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I’ve been away from my blog for a while . . . immersed in other projects; but, I’m back with a message today for school and district administrators.
As we quickly approach the holiday break, marking the mid-point of our academic year, I want to give you food for thought as you turn that proverbial corner toward the second half of the school year. I’ve had this idea for some time, but it really came to the forefront as I finished teaching an online graduate-level course in action research last week. For one of their last assignments, I asked my students to share in a discussion board post their thoughts about action research and whether they would continue to conduct their own action research studies, outside of their coursework.
The students unequivocally stated that they believed there was a huge value and benefit to designing and conducting their own action research studies. However, with so many other duties and responsibilities, most felt they wouldn’t have the time to engage in such professional endeavors. I understand--trust me, I truly get it--but I think they’re missing the bigger picture in all of this.
I “get it” because, to a degree, I think they’re right. While I believe that conducting action research in isolation can still be hugely beneficial, doing so leads to a feeling of, well, isolation. Let’s face it--none of us really wants to do anything if we feel isolated in doing it. So many of those “other duties and responsibilities” could be enveloped in an action research approach and mindset. Additionally, we need a supportive environment; a culture that promotes, values, and rewards professional activities that result in us becoming better educators.
Please don’t misunderstand--I know that doing this requires time, resources, and commitment. But, by implementing my ideas, you can collectively capitalize on so many aspects of what you’re undoubtedly trying to do in your schools. What I’m really talking about is the development of action research communities, or ARCs. I envision these action research communities functioning as professional learning communities, focused on and based in an action research approach to professional development, growth, and empowerment.
I envision ARCs functioning just like other PLCs, with all the essential components (e.g., a shared vision, collaboration, collective inquiry, an action orientation, a commitment to continuous improvement, and an orientation focused on results). The only real difference is that the focus, mindset, and culture is created around collaborative action research in your schools.
The benefit of your school- or district-based ARCs may not stop at the simple implementation of action research studies. For example,
The power that lies in the implementation of ARCs is potentially immense . . . perhaps, even limitless. Admittedly, their implementation requires some degree of planning and coordination. However, I firmly believe in them, and in the fact that their potential benefits far outweigh their initial start-up costs.
So, as you begin to plan for 2014 (and perhaps the 2014-2015 school year), be sure to mark that “Note to Self: ARCs!” in your calendar!!
America has an urgent need to cultivate a strong workforce of innovators in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects, but too few students receive the academic support and many lack opportunity to study STEM in school. Why should we care? In the next five years it’s expected that STEM job openings will grow twice as fast as other jobs in the United States, however Department of Education figures show that only 16% of American high school seniors are interested in a STEM career. The figures for minority students are particularly low.
But a solution may be right in our students’ hands. A study commissioned by the Verizon Foundation found that more than one out of three middle school students report they are using smartphones and tablets to help with their homework. Not only that, students reported that using mobile devices at school makes them want to learn more about STEM subjects than students who don’t. As a teacher, this is music to my ears. Another study by Harris Interactive reinforced these findings. Incredibly, nine out of ten students reported that mobile devices make learning more fun.
Early intervention appears to be the key. While I believe that there is no age that is too early to introduce STEM based lessons, dynamic programs using technology aimed at middle and high school students are a way to maintain students’ interest in STEM as they progress to graduation. Last year I was the co-advisor for a team of middle school students who participated in a national contest to design a smartphone app. The students who participated in this challenge learned valuable skills, not only related to STEM, but to all aspects of learning. We had rich discussions on the topic of community challenges and concerns, and how technology and science could help alleviate them. The team decided to design the Chow Checker app, which would identify ingredients in food products to help people with food allergies. At the end of the process the students left with a greater awareness of the issues that children with food allergies face on a daily basis. Out of hundreds of teams from around the country, my students were one of the winning teams.
Our team was a diverse group of learners, each with their own level of comfort and understanding of technology. A key feature of this process was that at the start not every student who participated considered themselves a “techie” however, by the end all of them learned that STEM education was not beyond their reach, and that there were elements of STEM that they all could be experts at. I know that they will remember this process, and most of them will continue to hone their app building skills for their future.
As adults, we use mobile devices to manage our work and social lives, and we know that the current generation of kids will integrate these technologies in ways we can only imagine. So why shouldn’t we encourage kids to integrate these devices into their school lives in a fun and challenging way? I encourage students to submit their idea to the second annual Verizon Innovative App Challenge, which is open until December 3rd. They might be inspired to invent the next great innovation.
It is that time of year again that some of us welcome with delight, while others dread: The Holidays! As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, creating opportunities for students to give back is important. We constantly hear about the popular assistance programs such as "Make a Wish Foundation", "Adopt a Family", and "Toys for Tots", but there are other less familiar programs that require much attention as well. Below is a brief list of "under-used" programs that students may enjoy participating in during the holdiday season:
1. DVD Donation Program
This program allows students to donate DVD's to hospitals and pediatric programs. All the guidelines and rules can be found on the website www.kidflicks.org.
2. School Project Program
This program allows students to review school projects around the United States and determine a particular project that they would like to contribute to. All the guidelines and rules for this assistance program can be found on the website www.donorschoose.org.
3 Click to Give Program
This program permits students to select charities by "clicking" on a specific icon, buiding points based on their selection, and translating the points into money for charity. Additional information regarding available charities and point values can be found on the website www.clickto give.com.
4. Coca-Cola Rewards Program
This is a program that is widely advertised, but hearing about it is different than taking action and getting involved! The rules include purchasing a coca-cola product, obtaining a code (under the lid of the bottle), and exchanging the code for points /donations for a selected charity. Details about eligible products, and registering for the program can be found at www.mycokerewards.com.
5. Book Donation Program
This program requests students to donate new books (sorry, no used books are permitted) to schools, libraries, or literacy organizations. I believe that the donator is responsible for shipping fees, but the awesome thing about this program is that schools can make requests (complete online application) in order to get assistance with building their own literacy materials. For more details about the book donating process visit www.kidsneedtoread.org.
If you are working with students that may need assistance during the holdiay season, the following resources may be helpful:
6. Food pantries are a great resource during the holdiays. Review the comprehensive list (divided by state) of foodbanks or pantries that offer free thanksgiving baskets or christmas items to children/families in need. The list is available on the website www.feedingamerica.org/foodbanks.
7. Sometimes communicating what you need is the best strategy for pursuing help. There are social helping networks that allow you to post your needs. One website that includes a verification process of the requester is the heronetwork.com. Other websites that allows you to post specific needs are www.modestneeds.org and www.aidpages.com.
8. Sometimes knowing where to look for help is the biggest challenge. A list of Christmas charities by state is available on the website www.infobarrel.com.
9. Finally, knowing who to ask, is a game changer when seeking help. There is a website that takes the "re-gifting" idea literally. On the website www.freecycle.org people are permitted to post things (house-hold items, furntiture, supplies, etc.) that they wish to donate. Encourage your students/families to visit the website to find items that they may need, or even post items that are no longer useful to them.
I hope the listed resources are helpful for the students adn families that you work with. What ways do you incorporate the concept of giving in your classroom? I would love to hear about your favorite charities or donation programs for students. Please leave a comment below.
Now that the school year is in full swing, many teachers find themselves a lot less interested in spending time in the kitchen. Perhaps it’s the weather, the stacks of papers, or just general exhaustion from spending nine hours in the classroom that makes our dinners increasingly less inspired. If this sounds like your situation, read on. We’ve got a few tips to help you revive your enthusiasm for cooking, even on school nights.
8 Tips for Teachers Who Have a Passion for NOT Cooking
There’s nothing wrong with leftovers—get over it!
For some reason, many cooks are under the impression that they have to serve fresh-out-of-the-oven meals every night. That’s ridiculous, especially because so many dinners—lasagna, chili, meatloaf, for example—actually taste better the second night. Cut out one night of cooking by doubling a recipe and saving it for another night when you can’t bear to step foot into the kitchen.
Try Sunday afternoon cooking instead
Sunday afternoons are usually lazy days for us since we try to get most of our grading and prep done on Saturday. On a friend’s recommendation, we’ve started a new Sunday afternoon routine: We put on a good record, pour a glass of wine and take to the kitchen. Our recipes vary—most of them are simple—but we cook three main courses (this takes about two hours), place them in Tupperware containers and store them in the fridge. Now all we have to do when we get home from work is reheat them.
Change the way you serve your dishes
How many bowls do you use to serve your dinner? For example, do you heat vegetables or baked beans on the stove and transfer them to a fresh bowl before serving? If so, you’ve just given yourself another dish to clean. You’re not serving Oprah or Gordon Ramsey, so stop worrying about presentation. Throw a hot pad on the table, serve your food straight from the kettle, the Pyrex, or the skillet, and save yourself a lot of unnecessary cleanup time.
Fresh vs. frozen vegetables
Buy frozen vegetables. They are already cleaned and ready for use; they’ll also save you money since they won’t wilt or go bad in the fridge if you don’t eat them right away. If you’re concerned about losing nutrients with frozen vegetables, keep in mind that frozen produce—if frozen and stored properly—offers a similar nutritional profile to fresh since it is usually picked at peak ripeness and frozen immediately after harvesting.
We don’t claim to be food connoisseurs, but we do know what we like and we can’t taste the difference between most frozen and fresh vegetables. There are two exceptions: stick with fresh asparagus and broccoli.
Stop doing everything yourself
Our cooking exhaustion has more to do with doing everything than it does with cooking. If you’re cooking dinner, there’s no reason you should be setting and clearing the table and doing the dishes. Trade off with your kids or your partner/spouse. Whoever cooks gets to walk away scot-free after dinner. Whoever doesn’t cook has to clear the table and do the dishes. While you’re at it, put those kids to work. Have them make the salad, heat the side dish, clean up, prep and, if they’re old enough, cook entire meals.
Make smarter choices at the store
Fresh garlic and herbs are tasty, but they have a limited shelf life; furthermore, they tack on more prep time. Instead, buy fresh crushed garlic and ginger in jars. Herbs are also available in tubes that you can keep in the freezer. Fresh lemon and lime juice can also be bought in bottles and stored in the fridge. Are you still grating cheese? Skip it. Buy pre-grated cheese and store it in the freezer to increase the shelf life.
Cook with a friend
If you are a bachelor or bachelorette—heck, even if you aren’t!— make a cooking date with a friend. As we suggested above, put on a good record, pour some wine, talk and take your time preparing the meal. Not only will you get a fresh cooked meal, you’ll get to catch up.
Eat out once a week and split something
We like to reward ourselves at least once a week by going out to dinner. To save money, though, we stick to Thai and Indian restaurants. The portions are usually enough for two or three people, so we always split an entrée with someone. Like we said, this saves us money, but it also keeps us from overeating.
We’re always looking for new ways to maintain (and reclaim) our enthusiasm for cooking, so please feel free to share your ideas with us!
Yesterday, as a speaker and panelist at various education related conferences, I had a wonderful experience. I was asked to participate on a panel at a gathering of education technology industry leaders. The group was assembled through The Software and Information Industry Association, SIIA. It took place in the plush setting of a prestigious law firm office in the heart of New York City. The Panel discussion was to address connected educators and the effect on education. The other panelists included my friend and connected colleague, Lisa Nielsen, @innovativeEdu and Andrew Gardner, @Agardnahh, whom I met for the first time.
The setting was incredible. It was on the 9th floor of a building that we needed to sign into. The receiving area had food and drinks set up with couches and tables set up to comfortably gather the group as it assembled and pinned on their nametags. The room quickly filled with clusters of conversations positioned about.
Lisa and I went off to check out the room where we were to conduct the “roundtable discussion”. We wanted to get comfortable with the setting before we had to begin. Again, it was a large, elegant room with leather top tables and microphones for the panel at the front of the room. There were very comfortable chairs for the audience arranged in ROWS. It was the idea of rows that got to me immediately. This was not a roundtable discussion setting. It was an historic classroom setting with the teacher at the front and students in rows. It screamed we are the experts and you are the students. For me this was not going to work.
As the 20 to 30 participants entered the room I made an announcement that we would be re-arranging the seats so they would be in a circle for the presentation. The immediate reaction was confusion. The host of the event, I believe he was a partner of the law firm, said quietly to me, “We have never done this before.” I knew then that I was going to be thought of as an out of the box thinker, or an idiot by the end of this session. Actually, it is a teaching method we teach student teachers. Consider the goal, and the setting you need to accomplish it. If it requires rearranging the room, do it.
Once the audience realized that there was no escape from rash decision of the mustachioed, short guy standing in the front of the room (an obvious position of power), they helped form the circle of very expensive chairs. I was committed at this point, so I had to make it work, but I was confident that it would. I was fortunate that the other panelists were aware of the benefits of the new configuration, and they supported the decision. In retrospect I might have been a bit arrogant, but in this instance it worked to my benefit.
The discussion started with quick introductions from Lisa Schmucki, the moderator, followed by a general question about what is a connected educator, and what is connected learning. We, as panelists, carried the opening of the discussion, but soon that shifted as the audience members, who were not separated in rows, but connected in a circle that positioned each listener to face each speaker, committed to the discussion. Success was almost assured as long as the panel, now part of the circle, kept the conversation going with facts and opinions from an educator’s point of view. This was in fact connected learning face to face. Titles were dropped and ideas were considered on their own merit. The panelists, lawyers and business people all became equal participants in the discussion.
The goal of this roundtable was to explore what business people could do to get involved with connected educators. The big idea was to listen to what educators had to say. Pitching products to connected educators will not work. A big take away was that these industry people had access to researchers and experts not available to teachers. They could provide free webinars with these experts to address and inform on issues as professionals and not salespeople selling products.
I can’t help to think that, if we as educators had these types of discussions earlier, maybe the discussion on education would not have been hijacked by business people, politicians, and profiteers. Instead of experts in the front of the room telling us what needs to be done, we could develop solutions through dialogue with the people really involved. The idea that well-intentioned endeavors, like Education Nation could continue with such little, or contrived participation from educators to balance the discussion could gain popular attention is more than upsetting.
The other day, as I was reading this week’s edition of Education Week, I came across what I think is a fabulous idea. The story highlighted three school districts—one each in Iowa, Minnesota, and Idaho—that have moved to a four-day school week. Okay, so my first thought was “Are these people crazy?” But, I knew I needed to read on in order to get the full picture… and before I made a judgment. So I did, and boy was I glad!
The article highlighted the fact that the districts had made this move for multiple reasons. They were saving money on buses, utilities, and even food service. However, as one administrator in the story stated, simply saving money does not justify this kind of a drastic shift in mindset for a school district. They had to do something meaningful with that time—and they have. The districts are using the days—some of them were using Mondays; others were using Fridays—to do several things for students:
Great—I love it! But my real excitement came when I read about with the teachers were doing with their “days off.” Yeah…not hardly! Teachers were using these days for several professional activities including:
Now, I loved this even more! And, those of you who know me will know why. I think this is brilliant. Planning time, collaboration time, and professional development that isn’t crammed into a 30- or 60-minute time slot at the end of the day or first thing in the morning. Real time for teachers to really collaborate and really improve their practice. Furthermore, what an opportunity for teachers to be able to focus their attention, in a collaborative manner, on methods of improving their practice! This type of extended time—structured throughout the school year—is a perfect arrangement for integrating action research and action research learning communities into a school setting. What an incredible mechanism for empowering educators!!!
Now, we know that this type of time structure is not a requirement for engaging in these kinds of professional development activities. However, I would like to extend kudos to these three districts—as well as others around the country—who are thinking outside of a “five-day-a-week, 180-day-school-year” box.
It’s not about the quantity of hours and days, but rather the quality of what goes into those hours and days.
I have reached out to these three districts, and I hope that they will respond positively. I would love to work with any schools or districts that are thinking this way. Let’s collectively raise the profession of education back to a status of a true profession—one where we can:
I just finished an #edchat that I left me with a feeling of not being able to add any authority to the discussion. For those unfamiliar, #Edchat is a weekly Twitter discussion on Education topics. This week’s discussion was based on this statement: There is a strong belief among some educators that poverty is the biggest factor in a failing education system.
It is difficult to have any discussion on this topic without people, including me, entering it with all of the biases built on myths and facts over the years. It is a mixture of biases not just of poverty, but race as well. It is not a comfortable place to be, since we are very aware of how incendiary these discussions can get with just a few poorly chosen words by well-intentioned people not thinking things through.
I am an average white guy who grew up on Long Island, New York in the 50’s in an all-white community that was designed to be just that, segregated. My college experience offered opposition to the Viet Nam War, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment in demonstrations that are now a part of history, and can now be only experienced through video clips on YouTube, or TV newscasts. I was a socially aware, late 60’s college student.
Nevertheless, I entered this Edchat discussion hoping to shed what little light I had on the subject of the huge effect that poverty has on today’s Education. To add to my total lack of credentials, I have never taught in a school that was considered to be in an impoverished community. In all honesty, when I devised this topic for the Edchat discussion, it was my hope that educators from poverty areas would join in to offer a credible voice on the subject.
It has been my experience that poverty comes in two large varieties, urban and suburban and they have both similarities and differences. Each community however, seems to have its own culture. How, and where education fits into that culture varies with every community. All are hindered by poverty and language barriers further hinder some. In a nation populated by immigrants, we are a host to many languages. If educators coming from English speaking cultures to communities of non-English speaking students, that is a problem for education.
Many impoverished communities must deal with higher crime rates, as well as violence that are expressed with open gunfire. Communities are finding themselves under siege in many instances. How can Kids concerned about getting to school safely, making it through the school day there, and returning home safely, ever concentrate on learning?
The idea that the parents of poor students are sitting home all day without jobs is another myth. That prevents us from addressing poverty as a problem for education, and not as a bad result of some liberal social welfare programs. I was stunned to hear that the average age of fast food workers is 34 years of age. That tells me that people are trying to carry their families with jobs that are minimum wage dependent. How can anyone adequately support a family that way? It is however, the bulk of jobs that are available. Retail jobs, and service positions are also high on the occupation list for the poor. If most poor people are working, but not earning a living wage, that is another problem for education.
The very goal of what most educators strive for is that college education as the pot at the end of the rainbow. Educators see it as a way out for their students and can’t see why the kids drop out. If kids from poor families can hardly support the financial needs of a public school education, why would the goal of an over-priced college education be an incentive to graduate? The financial needs of the family often dictate the direction of the student’s need for education. That is another problem for education.
Research has shown us that nutrition and proper sleep are two components of a child’s home life that will determine his or her success in school. For a number of reasons, tied directly to poverty, this is rarely the case for students in poverty. This is yet another problem for education.
I have always supported the whole child approach to education expressed by ASCD:
Whole Child Tenets
Each student enters school healthy and learns about and practices a healthy lifestyle.
Each student learns in an environment that is physically and emotionally safe for students and adults.
Each student is actively engaged in learning and is connected to the school and broader community.
Each student has access to personalized learning and is supported by qualified, caring adults.
Each student is challenged academically and prepared for success in college or further study and for employment and participation in a global environment.
All of these are necessary for a student to succeed in school. The first three of the five are a struggle for students in impoverished schools. That is a problem for education.
I do not disagree with the belief that the most important element in a student’s education is the teacher. The teacher however is not the only factor in a student’s education. There is no level playing field here. That is a problem for education.
Educators adhere to Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains, but before schools in poverty can even get there, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is a more-needed consideration. This is a problem for education.
I am the last person who should be talking about poverty, but I do feel confident in talking about education. As an educator it is obvious to me that unless we deal directly with the issue of poverty, we will never address the issue of education in any way to improve it. I have heard it said that if we factor out the schools in poverty, the U.S. education system is very good. A blind eye never works in the real world. If we don’t deal with the real issue we will continue with the real problems. This is the biggest problem faced by education. Nobody is pulling themselves up by their bootstraps in this world of poverty. That is a ridiculous expectation!
As we begin a new school year, it is an exciting time for educators. We understand that our influence will have a positive or negative impact on students. The main goal of education is student achievement. However, some educators place such a heavy emphasis on student achievement that they end up forgetting their purpose. In today's K-12 setting, the purpose of K-12 schools has been defined as preparing each student to graduate college and career ready.
Recently, policymakers, educators, and national education organizations have called for a shift from increasing high school graduation rates to a new goal of College and Career Readiness for all students graduating from high school (Achieve and The Education Trust, 2008; ACT, 2008; Alliance for Excellent Education, 2009; Career Readiness Partner Council, 2010; Common Core State Standards, 2010; National Governors Association, 2010; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2010; The White House, 2010; United States Department of Education, 2010; ConnectEd, 2012; Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012; North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, 2013). According to the National Governors Association (2012), “There is a national consensus that schools should focus on students’ college and career readiness” (p. 3).
How can educators inspire all students, accelerate the gifted students, remediate and accelerate the struggling learners, focus on student understanding, and teach life skills? A narrow focus on skills or test prep will no longer support the goals of teaching and learning. The following recommendations will promote lifelong learning, while teaching the standards. Educators want to make a difference. Here are five ways they can in 2013-2014!
Focus on the Whole Child
According to ASCD Whole Child, schools should develop school goals around the following tenants: Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported, and Challenged. What does your school do well? Are all students challenged? Do you have school policies in place which promote healthful living? Do students in your school feel supported? Some schools claim to have high expectations. The only problem with this declaration is that they base their rationale for being excellent on last year's test scores. Some high schools may focus so much on their AP and IB programs that they overlook the rest of the student body. If teachers and administrators focus on the Whole Child, it will change the way they make decisions at faculty meetings, in school improvement meetings, at PTA meetings, and during conversations about interventions.
Revisit Your Norms
When educators begin a new school year, the focus is often on unit planning, assessments, curriculum alignment. During the first faculty meetings of the year, administrators review school and district policies, introduce new programs, and provide an overview of the school goals. Most teacher teams begin the school year so focused on students and procedures, that there is little time for establishing or revisiting team norms. Team norms are critical to the success of a grade level or content area team. If the science department has goals for students, then the team will need to have a clear understanding of the goals and team norms. Team norms are evident in schools who have embraced professional learning communities. However, even in these schools some teams struggle due to the absence of team norms. Student achievement can be the goal in each classroom, but a teacher team needs to have clearly established and agreed upon norms.
Remove Barriers for Students
Goal one addressed the tenants of a Whole Child School. Barriers can be financial circumstances for a family, a lack of food for a student, or a learning disability. Another barrier could be when a student enters the ninth grade and struggles with reading. School staff need to identify ways for the student to get additional reading support and intervention. Some students enter high school with a low self-esteem. Educators who focus on GPA, Class Rank, and SAT scores alone may overlook the opportunity to provide the student with a mentor or help the student find a club which assists with a positive self-esteem. When you look at your class of 25 students, you can probably identify a barrier that needs to be removed for each student. You don't need to remove barriers alone. Utilize your counselor, social worker, assistant principal, band director, coach, student resource officer, principal, club sponsors, and more. Once barriers are removed for students, learning will accelerate. Establishing College and Career Readiness for all students means that barriers need to be removed.
Be A Risk Taker
Teachers and administrators need to be 'Risk Takers.' When I observe classroom teachers, I enjoy seeing teachers who take risks and push students to do the same. When we take risks, we grow as learners. For some teachers, technology integration comes easy, but for others it involves Risk Taking. Be a Risk Taker. Some schools may be implementing Understanding by Design for the first time. Curriculum development can be a carbon copy from one year to the next, but risk takers reap the benefits. Be a Risk Taker when you develop new units. Teachers across the United States are implementing the Common Core State Standards. Some teachers say, "This is the way I have always taught." Risk Takers approach the Common Core State Standards with excitement about new units and new ways of assessing student learning. Be a Risk Taker. When you take risks, you are modeling what you want students to do with their assignments and when they enter the workforce. Multiple choice tests don't require risks, unless you take the test blindfolded. Teaching and learning in 2013-2014 requires risk taking.
If we want to develop critical thinking skills, creativity, collaboration, and communication, educators must ask questions. Essential questions are one of the best strategies for forcing students to think. When educators ask students questions with one correct answer, it discourages students to think. There are still times when teachers need to ask questions with one correct answer.
Six Benefits of Essential Questions:
1. Essential Questions establish a learning focus for students.
2. The process of identifying Essential Questions helps educators clarify their intended purpose.
3. Essential Questions promote critical thinking.
4. Essential Questions can be used with project-based-learning, community service learning, class debates, research, experiments, outdoor learning, and essays.
5. Essential Questions support integrated instruction (i.e., teaching and learning across disciplines).
6. Essential Questions help students see the Big Picture, while allowing each student to connect prior knowledge to new understandings.
Teaching and learning require educators to focus on students, while taking time to focus on the craft of teaching. It is easy for schools to teach for one semester and then realize they were focused on the wrong thing(s). In 1903, a professor at the University of Missippi wrote, "College education is desirable and theoretically necessary for preeminence, but it is not for the masses, and it would be but a utopian theory to plan for the day when a bachelor's degree shall be a qualification for suffrage or a necessity for success and happiness" (Saunders, p. 73). In 2013, the goals of a K-12 education have changed. College and Career Readiness is the new goal for the youth of our nation. Each teacher has a role in supporting this goal and preparing students for life after high school.
My older son is two years-old. He will be three in November. We call him a "boy boy," which is code for him being very physical. He likes to run and wrestle. He likes to explore, try new things, and finds the world interesting. Sometimes, most times, it's an amazing quality. He learns colloquialisms quickly and utilizes them appropriately, has a keen sense of humor, and smiles a lot. He is a giggler, much like his dad. As much as I am trying to teach him, he teaches me, too. Today, he taught me an important lesson.
Often I make mistakes as a father. I give him too many directions, not enough directions, or set him up for failure with unrealistic expectations. Today I made a combination of all of those decisions when I took him with me for what I thought would be a quick haircut. It wasn't.
My son, Jake, was getting tired. I could see it when we drove up to the haircut place. His eyes had fluttered open and closed, and his head had begun to sag forward a bit in his car seat, clear indicators that he was close to napping. I should have heeded the warnings signs. Instead, I tried to maximize my time and jam in the haircut, too. Not one of my better ideas.
We walked in. I saw there was no wait. 'Score! We'll be in and out,' I thought. I'd been to this particular place before. They specialize in quick, affordable haircuts. The stylists save the haircut settings in the computer, so whoever cuts your hair the next time knows your preferences. I was called right away. I'm feeling good.
I held Jake's hand and he walked with me to my seat. The stylists idea to keep him occupied was to put a child chair ten feet from my seat and tell him to sit. She was young, she didn't know better. I'm not young, and I do. I know my two year-old doesn't sit in a seat unless a cartoon is on, he's eating french fries, or he's strapped in. I thought, 'he can do this,' even though there was no evidence supporting he could. He'd never sat in a seat for any length of time without a distraction. Why should he do it now? I hadn't brought in food for him, his favorite book, a toy, or the iPad. I had unrealistic expectations for him, and he behaved how he was supposed to -- like a normal two year-old. And, that became the problem.
As I got my haircut, Jake sat in his seat and looked around. He brought over a magazine and turned the pages. Within 30 seconds he was ready for something more stimulating. He surveyed the room and saw the hair care products. I cringed on the inside, as Jake approached them and proceeded to reorder some of them. Gels, sprays, other things I don't know what they're used for, they all were moved, touched, slapped together, and played with. He went to a hair dryer and tried to take it. He took some of the hair products and moved them to the other side of the room. He seemed pleased with himself. He'd taken the initiative to take a bunch of objects that looked shiny, colorful, with interesting shapes, and made something new with them. Don't I give him free reign to explore with similar looking objects in his playroom? As far as he was concerned, he'd follow the inherent rules established at home. If they were different, I needed to tell him that in advance, and guide him through as he made mistakes so he could learn from them.
Instead, I was tongue tied. I wasn't sure how much to say, or what not to say. I excused myself from the chair and caught Jake mid-run. I explained to him that we needed to respect the property and everything in it. I needed him to sit in the chair for 2 minutes and look at the magazines, perhaps play with my phone. Then, we would go, and I would get him home and to bed.
He settled down compared to how he was prior, but he was still over-stimulated. There was a lot to see, and he wanted to see it. His curiosity had been piqued, tempered, but still there. I apologized for Jake's decision making.
"This is my mistake," I stated. "I didn't bring any toys or food for him. I am sorry for this."
The hairstylist didn't respond. She continued to cut my hair and stare at it as she lopped parts off.
"I am sorry," I tried again. "I was not prepared for this, and should have explained to him what the expectations were."
Again, silence. No response.
'Ok,' I thought, 'she's just trying to get through this, just like me.' Had I been her I might have accepted the apology, tried to empathize, or just dismiss what was said with a quick, 'no big deal.' I've been around the block, worked with a lot of different types of personalities as an educator, and don't take things personally. I find it personal to them. The hair stylist, for whatever reason, was taking this highly personal.
When the haircut was finished, the hairstylist usually asks if I want any gel in my hair. Instead, she said, "you're done," and walked to the cash register. I paid her, tipped her, and tried one last time. "Thank you," I said, making eye contact. She looked at me and walked away. The two hair stylists behind her looked at me. I looked at them. They smiled sheepishly. They were embaressed for everyone. They didn't want to be in that spot right now.
"Does he want a lollipop?" one offered.
"I think a nap would be better," I replied.
Jake is home sleeping now, and I am reflecting. What did I learn from the 'Haircut Doomsday Experience,' and how can I relate it to my teaching and leading practice? First, keep in mind what's realistic and practical. If someone isn't in the right frame of mind to accept something new or different, like Jake was, I need to trust my instinctual read and choose another time to connect with them. Second, if I do make a decision and it's incorrect, recognize it, admit it, and change it. When I saw that Jake wasn't going to behave appropriately during my haircut because I hadn't made the prior preparations, I needed to excuse myself, take him home to his mom, and return to finish my haircut. Third, make it right. I should have asked to speak with her privately and made it clear I appreciated her efforts during 'Jake-gate', take ownership of my role in what occurred, and asked her what I could do to help her. She's not an educator or parent, and did the best she could with her skill set. Additionally, I needed to tell Jake I messed up and shouldn't have brought him there, instead of hustling him to the car as if we were leaving the scene of a crime. Last, I should let the owners of the haircut place know that their staff did the best they could, but perhaps having child-centered materials available (the chain bills itself as a family haircut place) and staff training on how to handle different types of children would be beneficial.
Or, I could just be mortified and never go there again. But, how would anyone grow from this experience if I do?
Every morning before work, I stop by Yahoo with the intention of checking my email—and only checking my mail. Without exception, this is what happens: In the half second it takes me to move my cursor over the email icon and click, it’s all over. Suddenly, I find myself halfway into an article entitled “Nike pulls poorly timed t-shirts from stores.” “How did I get here?” I think to myself as I polish off the last paragraph of an article about Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez. Of course I never want to read these articles, but the power of an enigmatic, well-written headline can get me to read just about anything.
So what can teachers learn from the power of a well-written headline and how can they harness it for engaging students? Here are a few ideas we gleaned from one of our favorite authors and educators, Dr. Richard Curwin. We highly recommend checking out his blogs here.
Headlines always use teasers. Teachers should too.
Regardless of what you teach, try beginning each lesson with some sort of provocative statement—something that will make your students go, “huh?”
Which of these two questions do you think would work best for engaging students?
You went with the second one, yes? How about these two questions:
We bet you went with the second question both times. Why? Because Jay-Z and Keyboard Cat are interesting. At first glance, they also seem completely unrelated to the essays you asked your students to read. This will not only capture their curiosity, it’ll force students to think critically to make a connection. Here’s another tip for engaging students that comes courtesy of Dr. Curwin.
Use Compelling Questions
Have you ever forgotten the name of a song, a book title or even someone's name and spent the whole day trying to remember it? It was under your skin, so to speak, and the need to remember was compelling to the extreme. The same is true when you begin a class with a question that creates a compelling need for students to know the answer. This strategy is based on the principle that questions should come before answers. Typically, teachers give information and then ask questions about it. Hearing the question first, especially a great one, radically increases the need to learn the information just to find the answer. Great questions have these things in common:
Here is a sampling of compelling questions that teachers from various content areas have shared with me:
Questions like these begin your class with energy, excitement and most importantly, a desire to learn.
Photo credit: Adam Sundana at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cukuskumir/
An advantage that I have as one who is fortunate enough to attend many education conferences, or special education events is the contact I have with many of the thought leaders in education. Of course most of those folks do not think of themselves as thought leaders, but just educators. The fact is that we are often defined by the perception of others. This holds true for institutions as well.
NOTE: I recently posted a commentary on ASCD Edge (co-authored with Jay McTighe) identifying ten research-based beliefs about teaching and learning and their implications. #7 was:
Attitudes and values mediate learning by filtering experiences and perceptions. Therefore, teachers should understand how student attitudes and values influence learning and help students build positive attitudes towards learning.
This commentary elaborates on that belief, suggests its importance, and describes more ways to implement it.
In America, especially during the progressive education era and the “open education” years, building positive attitudes towards learning, motivating students, creating interest in learning, making learning relevant, and yes, even promoting the joy of learning were important aspects of educational planning, development and practice. The belief during these time periods was that building curiosity, expanding student interests, and making learning relevant and interesting would promote active student inquiry, build on a natural human inclination to learn, and help create an educational environment in which students would WANT to learn.
Unfortunately, this emphasis has been mostly lost, even negated, in the push for teaching “the basics”, often through worksheets and drills, and then with the more recent focus on passing high risk standardized tests, teaching skill based reading and math, and cutting back on “frills”, such as the arts and social studies. Today, it is hard to find schools where curiosity, interest in learning, being motivated to learn, and making learning joyful are as important as doing well on standardized tests, taking four years of English, or passing AP courses. These goals are also missing from any meaningful discussion about what we want to accomplish with our students, what we will assess, and what kind of learner we want to graduate.
Yet, if we really want to encourage students to learn, grow, succeed and achieve in a 21st century world, if we truly want them to be lifelong learners in a world of rapid change, social media, access to technology, and transformative job development, we will need to create a new and different kind of approach, one that puts curiosity, motivation, interest, and joy back into the learning equation. What primarily distinguishes our country from the rest of the world, what makes us unique, is not how well we take tests, but the unusual amount of curiosity, individual talent, creativity, ingenuity, and interest in learning and growing that comes from so many Americans and is developed in so many different ways. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were unusual not only because of their drive, but also because they were curious about how things worked and how they were able to learn about things they were passionately interested in. Bill Gates became interested in computers in part because the opportunity to work with computers was presented to him in high school outside of his regular courses. Steve Jobs created the diverse calligraphies found on the Apple computer because he took a calligraphy course that interested him after he had left the formal college world. Their natural leadership inclinations happened because they were curious about and interested in computers, and because they knew that, in order to keep pace with others, they needed to grow, adapt and change.
Unfortunately, due to the pressures to do well on standardized tests, to time spent on practicing for these tests, to the need to “get through” multiple topics required by coverage based standards, to the emphasis on getting more students to take AP courses, and so on, millions of children are lacking the kinds of positive learning experiences that support lifelong learning, increase curiosity, build individual talent, and make learning interesting, rewarding and just plain fun!
How do we promote a focus on developing the positive learning attitudes and values identified in this commentary? A good place for an individual teacher or a faculty to start is to first examine and explore the following questions: What motivated you in school? What did you enjoy doing? What interested you? What types of activities piqued your curiosity? Spurred you to continue learning and growing? My guess is that many teachers would say that they enjoyed learning because they were good and successful at it! They were rewarded for what they did. They did well on tests. They were encouraged to build on their strengths. They liked hands on activities and projects. They were given choices. Few would say that they enjoyed being reminded of their failures, that they liked taking multiple-choice tests or doing worksheets, that they liked reading textbooks, that they found enjoyment in doing an activity that they didn’t understand or was so far above their abilities that they had no chance at success. Most probably had mentors and supporters in times of difficulty. Most had at least a few teachers who encouraged them who were good at explaining difficult concepts or who helped them “learn how to learn”. The list of answers might be expanded through reading articles and books on how to build curiosity, motivation, individual talents, and interest in learning.
Once a list of answers is developed, then the following questions might be examined: What am I/are we currently doing that builds curiosity, interest, relevance, enjoyment, and the kinds of “learning to learn” skills and competencies that our students will need in the future? How do I/we implement and expand programs, approaches and activities in schools and classrooms that motivate and interest students in learning and create enjoyment?
Based on my own informal research and discussions of this topic with teachers and others, here are thirteen suggestions as food for thought:
In sum, a focus on how to create positive attitudes such as curiosity, interest, motivation and relevance leads to a very different way of thinking about school and classroom missions, outcomes, the learning environment, curriculum, instruction, and assessment. For example, instead of a focus on standardized tests passed by everyone, a portfolio assessment approach helps students focus on their individual strengths and reflect on what they have learned. Teachers concentrate on building student strengths rather than dwelling on their failures. Students are provided with opportunities to improve their work before they are graded. More choices and options are given to students in the form of classroom choices, electives, and enrichment activities. Some learning, such as research projects, is built around student interests. Many types of questions become more central to the learning experience. “Learning to learn” skills become a critical part of the classroom experience. There are more opportunities for students to make connections to the outside world in order to raise expectations and build motivation.
These ideas are just some of the starting points for your own discussion on how to develop positive attitudes towards learning and build the individual curiosity, skills, talents, and interests that will propel our students towards a better life, towards continued learning, and towards “pathways to student success” in a 21st century world. While this way of thinking might lead to a wide variety of suggestions and ideas, please remember: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.
[i] SQ3R is a study guide model that is focused around:
Surveying what you are reading;
Questions: Turn chapter and section headings, titles, subheadings into questions;
Read for the answers to each question;
Recite your answers after each section – orally ask yourself the questions and summarize your answers;
Review what you have learned.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, ASCD author and Understanding by Design trainer. If you are interested in examining additional and related teaching and learning topics in order to help to prepare students to live in a 21st century world, go to his website at: www.era3learning.org
Thanks for a fantastic 2013 ASCD Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois!
Your To-Do List: Action Items for ASCD Leaders
Register for the Whole Child Virtual Conference: May 6–10, 2013
Join ASCD for its third annual Whole Child Virtual Conference. This free online event offers thought leadership discussions; presentations from leading authors and experts; and an exploration of the steps outstanding schools, communities, and individual countries take as they move along the continuum of a whole child approach—from implementation to sustainability to culture. No matter where you are on this continuum, you’ll find lessons you can learn and questions you can ask to improve and grow your schools.
This year the conference will include 24 sessions over 7 days between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. eastern time, with sessions on May 2 and 3 specifically for Australasian and European audiences. This year’s conference speakers include authors and experts Thomas Armstrong, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Eric Jensen, Wendy Ostroff, William Parrett and Kathleen M. Budge, Pasi Sahlberg, and Yong Zhao.
Sessions will also feature presentations from ASCD Emerging Leaders, ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educators Award winner, the recipient of Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and members of ASCD’s Whole Child Network of Schools.
Registration is now open. Go to www.ascd.org/wcvirtualconference to sign up.
ASCD Nominations Committee Applications Open in May
ASCD is seeking ASCD leaders who are interested in serving on the 2013–14 ASCD Nominations Committee. More information—the committee’s charge, qualifications for service, and time commitment—will be available starting May 1 on www.ascd.org. ASCD will be accepting applications May 1–31. We invite ASCD leaders to consider their interest in this opportunity over the next few weeks before the application becomes available.
ASCD Leaders in Action: News from the ASCD Leader Community
ASCD Student Chapters Help Chicago’s Hungry During ASCD Annual Conference
On March 15, 46 ASCD Student Chapter members volunteered to make a difference in the fight against hunger in Chicago. Working together the Friday morning before ASCD’s Annual Conference, the students packaged more than 15,000 pounds of food to help feed the nearly 678,000 people who rely on emergency and supplemental food from the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Thank you and congratulations to our ASCD Student Chapter volunteers! Read the full Conference Daily article.
ASCD Forum Session at ASCD Annual Conference Gives Educators a Voice on Teacher and Principal Effectiveness
On March 17, ASCD Past President Debra Hill facilitated a discussion of the ASCD Forum topic “how do we define and measure teacher and principal effectiveness?” Ten ASCD leaders stepped forward to help lead the discussion:
· Jason Flom, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Ben Shuldiner, Position Advisory Committee Member
· Amy Vanden Boogart, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Jeffrey Lofthus, Alaska ASCD Executive Director
· Daina Lieberman, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Mamzelle Adolphine, Professional Interest Community Facilitator
· Laurie McCullough, Virginia ASCD Executive Director
· Alice Wells, Arizona ASCD Executive Director
· Matthew Cotton, ASCD Emerging Leader
· Torian White, ASCD Emerging Leader
Session attendees stepped up to the front of the room to share their thoughts and also posted tweets to the #ASCDForum hashtag. Many thanks to the ASCD leaders who participated to make this session a success!
Congratulations to ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Winners
Please join ASCD in congratulating the ASCD Affiliate Recognition Award Recipients:
Two affiliates were recognized for the 2013 Overall Excellence Award: Iowa ASCD, for its increased focus on integrating technology into professional learning opportunities and their influence and advocacy work with ASCD, and New Hampshire ASCD, for its work to increase membership and provide increased professional learning opportunities, such as Common Core workshops.
In addition, New Jersey ASCD received the Area Excellence Award for Programs, Products, and Services for their leadership in their state as a trusted source for professional learning. Texas ASCD received an Exceptional Progress Award in Influence and Policy, and Alberta ASCD, Ohio ASCD, and Vermont ASCD were all recipients of the Exceptional Progress Award in Programs, Products, and Services.
Welcome to the “Educating Beyond Disabilities” Professional Interest Community
Please join ASCD in welcoming our newest Professional Interest Community, facilitated by 2011 ASCD Emerging Leader Christina Yuknis. Please join her group on ASCD EDge.
Tennessee ASCD Featured in ASCD Inservice Blog Series
Weasked some of our affiliate leaders to tell us how the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has been going in their home states. In the sixth post of the series, Tennessee ASCD President-Elect John Combs writes about the challenges and successes that Tennessee has had with CCSS implementation.
Meet ASCD President Becky Berg
Becky J. Berg is from a family of educators. "My dad was a school board president; my mom was a career educator; and my sister, my grandmother, and my great-grandfather were educators," she says. Despite the genetic pull, Berg wasn't completely convinced she would follow in the family's footsteps until her experience as a summer camp counselor while she was in college. It was then that she realized how much she loved working with kids. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Congratulations to the 2013 Outstanding Young Educator Award Winners!
ASCD salutes a new generation’s passion for education excellence through this year’s selection of two Outstanding Young Educator Award winners: Joshua Garcia, deputy superintendent of Tacoma Public Schools (Wash.), and Parkville High School (Parkville, Md.) teacher Ryan Twentey. Twentey teaches art, photography, and interactive media production and also serves as the school’s technology liaison. Read the full Conference Daily article.
Interactive ASCD 2012 Annual Report Features ASCD Leaders
Check out the ASCD 2012 Annual Report, entitled “Creating Solutions: The ASCD Revolution in Motion.” This interactive report features videos footage of ASCD leaders, including ASCD Emerging Leader Steven Anderson, Florida ASCD President Alina Davis, Alabama ASCD Executive Director Jane Cobia, ASCD Board Member Harriet Arnold, and Connecticut ASCD President David Cormier.
Throughout April at wholechildeducation.org: Principal Leadership
Principals are the key players in developing the climate, culture, and processes in their schools. They are critical to implementing meaningful and lasting school change and in the ongoing school-improvement process. Principals who have a clear vision; inspire and engage others in embracing change for improvement; drive, facilitate, and monitor the teaching and learning process; and foster a cohesive culture of learning are the collaborative leaders our schools need to fully commit to ensuring each student—and school staff member—is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
What qualities do principals in today’s (and tomorrow’s) schools need to fulfill their roles as visionary, instructional, influential, and learning leaders?
There are two episodes of the Whole Child Podcast in April for you to download and share. The first episode, “Leveling and Raising the Playing Field,” features school staff from Oregon’s Milwaukie High School, winner of the 2013 Vision in Action: The ASCD Whole Child Award, and is available now. On April 11, the second episode will be available. It will focus on principal leadership and include guests Kevin Enerson, principal of Whole Child Network school Le Sueur-Henderson High School in Minnesota, and Jessica Bohn, ASCD Emerging Leader and principal of Gibsonville Elementary School in North Carolina.
The Best-Case Scenario
As we review and reinforce our schools’ safety measures, we aren’t planning for the worst-case scenario that might happen; we are working to make sure the best-case scenario—where schools are learning environments that are physically, socially, and emotionally safe for students and adults—is an everyday occurrence that does happen. Read more on the Whole Child Blog.
In February and March, we looked at what we, as educators, believe is crucial to making our schools safe—not just physically safe, but also safe places to teach and learn. Listen to the Whole Child Podcast with guests Joseph Bergant II, superintendent of Chardon Schools in Ohio; Howard Adelman, professor of psychology at UCLA and codirector of the School Mental Health Project and the Center for Mental Health in Schools (a whole child partner); and Jonathan Cohen, adjunct professor in psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and president and cofounder of whole child partner National School Climate Center.
Have you signed up to receive the Whole Child Newsletter? Read the latest newsletter and visit the archive for more strategies, resources, and tools you can use to help ensure that each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.
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