplish tasks too. Maybe that causes more stress for you, not knowing what each of us would like to dive into, but I hope it brings you a sense of calm to know you've helped us realize how we learn best...and we can take some of those matters into our own hands now! What I do look forward to is knowing you're going to make every day count this last month of school...all the way up to our last day together before summer break. 

Speaking of summer break.... I know you built strong relationships with all the students in our class this year, so "thank you" for reaching out to my friends that AREN'T so excited about summer with some encouraging words and opportunities to participate in community activities. Some of my friends don't have a lot of food to eat at home or feel like anyone cares that they're home for a few months. I really appreciate you encouraging them with places to stay connected with others so they can enjoy their summer too. 

Anyway, I hope you know I think of you each day and hope you're taking time for yourself to breathe, find your inner strength, and rely on the strong relationships you've built with me and my classmates. It's been a great year so far, and I'm glad I can count on you to not give up on me and make sure that each day counts. 

With love,
Your student

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Doctor's Orders!

While on site at Winton Woods Middle School last Wednesday, I was working with a teacher on "recommended practices" for her sub plans while she's away for a few weeks recovering from surgery. During our conversation, she told me that her knee had been hurting for quite some time, and her doctor seemed to constantly remind her of possible things she might do to prevent it from getting worse. Did she listen? Yes. Did she follow those doctor's orders? Not as much as she probably should have.  

Then, more recently at one of her appointments, her doctor finally said, "Look. You can't climb the stairs like you used to anymore. Your arthritis is causing the cartilage to break down that cushions the knee joint. .... " The conversation they had obviously continued on from there, but that was what she needed to hear to make a lifestyle change. Why? Because she had a direct picture of what has was happening to her very own body as a result of that one specific action.   But what about all of those other times she'd been given recommended practices to help ease her pain? Why not listen then? Well... they weren't presented the same way, were they? They presented as "good things to know" rather than "here's why and how it's affecting you" statements.

Without even thinking about it, we do this all the time in our classes:

  • "Submit your documents by Thursday"
  • "Speak louder, please"
  • "Show your work"
  • "Share your thoughts with your teammates"
  • etc. etc. etc.
So what do our students do? They try to turn things in on time but possibly let deadlines slide, attempt to speak up but never really ask the audience if they are more or less audible, show a few small notes of their thought process but nothing complete or organized, talk at their teammates instead of to their teammates, etc. That's right... they're trying to do right by you and themselves, but they don't know the greater purpose...the why... behind each of those statements you're tirelessly spouting out of your mouth! If you just followed those statements up with the purpose, perhaps they would feel like "doctor's ORDERS" vs "doctor's RECOMMENDATIONS"...
  • "Documents need to be submitted by Thursday for a thorough review by our community partner so they are able to offer you feedback by Monday morning. Due to the community partner's business schedule, they cannot accept documents beyond this deadline."
  •  "Speak louder, please. Those in the front two rows are able to hear you well, but your thoughtful messaging isn't able to be heard in the back corners of the room."
  • "Show your work so we can follow your full thought process while trying to determine how you arrived at your solution."
  • "Share your thoughts with your teammates so you can then reach a decision as a team. If you hold your thoughts in, they will move forward assuming you are on board and assign tasks to you based on the decision made...without your voice."
  • etc.
Admit it... at some point last week you became "so frustrated" because your students "just weren't getting it."  Of course they weren't! They are still trying to grasp the greater WHY/PURPOSE behind the outcomes you're trying to teach them. Speaking in terms of expectations without purpose feels like things that are "good to know" rather than "here's why and how it's affecting you." How will you change your framing this week? What purpose will you give to the statements that come out of your mouth? 

Peace, love, and teach with purpose,


Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monkey see, Monkey do

Walking out of church this morning, my little Owen started running towards the playground on the other side of the parking lot. My parents were walking with us and I said to them, "That's crazy! How does he even know where he's going or that it's stuff to play on over there!?" (I mean, sure... the playground at the park across from our house, I get that. But this is an entirely different play yard!) Mom, who spends every day with Owen, smiled and said, "I guess because we walked up here twice last week??"

Yes...we have hit that point in the ole' "growth and development" phase. You know, the point where you realize how important routines are, and it's not even that he's learning everything on his own, but instead, he's repeating what he sees/hears/does. To a passerby (like me, for instance, not knowing he had been to the church playground recently) it seems very much like these little ones are the most intelligent humans by saying and trying new things. In reality? They're replicating processes and phrases they hear from those around them.

At some point in a child's growth and development, we tend to forget this critical phase. We forget that they need to see and hear and try new learning more than once before it becomes part of their vocabulary and an essential piece of their daily routine. If I had a nickel for every time I've heard the words, "I taught them that" or "I talked about that" from myself and other educators, I'd probably be able to consider early retirement!!!! :)   And that's not bad! It's not a bad thing to introduce a new skill to a student. But it IS bad if all we do is introduce the skill and never provide context for that skill and never allow students to explore that beyond the initial introduction, because THAT'S where the magic happens!

Sure, Owen's still growing his depth of knowledge with these skills right now as he recognizes slides and swings (among other skills). Since we didn't just name them or let him play on them only one time though, he's beginning to get the concept of sliding and swinging. He seems to be grasping cause/effect now every time he climbs to the top of the slide and let's out a big "weeee" before he even gets moving, and with his pointing and screaming "ing! ing!" every time we pass a swing, we feel like he's able to classify this type of equipment too. But he wouldn't know those more advanced skills if he hadn't been introduced to swings and slides, allowed to play on them, allowed to fumble with their use, called them out as other kids were playing on them.... MULTIPLE contexts, various levels of application.

So take a look at the agendas you have planned for the week. What skills are you hoping to teach and/or assess with your students? What variety of opportunities are you designing into your work to allow (not just for repetition, but) for contextualizing of standards and skills? How will you celebrate a student's replication/regurgitation of a skill and name for them that this is the beginning of a deeper application of this skill?   Why are you still reading this!?!? Seriously....go look at your agendas and make sure you're doing your job and serving your child(ren) well!

Peace, love, and so much up & down on the slide!!!!


Sunday, February 19, 2017

Organizing Your Project Briefcase

When you're starting the design of a new project, or beginning to organize project documents into your learning management system (LMS), it's not uncommon that we all feel a little like this:

Am I starting in the right place? I have so many ideas!!! How do I provide enough structure to stay organized (and keep my students organized) while still allowing space for student driven exploration!?

Well...why not think of your PBL/PrBL unit design just as you do a briefcase!? (At New Tech Network, we do this quite often and even house our PBL/PrBL units in Echo, our LMS, and refer to them as "project briefcases".) Let me explain...

A briefcase is the structure that carries important papers and documents.
Within your briefcase, it's helpful to have file folders to organize/categorize those documents.
Within each file folder, you will find the documents which relate specifically to the categorized, labeled tab on each file folder. 

This is exactly the structure that we should be using when designing projects if we're going to support students from beginning to end with just enough structure to check in on their progress along the way without over-structuring the learning experience (which we know can...and will...crush any hope for inquiry)! The specific "structure" I'm referring to is that of "benchmarks." Not only should benchmarks provide formative feedback to students as they progress toward finishing their application of learning (i.e. their product), but they also serve as substantial tasks that groups/individuals need to complete in order to mark their progress along the way. That said, as PBL/PrBL units are designed, it will look a little something like this....

A driving question and problem statement serve as focal points to guide student learning throughout a project.
Within your focused project, it's helpful to have benchmarks that guide individuals/groups toward a finished product(s).
Within each benchmark, you will find activities and tasks which relate specifically to the benchmark designed to support students from start to finish.

You see!? Professionals don't carry around their whole desks (i.e. all of your content standards) to every meeting (i.e. every project) they attend, and they certainly don't dump all of their documents out in front of clients as soon as they sit down at a table (i.e. front load information and hope the clients are able to sort through it on their own)! Instead, they only take their project briefcase (i.e. a subset of standards geared towards a particular focal point) filled with labeled folders (i.e. benchmarks) that aide in organizing documents (i.e. activities and tasks) related to each particular folder category. 

In your LMS (ours at NTN being Echo), it would look a little something like this:

A sample project briefcase  (project title & image at the top with file folders easily marked as "Phase" or "Benchmark" and what product will mark student's progress)
A look inside one of the folders at the activities & documents students investigated & completed to support their progress towards this benchmark/phase.

If you're feeling at all like your project is a bit "scattered," or if your students don't seem to be able to make progress without your spoon-feeding them the next task or activity to attend to.... it might just be that they're struggling to dig through the intended purpose, or focal point, of the project. Perhaps there are too many "un-organized documents" for them to sort their way through.  OR MAYBE time just got the best of you and you HAD a great design and/or organization system, but ended up dumping resources into the nearest folder, whether it really belonged there or not. 

I beg of you.... while it's 64+ degrees here in Southeast Indiana this week..... PLEASE....start your "Project Spring Cleaning."  Go get your PBL/PrBL unit designs cleaned up which will set your students and yourself up for successful launch, but be sure to also clean up your LMS organization as well! 

Peace, love, and tab dividers,