Habits That LEAD to Change

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“Words cannot express how grateful I am to be at a school filled with educators who believe in the power of their work and its ability to help reach the potential of each and every student.”

~ Excerpt email from a Kipling Elementary School parent

A Message of Gratitude to our Teachers

The sincere words of gratitude of a parent validate the passion and commitment educators at Kipling Elementary School bring to work every day. The email excerpt is evidence that our teachers change students’ lives by inspiring, empowering and engaging them in the classroom, on the playground, and beyond. Teacher leaders, administrators — educators everywhere — save and re-read precious letters like these as a reminder of why our work is important, and the impact we have on families and children every day.

Kipling Elementary School, in Deerfield Public Schools District 109, is honored to have won the IL ASCD Whole Child Award this year in the category of student engagement. In an effort to pay that honor forward, I am sharing the habits we live by in hopes that it might inspire you to continue to be change agents for your students and families. This article also is a tribute to the amazing teachers and staff at Kipling.

Habits that Lead to Change

Kipling Elementary School is a Leader in Me school; in our transformation, we have thoroughly adopted and built into our culture “The Seven Habits.” We are proud of the environment we have created and the impact and change we are leading in educating and engaging our students.

Our teachers are proactive and take initiative with the way they positively communicate with students, parents, and colleagues.

Our teachers begin with the end in mind and lead with inquiry and seek out to understand their students learning styles and social emotional readiness and availability in order to personalize learning.

Our teachers put first things first and establish caring relationships with their students and families and how they convey empathy and understanding.

Our teachers think win-win by embracing change and respond flexibly with confidence to new ideas that bring our students stimulating learning experiences and environments.

Our teachers seek first to understand and then to be understood when engaged in their own professional learning with coaches, colleagues and administrators. Their ability and willingness to listen and consider others viewpoints gives them the courage to challenge the status quo and change teaching and learning.

Our teachers synergize and interact with the whole school community. They value and seek out input from all adults that interact with students during the school day. They embody the mindset that diverse perspectives lead to richer stronger solutions.

Our teachers sharpen the saw outside of school that makes them stronger and more prepared to face each school day and each student with a bright smile and contagious energy.

At Kipling, those seven habits are the pieces that, every day, in every classroom, combine to build the whole child in every child.

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Like it or Not…

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Wax-leaf begonias are often used in borders or planters to add a colorful accent to yards, berms, or parks and are very hardy in sun or shade and can even tolerate cold to hot temperatures. So why don’t I like them?

One morning on my drive into work, from a distance, my eyes caught this beautiful display of red, pink, and white flowers bordering the entrance to a golf course. It was a resplendent show of colors and greenery! I was looking for flowers to plant in my mostly shady yard and these would be perfect. As I came closer and past the colorful arrangement, I was able to see that they were wax-leafed begonias. Really? “But I don’t like those flowers!”, I recall saying in my head, full of disbelief and disappointment. Why didn’t I like them when they were exactly what would make my yard look amazing?

I started to reflect on how we all have things we like/dislike and have no real reason for it other than we just do. And that’s ok (to a point). But what happens when we dislike something that might actually be good, NOT for us, but for the good of the whole. Those flowers, whether I liked them or not, would really give my yard that pop of color and beauty I would enjoy. So why wouldn’t I just plant them and get over my dislike for them. Next summer, I will, and it might feel weird for me at first to have them in my yard but I’m sure I will revel in the beauty they’ll bring to my shady yard.

I started to think about our work in education and looked for examples of this dissonance in our everyday work or interactions. Does it matter whether we like the curriculum that was purchased, the technology apps students use, the life science unit, flexible seating purchased for classrooms, STEM labs in our library space, the disheveled teacher whose student growth is through the roof, the new teacher who chose to not have a desk in her room, the colleague that’s engaging students differently in learning? In all of these examples, the focus shouldn’t be on our likes/dislikes but on the outcomes! Do our students benefit/grow/achieve in their learning because of these things? Can we learn something from it? Then get over it! It’s not a matter of liking, it’s a matter of putting kids learning first, participating in the outcome, serving others above ourselves, being open minded. Covey would say this is thinking Win-Win. What would happen if we moved past approval or disapproval TO acceptance, curiosity, and trying? We all would benefit and grow. Isn’t that the outcome we all want in the end?

I caught myself thinking in this way and I’m raising this to your attention. Stop. Think Win-Win. Try it! No one needs to know you like it or not, they just need to know you are behind them, supporting them. That’s what matters.

Hello wax-leaf begonias!

‘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.

 

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!

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.

We are videos for our students

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In this digital world of STEM, 1:1, coding, SAMAR, Interactive Whiteboards, and 300 new apps being created daily (US News), as educators we have an abundance of resources to choose from and from which to engage our students in learning. Never before have we had such a supply of teaching resources and devices from which our students can use to learn. We are even moving one whole integral part of education to the web as we prepare for Smarter Balance or PARCC assessments next year. As educators try their best to keep up with ‘what’s new’, it is important that we become educated consumers of all this new technology and learn best how to integrate it into our classrooms or staff meetings. We know that without proper professional development to support educators around how to use technology to impact student learning, none of it will stay much less be used for what it’s intended…facilitating student learning and providing them exposure to the world they will work in. How much money has been spent on Interactive Whiteboards and how many are still used as big screen projectors for PowerPoint presentations?

This months #blogamonth is sharing favorite videos and how we use videos in education. I immediately thought of my favorite one to share and the message that it sends to all of us. My next thought was the realization that each and every day we are a video clip for our students, colleagues, and parents! When we stop to think why videos are a powerful learning tool in classrooms or staff meetings, I’d venture to say that it provides us with the realization that something we never did is possible, just by watching others do it first. We internalize the ‘yes we can’ mantra that got President Obama elected. All people love and need inspiration and to see the possibilities open to them, so what better way to demonstrate that then in videos of others performing the new task. As an instructional leader (which we all need to realize we are no matter your title), I am my colleagues and students video each time I model a lesson, share a thoughts and insights in a lit circle with students,  present at district institutes, meetings, teacher classes, lead a close reading of a difficult text, co-plan lessons with teachers, design PD. Why is coaching the most effective job imbedded professional develop there is…because its live and in action…because it demonstrates and inspires others so they can say “yes I can”.

What I’d like you to notice from the video clip I’m choosing to share and that I’ve used with staff is what is being modeled…how to facilitate learning so we can all say “yes we can”.

Until just recently Maurice (Mo) Cheeks was the head coach for the Detroit Pistons and previously a retired professional basketball player himself. The video is with a girl, Natalie Gilbert, who won the opportunity to sing the national anthem at one of the Pistons games and the even that followed. Please watch and then we can reflect. Video

This clip demonstrates perfectly what facilitating learning looks like and how a learning community works. Here is what I’m sure you noticed:

  • Coach stepped up to her gently from behind, placing a gentle hand on her shoulder and raised the microphone back up to HER, indicating it’s ok, I’m here but you can do this.
  • He never took the mic away for him to finish the song but raised it back to her twice showing her positive reinforcement and the confidence he had in her that she can and will finish the task successfully.
  • He never stepped out in front of her taking away her moment to shine.
  • He spoke the words into her ear from where she left off, not making her start over.
  • The crowd cheered her mistake and urged her on to finish, showing they understood the pressure and possibility of failure.
  • Everyone in the stadium shared the responsibility for her ultimate success by joining in and singing with her.
  • He never left her side showing unwavering support for her until she didn’t need it any longer.
  • He encouraged everyone to share in her success and strength by motioning his hands for them to join in and help. Knowing when to call in back ups is important, resourceful.
  • Everyone accepted the moment of failure as an opportunity for support her success and ultimately theirs.
  • The event didn’t stop but continued on through the mistake modeling that its normal to make mistakes and that we all should share the responsibility for each others success.

After it was all over, they exchanged hugs of support and thanks and Mo Cheeks walked away happy to have facilitated her success but never taking her dignity away. The truth is she was very prepared for her task as evidenced by her beautiful voice and the practice of high notes and long breaths. She was prepared, she came ready to give it her all, she put in her time of practice, and then nerves probably got the best of her. That happens everyday with our students, teachers, and parents and instead of presuming the negative…we MUST presume the positive and join in and facilitate them to success. What Coach Cheeks did in this video and that we play out everyday in our own live performances in the world of education is how through our learning communities we need to facilitate learning and model each day what the possibilities are and that ‘yes we can” do it…together.

 I hope you use the video and I would love to hear your experience.

Choice and School Culture

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“Universal achievement remains a pipe dream until we take an honest look at our beliefs, practices, behaviors, and norms of our organization. These elements make up a very sensitive system known as a school’s culture. This is where many school officials and reformers fear to tread, but it is this place that holds the biggest keys to unlocking the potential of our public schools.”

Anthony Muhammad, Transforming School Culture

   

      This months #blogamonth topic was ‘Creating a Culture’ and as it is the last week of February, I’m just getting to writing this now. I have been thinking about how to approach such a large multifaceted and illusive topic. Questions in my head that I tried to answer were…what is culture, can we see evidence of it or is it something we feel, is it meant to be diverse or the same, how can one thing have such impact and hold on a school community?   

     What I have noticed is simple…one important component of creating a healthy school culture is Choice. Choice as defined by  Merriam-Webster is “the act of choosing : the act of picking or deciding between two or more possibilities: the opportunity or power to choose between two or more possibilities : the opportunity or power to make a decision”. Although choice is a verb, an act, in relation to its impact on culture it is the perception it gives of the ‘opportunity’ to have control over your environment. What I have observed and witnessed first hand, like so many of you, it is that the choices we make define our experiences, motivation, and success. Choice is one way we empower a powerful shift in our culture. Here are some examples of conscious choices leaders make that model the type of school culture they seek to attain:

  • choosing to make phone calls or face-to-face communication instead of email or mass mailing to inform people on sensitive school related issues

  • choosing to explicitly seek input using questionnaires/surveys/ focus groups to investigate and learn what the concerns are of the community; identifying common direction

  • choosing to be responsive and open to making changes in routine

  • choosing to share/ promote/ celebrate leadership from within and provide opportunities to communicate

  • choosing to trust professional judgment and support skills/tools necessary for continued growth and learning

  • choosing to be innovative in the ways we deliver professional learning that encompasses all learners preferences

    

       When a school explicitly makes choices that positively create a culture best fit for learning,  it manifests and translates “the attitudes and behavior characteristic of a particular social group” which is Websters definition of culture. Something so simple as providing the opportunity or power to choose is a step toward creating a school culture in which we all learn and grow together. The answers to some of my questions, and please add your own; culture can be seen and felt; it should be diverse and the same; it does have the greatest impact and hold on the school environment and because it does we have no choice other than to create healthy cultures in which our students and community can flourish and learn.