Welcome

What’s the connection between my blog name, Carpe Diem, and what you will find here?

Intentional thinking and leading.

I will seize a thought in its infancy stages and develop it here with you. learn with you. and from you. I encourage you to leave me comments that will add and propel our thoughts forward. I don’t really know what topics will start to unravel on these pages but I will stick with topics I am passionate about, things that matter and impact change. I am in the education field and naturally you can assume that teaching and learning will be central to most of my posts.

I look forward to the relationships that will form here as we engage, encourage, and stretch each others ideas, visions, and perspectives.

Like all high functioning groups, we have some norms here to ensure it is a safe environment in which to learn from each other.

Read with an open mind to learn, Respect the gift of others views, Remember it’s not about you, so don’t take it personally.

Come, let’s seize the day!

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It’s what you focus on that matters: Make it the right thing!

 

IMG_4982“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” George Lucas

 

Harvard’s Graduate School of Education offers professional education programing opportunities throughout the year. I was fortunate to participate in Improving Schools: The Art of Leadership through The Principals’ Center last Summer and I often reflect on that experience and the learning I gained. The experience was so multifaceted, dense with information, and profound that it has taken some time to internalize, express, and put into action. Learning at that level was engaging, inspiring, and forced me to look at education and leadership through many lenses. The stories that educators and experts from across the country shared in discussions were an essential component and contributed greatly to shifting my paradigms.

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One particular event that was planned, as part of the learning, was a high ropes course. The placement of this learning was purposeful in that it took place on the second day of the program. As a group, we had only one day to meet and greet, listen to an overview of the program for the week and get a general frame and focus for the learning ahead. The next day we were divided into smaller learning teams and off we went to meet our high ropes course facilitator (leader). Some of us, including myself, embarked upon this day with some trepidation and questioned if we would be able to fully participate in all the obstacle course tasks, particularly the high ropes traverse, 40 feet in the air. I personally wondered how this activity applied to our purpose ‘Improving Schools and Leadership’?  That purpose was very quickly revealed to me: what we as leaders focus on matters in the outcomes we seek to achieve!  

Leadership doesn’t manage the whole process, it focuses on the most critical step.

When our facilitator was teaching us the process and various roles for climbing and traversing the high ropes, we all played a critical part.  We created a safe environment, encouraged the hearts of those who questioned their ability (ME!). This activity purposefully put us in a position of challenge, rigor, and dissonance (elements of learning) that absolutely propelled us forward. The facilitator simply explained the process and different roles and then during each person’s accent, focused on the most critical step, which was the person holding the belay and locking system carabiners. She steadfastly stood in front of this person and never took her eyes off the handling of the belay and tension in the line as the person ascended the tree and crossed the wire. If the belayer was not ready to lock the line or if there was too much slack, the climber would fall.  She verbally guided, reminded, questioned and positively encouraged us in our role. All the other roles people played, holding the rope, making sure it wasn’t tangled and serving as backup, managed themselves supported by the leaders trust. What critical step are you focused on as a leader?

Leadership focuses on perceived limits, it sets a safe environment to overcome & grow.

As I reflect on the terrifying experience I had climbing and crossing the ropes (my heart was racing, my mouth was dry, my head was pounding in my ears), I was literally soaring beyond my own perceived limits. I was brought to that moment through careful scaffolding, teaching, and team building artfully executed by our facilitator. How we create these opportunities for people to face their own limits and learn through them is critical to the change process because it affect behaviors not just thoughts. Are you aware of your organization’s perceived limits?

Learning is enhanced when we focus on the team’s experiences and authentic application.

Experiencing the climb up the tree and being able to traverse the ropes to the other side was only made possible for me because of the group encouragement and informed feedback they were freely providing me from the ground. My thinking was literally frozen by fear and I couldn’t even remember to put one foot in front of the other! My team was centrally focused on my success and could only offer their words of encouragement and direction. The rest was up to me as an individual to accept, trust, internalize and act upon their words if I so chose. Learning communities have a soul purpose and that is to inform in order to change. The team as well as each individual acts in unison around a shared goal. I may have been the one on the rope putting in the effort to cross but everyone on the ground also felt a sense of urgency and accomplishment when we collectively achieved our common goal; to get each member across successfully.  It was my personal achievement as well as our team success! Deep learning, the kind that last you a lifetime, that is an enduring skill does not happen in isolation.

I am proud to say that many of us are still in touch and continue to challenge, share, learn and push our professional growth through blogs, twitter chats and voxer. I am grateful to my professional learning network and friends!

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‘AUTHENTIC Learning’ Mindset

 

 

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A week vacation skiing in Whistler with the family, suitcases full of clothes for 5, including bulky ski gear and a return home only to find that when I went downstairs to put the first load into the dryer…it breaks! F01 error code I learned, means panel control malfunction. So needless to say, I marched upstairs to my computer and what did I do? Yup, I Googled it!! I found a YouTube video of a 20 minute repair with a link to AppliancePartsPros.com and ordered the part. Two hundred and seventy dollars later, I  waited a week for the part to come in and then took my tools and went to work. I didn’t lose any parts or screws and the best part was when I plugged it back in and pressed that sweet button, sending the dryer drum rolling again! SUCCESS is a sweet reward!

This exact situation demonstrates all the components necessary in what is called authentic learning. “Authentic learning is a relatively new term that describes learning through applying knowledge in real-life contexts and situations.” as defined by Audrey Rule of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Oswego. There are four components to authentic learning and if we take a look at my experience we can identify each:

Real-world problemssmelly clothes, a family of 5 and no means to wash them. I was naturally incentivized to save some money by not paying for a plumber and do it myself. The satisfaction came when I accomplished what I intended and it worked. Even if it didn’t work, I would still have had the sense of satisfaction.  

Inquiry and thinking skills…Research! This was not my first home project so I had some background on where to start my research for an answer and how to go about solving my problem. I was also confident in my skills and abilities based on my previous successes. I have to say that it is getting easier and more convenient for do-it-yourself projects because of the internet and access to information both textual and visual. I had some initial trials and errors when trying to find the right ratchet wrench size I needed for the bolt screws, analyzing how best to pull the dryer away from the wall without detaching the exhaust vent hose (didn’t want to attach that again) or the gas line, not to mention once I removed the cover from the machine I needed to figure out how to unhook each wiring component and dismount the old control board.

Discourse in a community of learners…My earlier projects involved hanging out with my friends at Lowes or Home Depot asking for explanations of how-to-do this or that and then I’d go home to read the directions that came with the kit or ‘fix’ it project. I would not have been able to successfully fix the dryer if I went into it with my own thinking. Why do we always put kids into learning situations with their limited life experience bank thinking they will be able to figure anything out on their own without access to information, conversations and a community of other learners. That’s not the real world. We have to remember the needs of a learner in the moment of their learning…provide the opportunity for them to communicate, collaborate, question, grapple with their problem.

Student-directed learning…Open-ended and choice driven are the key to student learning. I may not have had the choice of my dryer breaking but I did have a choice in how I would solve my problem. The situation was open-ended in that it provided opportunities for… “divergent thinking, heuristics-based learning, and exploring fuzzy, ill-defined, and ill-structured problems”. I said earlier that I didn’t lose any screws…well I didn’t lose any but I did have an extra one left over. I had to think on my feet and make a judgment call when one of the screws needed for securing the control panel to the metal interior plate didn’t want to go back in its place. I determined that it was secure enough without it and didn’t want to risk forcing it in or having it fall down the side of the dryer as I struggled to ‘make’ it fit.

We must start providing students with opportunities to experience learning in this way. We must start to build their confidence, background and repertoire of learning.

We must start thinking of students as drivers of their learning. Learning is finding the best ways to access and internalize information in order to create/apply it to something new.

Let them do it! Get out of their way!

Because they CAN!

Please read this article for more information on authentic learning.

 

Testing Time vs LEARNING Time

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As if the frenzy of the beginning of the year isn’t enough, we add in student assessments for the fall to get benchmarks of where our students are and how much learning was lost over the summer. I’m in full support of testing and benchmarking! It is a very integral part of teaching and learning. What I am in more support of is every day learning between testing.  

Here are a few things we are busy doing and focus on prior to and during testing:

  • refresh/reboot student devices and test for tech capacity,
  • open optimal assessment windows,
  • communicate to parents that testing is coming up and kids need good night sleep and breakfast, and perfect attendance is encouraged
  • set testing schedule for classes,
  • identify alternate locations in the school to best assess certain groups,
  • pull all available hands on deck to support students with accommodations and modifications,
  • rework precious learning time around testing block,
  • remind/review with teachers how best to use the data we will receive,
  • deal with technical hiccups that disturb the testing process,
  • practice the use of mice and drag & drop strategies with our youngest learners,
  • field phone calls from parents eager to find out scores and enter their students into any gifted opportunities
  • communicate with parents again and remind/review how to interpret data and that this is only a small snapshot of their child’s ability used to gather benchmarks and set growth objectives
  • complete testing, reward students with recess, sigh of relief, and return to teaching as usual

Immediately after students take the test we rush to see how they did in this one moment in time.

This rush of urgency, pressure to perform, extreme collaboration with colleagues to help and cover each other and students, urgency to motivate and pump kids assurance that they will do and can do a great job, constant maintenance of technology to perform, transparent communication with parents about expectations, should be the norm every day IN-BETWEEN testing days. I contend that if we approached everyday LEARNING with this same intensity and send the same message of its importance; the day of testing would look and feel very different for our students.

Can we imagine, that one day students would walk into their classroom, look at the day’s schedule, see the words “Formative Assessment’ (nationally normed or good old fashion check for understanding), grab their device, sit down anywhere of comfort in the room, put their headphones on whether to listen to music or just create more quiet, and start the test. No fuss, no stress, fully confident, and excited for the challenge to beat their previous score knowing that they are active engaged learners everyday! What if we could get kids to approach a test like they approach playing video games against each other and encourage each other?

It’s time to shift the focus. Off of testing day, to ALL the other days of learning. What needs to change in our teaching, classroom culture, evaluations to make this happen for our kids so we can finally get the REAL information we need to change instruction? I’d love to hear your ideas! I have a few of my own.

The average # of school days in Illinois is 176 X 5 hrs a day = 880 hours of learning.

Let’s just say (I’m inflating) that PARCC (ELA & Math) will take the average student 12 hours and NWEA (ELA & Math)  3 X a year will take another 18hrs total = 850 precious engaging LEARNING hours in a school year are left to US! How will we use them?

(Even if my math is totally off, I hope you get my point)

This is what we should be focusing on and having an urgency to utilize to the best of our ability to ensure our students DO learn and grow.

Advocacy: Is it a choice?

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“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

William Faulkner

As a parent and an educator, I have always considered my primary role to be an advocate for children, mine and others… ALL!. Recently, I had an experience that caused me to pause and reflect on what advocacy for children really means. Take a moment to think about the last time you advocated for your own child or someone else’s. It was likely at a time when the child either did something wrong or something wrong was happening to the child. Whatever the situation, it is always at a crossroad of decision making. We, as advocates, have a choice to make. Do we step up and have a hard conversation or do we walk away assuming others will take care of it? What advocacy really is, is a choice and willingness to have a hard conversation on behalf of a child or adult in an unjust or learning moment.

There are many real situations where walking away is the right thing to do, and many times in which walking away is a critical teaching moment missed. “John” Quiñones is an ABC News correspondent, and currently the host of Primetime: What Would You Do?,  who’s show highlights situations where people are faced with a choice to advocate when they witness something unfair or unjust happening. Many times they use situations where a child is involved. We need to ask ourselves one critical question before making the choice to walk away…”Am I certain that someone else other than myself will do what this child needs them to do?”  I’m not so sure many people are comfortable or feel it’s their business to step in and be a voice for a child and turn that situation into a teaching moment.

Let me add some context. Who will have the conversation with/or on behalf of a child or your child: when they are caught in a fight on the playground, bullying another child, ‘accidentally’ stealing a pack of gum from the grocery line, when a parent insists their child has a disability and having difficulty embracing their child as they are, finding out your child is sexually active or using drugs. OUR children are learning beings who don’t YET know right from wrong. They are SUPPOSED to make mistakes and fail. It’s a necessary step in learning. BUT they can’t do this alone. They need advocates who are willing to make the choice to have a difficult, and likely, awkward conversation with the child or their parent or a complete stranger. An advocate faces the situation no matter the person because a child NEEDS us to. If we don’t, then how certain are we that someone else will.

As parents, we often play the game of “Just wait until your father/mother finds out!” As an educator we fall back on, “It’s the parents problem not mine.” As a bystander we often just don’t want to get involved. What I’m suggesting is that children don’t care WHO will be their advocate…they just need someone, anyone to help them have a voice and learn how to be their own advocate one day. Advocacy is a short lived moment that just serves the purpose of voicing another side to the situation, a learning moment, an explicit teaching of what just happened so a child can understand the importance and learn that others care, they matter, and that they too can have a voice and can be empowered.

I am not suggesting that it’s appropriate to stick our nose in matters that truly don’t concern us but I am suggesting that our children need us more than we are sometimes are willing to acknowledge. I’m asking all of us, when faced with a situation of advocacy, to make the choice to have the hard, awkward conversation and teach.

Growing in a Least Restrictive Environment

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Are your teachers teaching from within a submarine or are they freely jumping overboard and teaching in the wide open sea? This picture is a great example of the definition of least restrictive learning environment; an environment that provides the optimal setting for an individual to grow and learn with appropriate supports. In the world of education, we often only hear this phrase used in special education when determining the best educational placement for a student who qualifies for an Individual Education Plan (IEP). In fact, it is one of the more important responsibilities the team has when considering placement and planning for a students learning design and supports. The team ensures that the placement is in the least restrictive learning environment giving ample time spent in general education. The law provides the student with the supports necessary to access the curriculum for optimal learning opportunities. It is crucial for a student to still be able to benefit and grow from the experiences and opportunities the general education class has to offer. Too restrictive of an environment may actually prove harmful in the long term for several reasons, one of which is the learning gap becomes wider between the student and his grade level peers. The goal of special education is to close that gap and promote all students in their learning by holding them up to equally high standards.

Do we have IPLPs (Individual Professional Learning Plans) for teachers? It came to me to think about our teachers environments this way and I wondered if as a system we were remembering to advocate for them and guard against too restrictive of an environment for them to teach and learn in. Do we offer our teachers just the right amount of support for them to thrive and venture out to explore and experiment or are we too stuck on protocols and processes, micro managing and overseeing? We need to remember that in order for our students to grow they need to know it’s ok to take risks and try to fail in order for them to experience new learning. The same concept applies to teachers and how we approach supporting their professional growth. Education has been hit hard in the past 8-10 years with wide sweeping policy reform, standards, technology demands, assessment changes, early literacy, and the continual threat of inadequate funding for critical programming. Our only hope to survive these waves and ride them out to new shores lies in our teachers capacity to learn and grow in as least restrictive working environment as possible. The good ole climate and culture strikes again. It matters and as leaders we should always be staunch advocates for preserving our teachers right to autonomy while fiercely providing the supports, accommodations and modifications to their learning so they can experience the level of learning needed to show growth in this tenacious education reform era. By the way, who are the case managers or resource providers for our teachers? We are! The servant leaders! The multipliers of intelligence as Liz Wiseman would put it in her book the Multipliers. How do we as a system measure the restrictiveness of our environment, of our leadership, and know if it is just right for our teachers to grow in?

So now lets ask ourselves, if we were going to write goals/benchmarks/accommodations for this IPLP for teachers, what would that look like? Sound like? How often would it be communicated? Progress monitored? Let’s not ask any more of our students then we are ready to do ourselves and remember that we are ALL learners and thrive best in a least restrictive learning environment! As a great mentor of mine says often, “less is more” and more only means more restrictions not necessarily more learning.

Our commitment should be to shift this cultural paradigm in our schools and districts and not be afraid to come to the surface and open the hatch to allow us all to breath/ feel / explore learning. The truth is that if we can trust others and provide them these least restrictive environments along with our support then when the time comes to ‘dive’ to the depths and take on heavy attacks from the outside we will be stronger, more unified, and clearer in our purpose, our mission!

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Run Silent, Run Deep

Burt Lancaster & Clark Gable

I encourage you to reply and add to my learning! Can you tell I spent some time watching war movies with my dad🙂 Every experience had in life is a learning experience!

PERSPECTIVE before VISION

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“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”

Abraham Lincoln

After sitting in a meeting recently, I came away with one word. PERSPECTIVE. It’s amazing what you see and hear when you actively watch, listen, and collect information. It’s beautiful! Let me start with some reasons for ‘why’ we have meetings. The simple answer is that they serve as a forum to bring diverse groups together to share knowledge, problem solve, make decisions, foster relationships, and build a culture of learning in order to move systems forward. PERSPECTIVE is the ‘what’ we get that makes meetings valuable and productive. When we set our norms for ‘how’ we will meet, what we are doing is ensuring that we create a safe environment where we can all come to the table ready to share our PERSPECTIVES and learn. It struck me today that ‘perspective’ is the step necessary before ‘vision’. There is also a difference between having a perspective and having an opinion. In my mind, perspective informs an opinion. LEADERS at all levels are charged with inspiring a shared vision and in order to do this we need to understand what informs our perspective and others.

PERSPECTIVE – “the state of one’s ideas, the facts known to one, etc., in having a meaningful interrelationship” dictionary.com 

If one component of leadership is inspiring a shared vision then another is the ability to infuse PERSPECTIVE into every situation. Here are a few reasons I can think of why perspective leads to a shared vision…

PERSPECTIVE causes others to look at a situation through another lens previously not considered and critique or judge its validity. According to Bloom’s taxonomy, this level of cognitive thinking would fall under ‘evaluating’ and leads to ‘creating’ which is when our meetings become productive. LEADERS intentionally design situations where different perspectives can be heard. Twitter, EdCamps, gallery walks, learning rounds, mini conferences, PLCs…the list goes on. Opening the windows to let some fresh air in.

PERSPECTIVE is the value we all carry within us. We need to remember that we are all shaped by our experiences, knowledge, and culture. We need to honor that when a person speaks we listen past their opinion and understand the perspective that informs it.  LEADERS that place value on others perspectives start to tap into a deep collective resource that is needed to formulate a shared vision. We start to identify our collective moral purpose.

PERSPECTIVE informs change. Change can not occur in isolation or be informed by one perspective. We know this type of change is not systemic or systematic. If we change perspectives, we can change opinions.  LEADERS that are change agents understand how peoples perspectives inform the process of change and how to leverage those perspectives to activate change.

Because we all have a PERSPECTIVE, we all have an obligation to share it, to inform, to teach, to show evidence of  it to others. LEADERS are privileged with a unique perspective because they observe the whole system.  A leader’s perspective needs to be shared and communicated so all are empowered by their perspective. I liken it to the critical communication between a seeing eye dog and their blind master. “I entrust my life to my seeing eye dog. He has never failed me. Neither has the seeing eye.” (seeingeye.org)

One final reflection…sharing your perspective is also an opportunity to celebrate, uplift, inject humor, lighten the spirit, build trust and relationships. Nothing is ever as dire as we perceive it to be…thanks to others experiences, knowledge, and culture.

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“It may mean everything or it may mean nothing. You’ll never know until you decide to look at it from a different perspective.”

It’s all in the DESIGN!

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Have you ever caught yourself wondering why a staff meeting, institute day, student assembly, or any lesson for that matter didn’t go quite as planned? In each of these scenarios the common thread is the intended learning that was planned for the group. Planning for learning has many components but I find the one with the greatest impact on a successful outcome is what learning design was chosen to facilitate.

It’s funny how when we observe a learning session, we first see the behaviors that the participants are manifesting and quickly conclude that they are at fault if they are disengaged, talkative, disruptive, or unruly. We quickly blame them for not following the ‘norms’. The truth of the matter is that most of the time it has to do with poor LEARNING DESIGN. We fail to be creative and align participant interests with desired outcomes. The standards for professional learning, as outlined by LearningForward.org, state that learning designs have many features in common: “active engagement, modeling, reflection, metacognition, application, feedback, ongoing support, and formative and summative assessment.” The purpose for choosing a learning design is to enhance the learning by changing participants knowledge, skills, attitudes, and performance. Examples of familiar learning designs experienced are Gallery Walks, Chalk Talk, 3-2-1, Tuning Protocols, Data Teams, Action Research, Learning Rounds, Peer Mentoring, Video Reflection, and many more. Please refer to this link for further references and a complete explanation of the Learning Design Standard. Here is a website I use that houses many different designs to choose from when planning learning session. Finding a design is not as difficult as promoting participants engagement in the learning. Without their engagement, the likelihood of transference to our students learning is low. The KEY to promoting the level of engagement you are looking for is to POSSES the level of energy and passion required.  You have to BELIEVE in them and the learning!

Now imagine a room full of adults or children actively engaged in conversations, freely sharing ideas, questioning and challenging what they are learning from others… while you walk the room listening, learning, and collecting ideas from the discussions you are hearing. Remember that the learning needs to be owned by the participants and your role is not to deliver it but to design the environment that will promote this learning culture.