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!

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,

Sunday, February 5, 2017

There's no "I" in SuperBowl Champ

"People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society" - Hall of Fame Football coach Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi is considered one of the greatest American football coaches in history, and one of the best motivators as well. The National Football League championship trophy, which is awarded to the winner of the Super Bowl, is named after him. With the Super Bowl being played today, there are some lessons from each team's effort tonight that can be transferred to our classrooms as well.

At New Tech Network (NTN), we define collaboration as "the ability to be a productive member of diverse teams through strong interpersonal communication, a commitment to shared success, leadership, and initiative." Collaboration during intense moments of problem solving plays a significant role toward successful school performance. So, what can we do to TEACH our students the necessary skills for becoming an effective collaborator? Here are a few resources of activities to support your project planning based on the domain(s) of collaborative skill building you've designed into your current project's focus:

  • Interpersonal Communication - Check out this resource, "Interpersonal Communication Strategies," for building, enhancing, and extending interpersonal communication strategies that can be used any day to teach your content standards. I also love the "digital strategies for interpersonal communication" on pg. 4/5 of this document!
  • Commitment to shared success - In this article, Andrew Miller reminds us how to make group work productive (and not just have kids working in a group). His reminder on "the importance of structure" is so critical to creating the time space for students to gain proficiency on the indicators of this domain on NTN's collaboration rubric
  • Team & Leadership roles - I love some of these 10 minute Leadership Lessons so much that I can't wait to build them into the upcoming PD sessions I'm designing to remind adults of the importance for being aware of the ways they lead teams.  The "Perceptions Exercise" on page 23 would be great as teams are forming (before they actually dig into problem solving together) whereas activities like "The Pretzel Activity" on page 20 are beautiful for teaching students how to take direction from others and improve progress through communication. 

On game day, presentation day, or any ordinary Tuesday, it's important for (you and) your students to remember that success comes down to how you contribute to conversations, work through conflict,  provide constructive feedback to team members, monitor progress of your team's efforts , and so on. Much of that comes together with wins for the team and that builds trust going forward. Are you making sure your student teams are championship worthy? 

Peace, love, and Patriots do it again....

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rubric Reading 101

While onsite at Winton Woods Intermediate School last Thursday, I was fortunate enough to be present for the warm-up in Matthew George's 6th grade science class. I knew students were just beginning to study Newton's Laws of Motion, and as students were getting settled, I noticed them taking a document out of their folders that had instructions at the top with pre-printed lines below them. Students had clearly spent some time writing a response on these lines since I could see half-filled pages on most student papers within eye-shot. It seems that they were responding to a prompt about "force."

Mr. George had two sentences projected for students to see and discuss as they began class:

"Jake do need to wear his seatbelt. If he don’t the force might knock him out the car."

He asked students to find their NTN Written Communication rubrics (of which, the last row entitled "Language and Conventions" was circled on student copies). 

The class discussion that followed was designed to support student understanding of the grammar and mechanics of the two sentences projected on the board, as well as bring a focused understanding to what the language of the rubric meant. Here are some of the conversation points that occurred:

  • Teacher: Do you see any Science terms in his writing?
    • Students: FORCE!
  • Teacher: What do you notice about the way he writes about force? 
    • Students: He should say "doesn't" instead of "don't"
  • Teacher: If you want to be in the advanced category, you can’t always write the same way that you speak. Sometimes it’s a bit different. What are some of the basic conventions of writing?
    • Student: Proper grammar, capital letters, proper punctuation
    • Student: He has the words with capital letters and periods at the end of both sentences.
    • Student: But he he should say "doesn't" not "don't".
    • Student: The word "do" doesn't sound right in the first sentence.
  • Teacher: Good catch. Those are grammar errors. (He continues to talk more about these with class.) These would move him down to Proficient from Advanced. Does he cite sources? Do you see anywhere that he got his information?
    • Student: maybe not advanced. Let’s bump him back down to proficient.
  • Teacher: Maybe there are some grammar errors but I can see what he means. Bump down says there’s “limited” control...”  Is that happening?
    • Students say yes and he asks them to point out what it’s limited to
  • Teacher: We already said those grammar errors don’t really distract
  • Teacher: Sounds like we’ve decided together we might be somewhere between "Developing" and "Proficient," so not a 1, not a 2, not a 3, maybe a 2.5.
  • Teacher: This is an example of what a sort of developing response might look like.

TELL ME THAT'S NOT ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL RUBRIC CONVERSATIONS YOU'VE EVER SEEN!!!!! Students transitioned from this class warm-up by moving into a partner feedback session on their own writing. They were charged with the task of sharing their writing with a partner and determining where they felt they might currently fall on the rubric. Students were then asked to make the necessary corrections so they could achieve a Proficient or Advanced score (based on what their next level of growth was). I wanted to give Mr. George a hug for creating the space and conversation for such a thoughtful learning experience for his students, but he was I'm celebrating with all of you now instead.

I often hear from teachers during the project design phase, "My students won't understand the language on the rubric" and/or "I'm not an english teacher, so how do I teach written communication?"  Here's one, very simple, easy to implement example of how.  Mr. George used this time to teach/reinforce written communication skills by deconstructing text... text related to his current subject area.... and he didn't assume students knew the rubric language. Instead, he took on the responsibility of teaching it to them by helping them make sense of the vocabulary on that document. Did you spend 60min. on the whole document? No! He focused on ONE row... one important domain which is recurring in the project work and spent his normal 10min. of warm-up time on this group conversation which flawlessly transitioned into "work time" which was structured as a partner reflection and refinement session. OH, I JUST LOVED EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS! (Including conversations I had with students as I listened in on their feedback sessions).

So, no more excuses. You obviously have a rubric that you're using to guide students toward proficiency of skills for your current project (and if you don't, then talk to me... we need to make sure you do)!!! What domain and/or indicators (i.e. bullet points) will you focus on supporting students with this week? How will you bring their attention to the level of proficiency they are currently operating at? And most importantly..... what will your warm-up be that is time efficient and content effective!?!

Peace, love, and student dialogue,

P.S.... I am REALLY regretting not whipping out a recording device to capture these beautiful conversations. If you're up for the challenge (and your students have signed media release forms), would you mind audio/video recording the rubric conversations you have this week and next and send them my way??? I'd love to build a little library of simple activities such as this once that elicit such great skill building opportunities for students! 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Teamwork makes the dream work...

Every Saturday at CrossFit on the River, we have a Team Workout of the Day (WOD). As 50+ people walk into the gym, we anxiously look at the whiteboard to see what movements the WOD will require us to do, then folks scan the room to see who lifts similar weight as they do (so we can share a barbell), or who moves at a similar pace (so no one is resting or working more than the other). Most team workouts, we're asked to find a partner mostly because there are so many of us and so few pieces of equipment to go around. Yesterday's WOD, though, required us to have a partner to complete the movements (not just share equipment and space). The outcome? Teammates that worked equally as hard for the entirety of the WOD and supporting each other to genuinely "keep pushing through the rough spots" because if they didn't, then neither did you!!!

I can't help but think of the conversation I have with many of the teachers and instructional leaders I support. Why would you have students work in groups to complete project work, if the project doesn't necessitate more than one person to complete the work? So please.... look at your current and upcoming project design(s). Are you anticipating students working in teams to complete the project work? If "yes"... are they only in groups for the sake of sharing equipment (computers, books, folders, etc.) and space (physical floor space, to make life easier on you for individual check-ins with students throughout the project work)? Or, will they actually be in groups because they couldn't possibly complete the research and "ask" of the project without a teammate?

Bottom line, if you're going to ask students to work in teams, then be sure to design a project which requires thought partnership from teammates (not just splitting up research for the sake of completing work faster). If you'd like some help with this part of project design, please.... let me know!

Once you've figured out where and how collaboration will support student learning in your project design, it's important that you scaffold collaborative skills in your classroom and school-wide. Here are a few best practices, tips, and resources that you might find useful:
What have you tried? How often do you build in opportunities to support the development of collaboration skills? Feel free to comment on the blog to continue the conversation!

Peace, love, and TeamWODs,