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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‘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.

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!

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!