Sunday, December 18, 2016

12....

... That's the number of ornaments I put on my Christmas tree before my li'l guy started hanging his toys on the lower branches like they were ornaments. He first tried laying the ring-like pieces onto branches of the tree and laughed as they fell through onto the floor. After 10-15min of those failed attempts, he was able to the branch through the center of the ring. And, just like Mom, once he knew it wasn't falling through, he grabbed another toy and hung it on the tree too.

If a one year old can mimic movements so fluidly, don't you think your eleven, thirteen, or seventeen year old kids (students) can too? Frequently, when I ask teachers, principals and instructional coaches how they're going to facilitate _____ skill, they respond with, "I'm going to model it." While I know that what you're implying with that statement is, "I'm going to intentionally demonstrate a new concept to approach to learning and students will learn by observing," but I need you to know that your students see you "hanging Christmas ornaments" too!

I think about the key learning outcomes we intentionally address across NTN (Agency, Collaboration, Written Communication, Oral Communication, and Knowledge & Thinking) and wonder what students are actually seeing and hearing in the skill development of these outcomes on a daily basis. For example, if we really ARE trying to teach out students that collaboration is about being a productive member of a diverse team through strong interpersonal communication, commitment to shared success, leadership & initiative, then shouldn't they see us wrestle with a dilemma with our colleagues? Shouldn't you be attending feedback sessions which support one another's growth as educators...and shouldn't students know that you all take the time to give and receive feedback to one another!?!? So many of you do such great things already that are MODELS of the outcomes you're trying to reach with your students, but when asked how you're going to support students in developing these skills, it's very rare that "make my own learning visible to students" is part of that response.

Had I waited until Owen was in bed to hang the ornaments on the tree this year, then yes, I assume I'd be teaching him how to put a ring on a branch in the next few years. Instead of that intentional demonstration, however,  I just did my thing and made it visible to him and IT STUCK! I didn't even know he was watching, but suddenly...there they were! Toys hanging on my tree and now I kind of don't want to take them down. 




As you look at the definitions of the NTN Learning Outcomes and/or the specific indicators on the rubrics, what will you do in your own work as an educator that will make your learning and your practices visible to your students? When you reflect on your actions and interactions with adults and students this semester, what were you REALLY modeling for your students? ...was it the skills and best practices you were hoping to model!? If not...what will you do differently next semester?


Peace, love, & "be the change you want to see in the world,"
Sarah

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Reflections....

And then it happened.... 

As of Friday afternoon, I've officially been parenting for one year. WHAAAAT!? Yes, I'm still trying to let that sink in. My own birthdays have always been natural times for reflection, but I found myself reflecting even more on Owen's birthday than I typically do on my own. 

One of my colleagues, Jim May, introduced me to his own family birthday tradition of asking two simple questions. (1) What's the most memorable part of the past year? (2) What are you looking forward to in the year ahead? (i.e. What do you want to be saying is the most memorable part at this time next year?)   That's it... nothing over the top, just a simple reflection for celebration and forward thinking. 

This also led me to think about the reflections that are often led at the conclusion of a project with your students. (YES, you should be reflecting with your students THROUGHOUT the project.... every benchmark is a good check-point, quite honestly!) But for the moment, I'm just going to speak to questions you might consider asking yourself, your team teacher, and/or your students to reflect on with you post-project implementation.
  • Where was I this time last project? Forecasting is both the most & least important part of planning. To get an accurate picture of where you are, you need to check where you were at the same time last project. Are you still on the right path? If not, what threw you off course, and what can you do to get back up and moving in the right direction?
  • Am I the learner and/or project designer I want to be? When you and/or your students started your PBL journey, you had dreams of the creative designer and problem solver you wanted to be. Are you that person? You may not be at your vision of "perfect", but are you the type of person you wished for?
  • Have I lost/gained knowledge since last project? What does your skill set for PBL design and implementation look like compared to last project? How have your students grown across the learning outcomes? Are you/they the same or worse? There's no better time than now to strengthen your resolve to take on a new learning challenge.
  • Did I accomplish my goals for this project? It's not just for the new project; everyone makes goals and resolutions throughout the project. Did you accomplish your goals for the last project? What did you wish for when you launched this project with your students? What did you do to make it happen?
  • Do I need to change any routines? At certain points in your educational career, you become susceptible to stagnancy depending on the support of your department, grade level team, leadership position, etc. If you need to push beyond a current routine to freshen up your current state in education, now's the time!
  • What do I have to be grateful for?  You have survived the longevity of this project, your students and colleagues are still talking to you, and you're still employed. If you're breathing and walking into your classroom post-project, you have something to be grateful for. Show your gratitude to the world!
  • What good can I do next project? Now that you have a firm grasp on what type of designer/problem solver you've been, it's time to decide who you're going to be. You may want to strive to up the authenticity in your next project, or refine your assessment practices. Time isn't stopping, so why not (re)visit the NTN project quality checklist, choose a focus area and get after it!
Even if you just use these questions for you, don't forget that it's a great time for a "birthday" reflection for your students too. You might check out BIE's "Self-reflection on Project Work" to get you started. 

Peace, love, and cake smashing celebrations!
Sarah


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Checkers or Chess?

Let’s be honest… when you see these two game boards, you have a certain reaction to each one, don’t you?!
     

   
Checkers gives you that "ahhh yes... I'll take them down one piece at a time and after they 'King Me', I'll get them TWO at a time!" (Don't pretend like you don't have a malicious laugh as you sit down to a game of checkers. We all know you do...)

Chess is a different reaction though. Sure, you still get that sense of "Alright! GO TIME!" But instead of trying to take your opponent down one piece at a time, you pause a bit longer before each move. You sloooowly release your hand from the chess piece after each move wondering if you'll be proud of yourself in 2 seconds or experience instant regret. (It's like I've seen you play before, isn't it!?) 

So which game are you playing in this life you live? Do you take one day at a time, hoping to make it to the other side of the board....to a new accomplishment... and once you do, then you'll regroup and re-strategize for more winning moves? OR, are you in this for the long haul... knowing what you're out to accomplish and creating a plan for the day-to-day to help you reach that longer term goal? 

One is clearly more mentally exhausting than the other. To know your current mission in life (personal or professional) and then develop a path for accomplishing that mission means a lot of intentional time for reflection, analysis/evaluation of each situation, as well as refining your short-term goals to help you stay the course. GEEZ! I'm a little worn out just thinking about it! But I guarantee at the end of your project (at home or at work), assuming you've carefully moved every Pawn, Rook, and Knight on the board... you and those around you are more clearly able to speak to the individual moves you made throughout the project which helped you accomplish your goal and either replicate, or avoid, certain paths towards success in the near future. There's clarity in strategy, my friends. 

So what's it going to be as you think about the last 41 days of 2016? Are you going to jump in with your first diagonal move or carefully choose the pawn that will lead the charge?


Peace, love, and Checkmate!
Sarah

Sunday, November 6, 2016

And the winner is......

Let's face it, friends.... this is a big week. I'd be remiss to blog this week and not get us thinking about those ballot boxes on Wednesday.... but I'd rather do it in a way that let's you get in touch with your own attitudes, beliefs, emotions, and dispositions. No, no... not about the election, but about what you hold at your core that truly drives your daily (inter)actions!

During a really great project ideation session at Winton Woods MS Friday morning, SS facilitator, Mr. Clinton Beck, spoke about his desire to design a project with "diversity" at its core. Specifically, a project which allowed students to look at diversity from the lens of what made them who they are and why they see the world that they do. All I could think of during that time was "YES! If only our students....and if only WE.... truly knew our core beliefs (i.e. the essence of how we see ourselves, other people, the world, & the future...thanks for that explanation, Google....), we would be able to productively manage our behaviors influenced by our attitudes, beliefs, emotions, and dispositions during any interaction we may have in our daily life.

I wish I could take credit for this brilliant li'l exercise, but I cannot. Instead, let's thank the author of The Art of Coaching, Elaine Aguilar, for this closer look at ourselves and our core beliefs. (Give yourself 15-20min to give this exercise a go!)

  1. Read through this list of Core Values  (Note: it's not exhaustive, so feel free to add your own) and identify 10 values which you feel are most important to you.
  2. Now, cross off five of those values, leaving you with the five that are most important to you.
  3. Now, from your list of five values, cross off two, leaving you with the three values that are most important to you. These are most likely your core values. 
WHOOO!!! You made it!!! Now talk to me about this.... 
  • What feelings come up for you when you read your short list? How does your energy shift?
  • Consider how the actions you take reflect your core values. Are there values that show up more often in your actions at work? At home? In social circles? With family? Do you ever notice a discrepancy between what you consider to be a "value" and actions that you take?
  • Write your three core values on a piece of paper and post them somewhere prominent. Reflect on them for a week or two. See if they still feel like "core" values.
  • Reflect on them every year! Are they the same? Have they changed? Do you think these would have been your core values 10 years ago?


Whether you're entering the polls this week, engaging in a conversation with a friend/ colleague/ student, or going about your daily business, I hope you take time to celebrate YOU. Celebrate the way that YOU make decisions that will impact your own present and future realities as a result of being true to what's in your core.

Peace, love, and live with purpose,
Sarah

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Here I am... 20 hours before our first official "trick or treat" experience as parents and I'm quickly realizing that I'm doomed for the next few years ahead of frantic, down-to-the-wire crafting (which we all know my son will probably resent me for later in life...it's cool... I owned that reality the day I found out I was pregnant). :) Regardless, Jared and I were both SUPER excited to come up with a halloween costume for Owen that met our solution criteria: "has to be unique, not too much trouble to make, and has to be recognizable."  Then we threw out tons of options that we thought might meet our criteria (James Naismith, the Pope, the li'l boy who entered Harambe's exhibit....) then obviously had to choose one that met the criteria (AND didn't push the boundaries of "too soon"... one of us has to be the moral compass in our household... oyi)!   Unfortunately, I can't tell you what costume we chose... we've decided to keep it top secret until tomorrow's unveiling... BUT I can tell you that after we spent time putting it all together over the last few weeks, we are SUPER EXCITED to get him out there for his first Halloween night. Let's be honest.... we're excited to see if other people recognize our solution criteria in action, without us telling them all about it! (Do they think it's unique? Does it even matter that it was handcrafted? Do they recognize what/who he's supposed to be?)  It has been a crazy month of embracing the process, so we'll see how our final presentation turns out tomorrow night!

While Halloween isn't every day for you or your students, this has been a great reminder for me of the excitingly stressful process you venture into with your students at the beginning of each project design & the launch with students.  For you as you design projects, it probably feels a little like this:

  • Phase 1: Define your goal - What big ideas will students tackle in the discipline? What question(s) will drive student learning?
  • Phase 2: Identify solution criteria - What targeted standards & skills will students need to develop in order to be successful in the project?
  • Phase 3: Generate possible solutions - What type of authentic tasks could students engage in to deepen their understanding of the discipline?
  • Phase 4: Make a decision  - What are the pro's and con's of each possibility? Which is the most feasible and still meets the solution criteria?
  • Phase 5: Create, design, implement  - 
    • What need-to-knows might students generate and how can those questions drive the learning?
    • What project benchmarks will help guide the learning? What should students be doing in the various phases of the project (early, middle, and late)?
    • How will students engage in inquiry throughout the phases of the project?
    • What scaffolding activities will help to address students' need-to-knows & the targeted knowledge & skills?
    • What opportunities will there be for feedback & critique, reflection, & revision of work?
    • How will creativity & student choice be incorporated throughout the project?
  • Phase 6: Evaluate its success - Does this project meet my goal and address the solution criteria? Where are your Critical Friends when ya need 'em!? Do I need to move back through any of these phases re-address areas of this project's design?
And for your students, the 3-4 weeks of your PBL unit, or 3-5 days of your PBL problem should feel like a Halloween blitz as well! "What's the problem I'm trying to solve?" (This is when they might write/articulate the problem statement)? followed by "What will it look/sound like if I've successfully solved the problem?" (This is when they'll revisit the Entry Event for "criteria" and probably be introduced to the rubric which will guide them as well.) They will then begin to dream up all the things they can & want to do to solve this problem (This often means you, as the teacher, are creating time for them to do that and guiding them to keep solution criteria in mind while not jumping straight to making ONE decision.) Students will choose one of their many ideas and start bringing it to life (Students will need support in making decisions with many on the table, and if they're making a collaborative decision... they'll need some guiding prompts/templates/matrices to help them in this process as well). With a decision "made" (knowing they may come back to this phase and select another option after they start researching, applying knowledge, and creating towards their decision), students will begin diving even more deeply into questions they need-to-know to support them in reaching their goal (so get those workshops ready)!!!!  And as they gain solid momentum on their research, they'll want to ask their peers, or other teams, if it seems like they're on the right track. If so, they'll cycle back to phase 5 and keep pushing on. If not, maybe they move back to phase 3! Either way.... this excitedly, stressful process is certainly one that supports their ability to problem solve but also gives them voice and ownership in the project as well. 

Here's to many more project designs and weeks of implementation which eb and flow resulting in plenty of creative treats and not so many disconnected tricks in your classroom!

Peace, love, and Happy Halloween!!!
Sarah

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Say it like ya mean it

While on a site visit at Winton Woods Intermediate School last Thursday, I was able to be present for a staff conversation about the science of learning words. Did you know the word "run" has 62 different meanings?! (I'd be lying if I pretended like I haven't been trying to come up with all 62 since that staff meeting!) Since there are so many complexities to words that may seem so simple to us, you can imagine how difficult it might be fore a student who struggles to understand ONE word, let alone a whole bunch of them put together into a phrase or sentence! There was a strategy shared for supporting students comprehension of word meanings which really stood out to me. It's a strategy that I've seen/heard so many effective teachers and school leaders use multiple times, but we often take it for granted when thinking about using this particular for the purpose of supporting students sense-making of words. The strategy is this.... rather than telling others what they shouldn't do, tell them what they should do. 

Seems so simple, right!? Yeah.... I thought so too, until this strategy has been driving every interaction I've had since that meeting on Thursday!!!! My now 10 month old son, Owen, has found his inner-monkey. Seriously, this kid climbs on EVERYTHING!! My husband and I have found ourselves lowering our tone of voice, saying "Owen, don't step up there" or "No no. You'll get hurt" as Owen begins to step onto the fireplace hearth, the opened dishwasher door, the toy box, blah blah blah. Effective? Maybe. But all we're communicating is what we don't want to see him do (as we know it will result in a non-favorable outcome). Instead, we should start telling him what we'd like to see him do. "Come play on the floor" and "Let's roll a ball instead."  Not only does that build an entirely different vocabulary for him (whether he understands it at the moment or not), but in the long run, won't leave him feeling confused and thinking, "But I want to climb! What on earth would I do instead!?"

As an amateur photographer (I have 32GB-ish of photos of Owen now, so that makes me a "photographer" now, right?!?) , ;) I was asked to take Senior Pictures for the daughter of one of my friends at the gym. As I started posing her at our photo shoot today, I found myself paying attention to what can make or break the flow of a picture... her hands, her arm & leg placement, the tilt of her head... it all matters! As she sat on a fallen log, I started to say to her, "don't slouch when you sit" and then the strategy of should's vs. shouldn'ts came to mind. "Roll your shoulders back and down".  YES! She went from scrunchy to elongated in just six words! All I had to do was communicate an alternate method for achieving the goal (one that I was able to see and she was unsure how to execute without guidance.... just like Owen and his monkey-like tendencies...)



At the gym, I know my form's off when I perform a heavy clean. I've found myself getting frustrated with coaching cues like, "you're pulling too early" and "your elbows are out on the 2nd pull." I KNOW I KNOW!! And now it makes sense! I'm feeling frustrated because, yes...while those are true statements (and good to know), what's lacking is a statement of what should be happening at those moments instead. "Use your hips & legs to drive the bar, with arms straight until the bar is weightless." Huh....alright then. Let's try that method!

You get the drift, right?! Pay attention to yourself as you communicate with your team teacher, support staff, students, significant others, children, pets....  What message are your words sending? Are you getting your desired results? How are you communicating, or could you communicate, alternate methods for achieving the goals? What specific language is/can be used to help others make sense of your expectations? Of the message you're really trying to send?

Peace, love, and too many examples,
Sarah

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Stay the course...

11 years ago, I grated from Ball State University with a degree in Secondary Education: Mathematics. That was also the time I stared into my new reality of a hefty load of debt. As if having my own debt wasn't enough to pay off, I got married in 2011 and now we had collaborative debt to take care of. After the last 5 years of living every day with Dave Ramsey's financial guidance and holding one another accountable for our financial decisions, I am happy to say that as of 12:20am EST on Fri, Oct. 14, my husband and I are officially.....wait for it.... DEBT FREE (except for our mortgage, but after 2 undergrad + 2 master's student loans + 1 admin program, we're celebrating this win)!!!!!!! *loud cheers*clap clap clap* more cheering*

No, I'm not telling you this because I'm trying to help it sink into my head that it's real (ok...maybe a little of that...) but more importantly, because this is a goal I/we've been working towards for ELEVEN YEARS!!! I don't remember every moment of this journey, but I remember the highs of celebrating small victories along the way as we'd say goodbye to one credit card debt or loan after another, and I certainly remember the lows of getting frustrated with working so hard and feeling like we weren't making a dent. I also know I couldn't have done it alone and that the end goal seemed SO FAR AWAY when we originally started. But Friday night, as I hit the "submit final payment" button, I found myself in a sense of disbelief that we had accomplished our goal and this was the moment we had worked so hard for.

What are your long term goals? What pathway have you laid out for yourself to guide you along the journey? Who is supporting you...I mean REALLY supporting you?

What about your students. For most of you, your first grading period is coming to a close. Will you use this as an opportunity to establish long term goals with your students AND a pathway to guide them or will you carry on tomorrow in hopes they have their own agency aha-moment? How will you support them through the highs and lows? What will your celebration look like together when they accomplish their end goal?

You may not be planning an 11 year goal for yourself or your students right now, but I do hope you pause to ask yourself what feels "worth it." Worth the journey. Worth the structure and discipline of yourself. Worth the collaboration of others. Worth the goal.


Peace, love, and eye on the prize,
Sarah

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Talk to me...

Hello, October....so good to see you again!!! With the beautiful fall weather also comes the first round of stressors of our education system. Yes, you guessed it! First quarter grades! It's even more evident when teachers are focused on ensuring student's gradebook success because their questions and statements to students often begin to sound like, "Did you complete ____?" and "What are you working on?" or event "Have you submitted ____?"

You've heard me talk about this before, but as we get closer to the grading period, it's so crucial that we keep in mind how important it is to talk to students about their growth in learning and not only serve as their task-master to make sure things are done (which, by the way, is probably only "done" with a portion of the effort they are capable of, but they know they have to turn something in and so they do. They are appeasing the system). In that case, why not change the system!? Starting this week, I want you to choose ONE of these questions, add them to your conversations with students, and REALLY LISTEN to the responses they give you! Engage them in conversation about their personal discoveries, their new learnings, and not just how close they are to submitting their task.

  1. What did you learn today that you didn't know yesterday?
  2. What happened today that made you keep on going?
  3. What can you learn from this?
  4. What mistake did you make that taught you something?
  5. What did you try hard at today?
  6. What strategy are going to try now?
  7. What will you do to challenge yourself today?
  8. What will you do to improve your work?
  9. What will you do to solve this problem?
  10. What can/did you learn from your teammates today?
Go ahead...choose ONE. Build it into your whole class conversations, your 1:1s with students as you circle the room, as a warm-up or exit-ticket, and even your smaller group workshops. Next week...choose another question, then another. Before you know it, student's will be thinking with this growth mindset and striving not just to "get things done" but to refine their work in a way that they are proud to present. 

Peace, love, and grading periods,
Sarah

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Genuine, Child-Like Curiosity

I had the privilege this past week of spending some uninterrupted time with my little (although rapidly growing) Owen. We chased Domino (our almost 10 year old black lab) around the living room, read some books, and had a few crawling races on the kitchen floor. It was on our third race that Owen took an unexpected turn left toward Domino's food bowls. Oh boy! I had rapid visions of an overturned water bowl all over the floor and an angry lab hovering over my 9 month old because someone was by her food dish without filling it up, and blah blah blah. I pulled myself off the floor as quickly as I could get up and moved towards Owen with every intent to pick him up and move him away from the bowl. But I was too late. I saw him as he slowly reached his hand into the water dish and just let his hand sit there in the water. And then, this happened (I'll spare you the 2 min video of this and just share 34sec. with you):

video

Empty bowl... ting ting ting... Full bowl... splash splash splash.... 

I don't know if was the "empty/full" or the "dry/wet" or maybe even the "noisy/quiet" concept that Owen was discovering but I couldn't take my eyes off of him! I was so proud in that moment. He was discovering something new. Unsolicited exploration. Genuine curiosity. Ongoing investigation. Noticeable results. It was all happening right there with a 9month old and two dog dishes. I've always been a secondary education teacher so watching someone so little learn new things has blown my mind multiple times, but this one really got to me. 

In that moment, I couldn't help but think about all the times as educators we have a plan in mind and lead students down our plan for learning (crawling races only....no dog dish played). I realized how many times, in my own classroom, I was afraid to let students choose their own path for learning standards and skills for fear of them learning incorrectly or not exploring all of the information I thought they needed to learn (i.e. I didn't want them to make a mess of water on the floor or put them at risk of getting hurt by the dog). And in this moment of the dog dish discovery, I was wondering what learning opportunities I had robbed my students of for not letting them explore the standards and skills in a way that felt meaningful to them. 

As you enter into your week with students, I beg you... look at your agenda for the week. (No, seriously...go look at them. I'll wait.....)

As a student in your classroom who will be looking at those agendas, will I see a well laid-out plan that allows you (the teacher) to feel confident I am completing the tasks you want me to complete? or will I see some focused questions (aka "need to knows") identified to guide the week of learning with options for exploration to figure out my own responses/learning to those questions? 

From the viewpoint of a parent, I want my child...your student... to learn the necessary standards and skills in your class, but I hope you find the confidence and mental strength to continue to keep that child-like, genuine love of learning & curiosity alive by supporting my child in having voice and choice in HOW they learn about these standards and skills.

Peace, love, and hands-on-learning,
Sarah

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Stop! Collaborate and Listen....

As I listened to 5th - 8th grade students at Winton Woods Intermediate and Middle Schools this past week, I couldn't help but focus on the ways in which they were learning the art of collaboration. IT'S TRUE...it IS an art! Many of us, as adults, are still trying to figure out how to truly collaborate (and not just cooperative) with our peers... can you imagine trying to figure that out in your formative years at ages 10 - 13!?!??

Some students were attempting to make decisions on the direction of their project alongside their teammates, others were just trying to hold teammates accountable for the work they were doing, and still others were making an attempt to share thoughts about how they might conduct a lab experiment. None of these feats seemed to come naturally to those students, but I couldn't help but smile with pride as I watched them take a risk (...exhibit their personal agency...) for the sake of enhancing their group collaboration.

I then thought back to my first experiences collaborating with a team-teacher and how we did everything in our power to NOT be hypocritical and talk the talk of collaborative skills without walking the walk ourselves. It's hard, my friends! Attempting to resolve conflict through personal discussion, completing tasks on time while offering constructive feedback to one another, supporting the roles and responsibilities of self and team members... those are just a few of the skills which are indicators of an effective collaborator. My team teacher and I quickly realized that these skills weren't coming naturally to us and they certainly weren't going to for students, either. So we needed support. We needed to be intentional about learning how to collaborate and consistently reflecting on our collaborative efforts. SO, I wanted to share some collaborative strategies with you also in case you're finding yourself at the beginning of the year longing for some structures you might add to your class which support student's growth on this essential life skill as well!

  • Originally designed as math collaborative strategies, these can be easily adapted for use in any content area as structures for group workshops. (I have also seen many of these on Mandy Neal's "Teaching with Simplicity" blog where she breaks down how you might use them in other content areas as well!) 
  • Okay! fine!!! You want more! I get it... here are some Collaborative Group Work protocols you might find useful as well!
  • I have seen this in multiple ES - MS classrooms as a reminder to students of the indicators of a good collaborator (without hanging up a more text-heavy rubric). Keep in mind... if it hangs on the wall without intent, reference, or as a support, it's just background noise. If you use a strategy like this.... MAKE IT USEFUL! 


  •  And collaborative prompts that could be taped to the inside of team folders and kept on your own adult collaborative working space(s) looks like this:


I can't wait to hear about the strategies you try in your own classroom, which ones seem effective, and how student abilities grow as a result of your own commitment to improving collaborative abilities for yourself and your students!

Peace, love, and Ice-Ice-Baby,

Sarah

Sunday, September 11, 2016

15 years...

15 years ago on 9/11/2001, our country experienced a major event which changed the context for which we live today. In Cincinnati (yes, I live in South East Indiana, but Cincinnati is “home”) , there is a major Labor Day celebration each year called Riverfest. People line the banks of the Ohio River on both the OH and the KY side, crowding in for a day of celebration with friends, family, and fireworks to say “goodbye to summer.” As I listened to news broadcasts about the 40th anniversary for the firework display this year, I couldn’t help but think “Gosh… 40 years ago, they didn’t have to number the lamp posts in the city so you could tell family members where you were in case the unthinkable happened. And the event organizers didn’t even consider security checkpoints to a public event like this.”  My how time has changed.

This year, your students born in 2001 are now in the 8th and 9th grades. They were born into the country formed by the events of that tragic day 15 years ago. They have grown up knowing “safety” to look very different for our country than we did growing up as kids. They “have never forgotten” because they have never known anything differently.

Our NTN schools promote a culture of trust, respect, and responsibility, and on days like today, I can’t help but think about the importance of that culture for students  in our schools today and how I long for the day they feel that same collaborative culture as a country. If you have not had a moment, or not take a cultural temperature check with your student since school started (perhaps since your 1st School Project), I encourage you to do so. Not only is reinforcing that positive culture beneficial to your classroom, but also to your school, across your district, within your local community, and will empower your students to create that environment in our world.

Peace, love, and never forget,

Sarah

Monday, September 5, 2016

One-Ply

You know that moment at the grocery store when you've spent FAR too long staring at the stacks of toilet paper, trying to find the best deal for the best brand of paper? You're activating all of your prior knowledge in that quick moment, "Which ones cause TP dust on the roll? Was it this brand or that brand which felt like sand paper? Can I recall the one that started an argument at home last time, because I certainly need to avoid that one..." only to choose the package that "looks right" and as soon as you get home and load up a roll, you realize the TP feels different. "Why is it so thin? and course?"  A slight moment of panic overcomes you as you grasp for the newly purchased package with a roll now missing. Scanning...scanning...scanning.... yep. There it is....



... "One-Ply."  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? You just spent all that time refreshing your memory on the "best brand for your buck" and you come home with ONE-PLY!? Why is that still a thing!? Regardless, it certainly reinforces the need to "read for clarity" and "challenge assumptions" as well as "pay attention to detail." 

I was fortunate enough to visit Towles MS in Fort Wayne, IN last week and the staff is currently engaged in conversation around identifying ways to ensure all students are reading at grade level. (Boy, did I need to enact these strategies myself, or what!?) As we talked initially about strategies to support student's ability to read, we eventually began to discuss that there's a need to start with supporting students ability to "think out loud." Once students would be able to articulate what they were thinking, we could then implement strategy x, y, or z that seemed to best meet their needs.  I quickly realized....THAT'S WHAT I DO AT THE GROCERY STORE!!! I need to process what I'm thinking about prices, quality, double vs single rolls and what will fit on my dispenser, etc. before I begin to touch a package for purchase! Students do this too. They process, often to themselves, for fear of taking a risk and failing or "sounding stupid" in front of their peers, and they don't even DARE reach for a package to purchase. Could you imagine if a student said, "Mr. Smith, I'm not sure that I understand what this paragraph is saying?" *gasp* Yes...we would be THRILLED!!! But rarely do we get that celebratory moment. If we can FIRST teach students to articulate what they are thinking, feeling, understanding, then perhaps we can support them in diving deeper on the content we desire for them to understand. 

These "Say Something" prompts are great to keep on student work tables, but only if you, as the teacher, remember to allow the time for students to pause and figure out what they are going to say based on the discussion, reading, video, etc. they are investigating. Or what about these Visible Thinking Routines? Are you willing to offer up 10-15min. for a routine like this NOW to support your student's ability to think, process, and comprehend rather than 2-3 weeks remediating their ability to read at the end of the grading period?! Perhaps you want to up your game beyond figuring out what students "Know" and "Need to Know" about information presented and what they might do to support their next steps. In that case, give this KWHLAQ structure a try! 

It's scary to take a risk when you're learning something for the first time, or you don't know what you need to know, or you do know what you need but you're nervous to take the first step. Now that we've identified this challenge, choose 2-3 routines, prompts or activities that you can implement alongside your lessons this week and know that you're dedicating that time to be PROACTIVE about student thinking now so you don't have to be REACTIVE about their comprehension later. After all... there's nothing worse than starting your learning adventure only to reach for the toilet paper and be filled with instant panic and regret.

Peace, love, and two-ply for life,
Sarah

Sunday, August 28, 2016

As we enter into our final week before the Labor Day holiday, I feel inclined to tell you about.... my pants. Yep. My white pants. I'm not gonna lie... I've never been more thankful to have a nationally accepted fashion guideline as "don't wear white pants after Labor Day."

After I got back into my pre-pregnancy size clothes earlier this Spring, I felt like I should treat myself with a small shopping trip. My twin sister had been raving about a pair of yellow pants she purchased and I thought, "umm...HECK NO! Not for this girl! My wardrobe consists of black, gray, and khaki, so bold colors are definitely out." Then I found myself in TJ Maxx staring at a pair of white pants. OKAY! I'LL TRY THEM ON!! (This was the first step of my growth mindset kicking in, for the record.) I tried them, I liked them, I bought them, then attempted to wear them. I have NEVER experienced as much anxiety in my life as that day in May when I wore my white pants for the first time. Every single marker, condiment bottle, cap-less pen, person eating lunch might as well have been aiming a can of spray paint at me that day!!!! Why do people DO this to themselves!? I couldn't handle it. I swore these things were going to Goodwill the minute they came out of the dryer! But I kind of liked the way they looked. And I did get a few compliments on them. I had to figure out a way to make these things work... yes, fully enact my growth mindset and take ownership for learning how to wear these things without anxiety creeping in.

While awkward, yes, this day of living in fear reminded me a lot of how your students might feel in your classes. Anxious of how others might view their learning abilities. Nervous that any new piece of information coming their way will just show up as a big "stain on their pants" that they don't know what to do with or how to make it blend in to the rest of what they know or are trying to learn. And your students don't HAVE a labor day rule to look forward to as a mental break in whatever might be causing them anxiety. WE HAVE TO HELP THEM! We have to make the markers, condiment bottles, cap-less pens, etc. look like stain removing pens, not spray paint!!! While you develop your own means for helping students establish a growth mindset and take ownership over their learning, let me get you started with a few things:

  • Here's a really great activity for confronting and teaching students how to struggle.
  • Engage students with written reflections, self-assessments, discussions or individual conferences regarding how they build confidence or find personal relevance in their tasks.
  • Allow them to experience a safe dose of failure and debrief how they overcame the struggle.
  • Spend time developing reflective learners in your classroom with some of these tips (for more traditional assessment items).

If we want students to become agents for their own learning (grow from setbacks, build confidence, seek feedback, actively participate, etc...) we have become proactive instead of reactive for those learning moments which may cause them anxiety and in turn, cause them to shut down from gaining new knowledge and skills. If we expect students to know how to take ownership over their own learning and maintain a growth mindset, we have already failed them. You would never assess a student on their ability to solve a single-variable equation without first teaching/supporting them in learning this new skill, so why do we assess them for knowing how to own their own learning if we aren't teaching it first?!

Yes, I did wear those white pants again...four times to be exact. I had to become proactive (packing a stain remover pen and an extra pair of pants each time I wore them) instead of cautiously awaiting to react. I have one more week to wear my "growth mindset pants" before the fashion police start to come after me, so I will consider this week my week of summative assessment!

Peace, love, and #thestruggleisreal ,
Sarah


As we enter into our final week before the Labor Day holiday, I feel inclined to tell you about.... my pants. Yep. My white pants. I'm not gonna lie... I've never been more thankful to have a nationally accepted fashion guideline as "don't wear white pants after Labor Day."

After I got back into my pre-pregnancy size clothes earlier this Spring, I felt like I should treat myself with a small shopping trip. My twin sister had been raving about a pair of yellow pants she purchased and I thought, "umm...HECK NO! Not for this girl! My wardrobe consists of black, gray, and khaki, so bold colors are definitely out." Then I found myself in TJ Maxx staring at a pair of white pants. OKAY! I'LL TRY THEM ON!! (This was the first step of my growth mindset kicking in, for the record.) I tried them, I liked them, I bought them, then attempted to wear them. I have NEVER experienced as much anxiety in my life as that day in May when I wore my white pants for the first time. Every single marker, condiment bottle, cap-less pen, person eating lunch might as well have been aiming a can of spray paint at me that day!!!! Why do people DO this to themselves!? I couldn't handle it. I swore these things were going to Goodwill the minute they came out of the dryer! But I kind of liked the way they looked. And I did get a few compliments on them. I had to figure out a way to make these things work... yes, fully enact my growth mindset and take ownership for learning how to wear these things without anxiety creeping in.

While awkward, yes, this day of living in fear reminded me a lot of how your students might feel in your classes. Anxious of how others might view their learning abilities. Nervous that any new piece of information coming their way will just show up as a big "stain on their pants" that they don't know what to do with or how to make it blend in to the rest of what they know or are trying to learn. And your students don't HAVE a labor day rule to look forward to as a mental break in whatever might be causing them anxiety. WE HAVE TO HELP THEM! We have to make the markers, condiment bottles, cap-less pens, etc. look like stain removing pens, not spray paint!!! While you develop your own means for helping students establish a growth mindset and take ownership over their learning, let me get you started with a few things:

  • Here's a really great activity for confronting and teaching students how to struggle.
  • Engage students with written reflections, self-assessments, discussions or individual conferences regarding how they build confidence or find personal relevance in their tasks.
  • Allow them to experience a safe dose of failure and debrief how they overcame the struggle.
  • Spend time developing reflective learners in your classroom with some of these tips (for more traditional assessment items).

If we want students to become agents for their own learning (grow from setbacks, build confidence, seek feedback, actively participate, etc...) we have become proactive instead of reactive for those learning moments which may cause them anxiety and in turn, cause them to shut down from gaining new knowledge and skills. If we expect students to know how to take ownership over their own learning and maintain a growth mindset, we have already failed them. You would never assess a student on their ability to solve a single-variable equation without first teaching/supporting them in learning this new skill, so why do we assess them for knowing how to own their own learning if we aren't teaching it first?!

Yes, I did wear those white pants again...four times to be exact. I had to become proactive (packing a stain remover pen and an extra pair of pants each time I wore them) instead of cautiously awaiting to react. I have one more week to wear my "growth mindset pants" before the fashion police start to come after me, so I will consider this week my week of summative assessment!

Peace, love, and #thestruggleisreal ,
Sarah


As we enter into our final week before the Labor Day holiday, I feel inclined to tell you about.... my pants. Yep. My white pants. I'm not gonna lie... I've never been more thankful to have a nationally accepted fashion guideline as "don't wear white pants after Labor Day."

After I got back into my pre-pregnancy size clothes earlier this Spring, I felt like I should treat myself with a small shopping trip. My twin sister had been raving about a pair of yellow pants she purchased and I thought, "umm...HECK NO! Not for this girl! My wardrobe consists of black, gray, and khaki, so bold colors are definitely out." Then I found myself in TJ Maxx staring at a pair of white pants. OKAY! I'LL TRY THEM ON!! (This was the first step of my growth mindset kicking in, for the record.) I tried them, I liked them, I bought them, then attempted to wear them. I have NEVER experienced as much anxiety in my life as that day in May when I wore my white pants for the first time. Every single marker, condiment bottle, cap-less pen, person eating lunch might as well have been aiming a can of spray paint at me that day!!!! Why do people DO this to themselves!? I couldn't handle it. I swore these things were going to Goodwill the minute they came out of the dryer! But I kind of liked the way they looked. And I did get a few compliments on them. I had to figure out a way to make these things work... yes, fully enact my growth mindset and take ownership for learning how to wear these things without anxiety creeping in.

While awkward, yes, this day of living in fear reminded me a lot of how your students might feel in your classes. Anxious of how others might view their learning abilities. Nervous that any new piece of information coming their way will just show up as a big "stain on their pants" that they don't know what to do with or how to make it blend in to the rest of what they know or are trying to learn. And your students don't HAVE a labor day rule to look forward to as a mental break in whatever might be causing them anxiety. WE HAVE TO HELP THEM! We have to make the markers, condiment bottles, cap-less pens, etc. look like stain removing pens, not spray paint!!! While you develop your own means for helping students establish a growth mindset and take ownership over their learning, let me get you started with a few things:

  • Here's a really great activity for confronting and teaching students how to struggle.
  • Engage students with written reflections, self-assessments, discussions or individual conferences regarding how they build confidence or find personal relevance in their tasks.
  • Allow them to experience a safe dose of failure and debrief how they overcame the struggle.
  • Spend time developing reflective learners in your classroom with some of these tips (for more traditional assessment items).

If we want students to become agents for their own learning (grow from setbacks, build confidence, seek feedback, actively participate, etc...) we have become proactive instead of reactive for those learning moments which may cause them anxiety and in turn, cause them to shut down from gaining new knowledge and skills. If we expect students to know how to take ownership over their own learning and maintain a growth mindset, we have already failed them. You would never assess a student on their ability to solve a single-variable equation without first teaching/supporting them in learning this new skill, so why do we assess them for knowing how to own their own learning if we aren't teaching it first?!

Yes, I did wear those white pants again...four times to be exact. I had to become proactive (packing a stain remover pen and an extra pair of pants each time I wore them) instead of cautiously awaiting to react. I have one more week to wear my "growth mindset pants" before the fashion police start to come after me, so I will consider this week my week of summative assessment!

Peace, love, and #thestruggleisreal ,
Sarah