Friday, December 13, 2019

All Kids Deserve Opportunities for Creative Work

Which students are doing the creative work in your school? Who has the most opportunities to work on projects, solve problems, collaborate with classmates, develop ideas, design products, and publish for authentic audiences? If your school is like most schools, I'm guessing your strongest learners have the most opportunities.

And I'm guessing the students who struggle the most are doing the most repetitive work, the routine work, and the isolated work. They are spending more time in intervention settings. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with repetition or routine work. Intervention can be helpful. Sometimes that's what's needed. But there is so much more.

Students may master standards in this type of routine learning, but they will never master themselves. They need chances to demonstrate agency, to take greater ownership of their learning, and to explore different ideas.

For your next lesson, what small changes could you make to cause your learners to experience a little more curiosity and a little more creativity? Ask yourself this each day. How can I move the needle toward curiosity and creativity in learning? How can I leverage curiosity and creativity to help students master standards? How can students access this curriculum in ways that build curiosity and creativity too?

Curiosity and creativity aren't separate events from learning content. They enhance the learning of content. It's through curiosity and creativity that we learn content best.

And I believe that's true for all students. It's true for students who have special learning needs, it's true for students who struggle with behaviors, and it's true for students who are behind academically.

All kids deserve opportunities for creative work. 

Learning doesn't stop with learning standards. In fact, some of the most valuable work we can do is developing the curiosity and creativity in learners. Our kids should leave school wanting to know even more. We should aim to develop them as curious, creative, and continuous learners.

How are you developing the curiosity and creativity of your students? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Problems Usually Seem Worse Than They Are

It's been said the only certainties in life are death and taxes.

Let's add one to the list. We can be certain there will be problems. As long as we are in this life, there is a 100% guarantee there will be problems.

We all face challenges every day. And sometimes the problems seem much bigger than they are. In fact, I would say they usually seem much bigger than they are.

I know this is true because some of the things that were huge, gigantic problems for me in my past, now seem much smaller as many years have past. In reflecting, I've even felt puzzled or confused that I ever got so upset about some of the things that I viewed as big problems years ago.

So no matter what you're going through, keep that truth in mind. This problem probably feels bigger right now than it actually is. So check yourself on that before you let your feelings take over.

See the problem for what it is, but not worse than it is.

Tell yourself the truth.

Avoid thinking there is no solution or things can't change. They almost always do.

Ask for advice or counsel regarding the problem.

Reframe the problem with gratitude. Be grateful for what you can do to address the problem. It could always be worse.

Work the problem. Seek solutions. Try different possibilities.

Get a vision of working past the problem. Think intently about what it will feel like to overcome this problem. 

Wait patiently. Often problems are not resolved on our timeline, but they are eventually resolved nonetheless.

Friday, December 6, 2019

7 Things People Think or Say that Reinforce Mediocrity

In my previous post, I wrote how failure is not the enemy of improvement. Failure is actually a healthy part of learning and growth. The enemy of excellence is apathy or mediocrity. It's being content, either intentionally or unintentionally, with how things are.

That's how people, schools, organizations, etc. get stuck in mediocrity. They become content with just good enough.

There are lots of reasons people embrace mediocrity, but here are a few of the mindsets I've noticed over years of working in school leadership and reflecting on my own attitude when I fall short and observing the attitudes of others as well.

I think by reflecting on these things, we can learn to recognize them in self and others and explore ways to move past them.

1. "I already do that."

Rather than approaching a topic as a learner and looking for ways to adjust and grow, we defend our current practice and imply there is nothing more we can learn about this idea, practice, or approach.

2. "I tried that, and it didn't work."

Since I tried this already, and it didn't work, then clearly there is not room for me to explore this idea or topic again. I have eliminated any future possibilities based on my own personal experience. 

And the thing about this one is that often people didn't execute the practice or idea effectively in the beginning, or they don't give the idea enough time to determine if it could be effective with further practice and/or adjustments.

3. "That won't work with these students."

This way of thinking is extremely limiting and dismissive to students. Effective educators believe in their students, and they aren't the ones to determine if students can or cannot do something. They create the conditions where students have the opportunities to stretch their limits. They think, "If I get the conditions right, I believe my students can and will succeed with this challenge."

4. "What will the other teachers think?"

I remember hearing Ron Clark speak about how, in his first teaching job, his exciting, enthusiastic approach was getting wonderful results. Kids were learning more than ever, and they were loving it. 

But other teachers in the school were not loving it. Clark's principal came to him and said, "You're doing great, but you're making the other teachers very uncomfortable. Would you mind closing the door to your classroom?"

There is a serious mediocrity problem if teachers are not willing to learn from each other and cheer each other on. 

5. "We've always done it this way."

It's been described as the most dangerous phrase in the language. It preserves the status quo. It protects comfort and limits growth. It shuts down new ideas. 

This phrase reveals thinking that is closed minded, inflexible, and possibly even stuck in the past. We can't think creatively or make progress if we're not willing to try something new.

6. "I don't have time for that."

It seems like everyone in education feels the pinch of not having enough time, so in a way, this is a legitimate concern. However, it's also one of the strongest messages we say to ourselves that keep us stuck, that prevent us from moving forward. 

We all have exactly the same amount of time in each day, 1440 minutes in each day to be precise. If you truly "don't have time" to improve something, does that mean you are not currently wasting any of those 1440 minutes? Does that mean that there is no room for growth on how you prioritize the use of those 1440 minutes?

Not having enough time is one of the biggest excuses I know for not doing anything to grow, learn, or change. You may not have time to do everything, but you do have time to do something to grow, learn, and change.  

We make many decisions each day how we use our time. We should use it wisely.

7. What if something goes wrong?

The fear of failure is one of the biggest deterrents to progress and growth. It feels like a big risk to try something that isn't as familiar. It feels like a big risk to try something new or different. It feels safe to try things that have predictable outcomes. 

But the big risk is staying comfortable and avoiding new possibilities. Excellence requires positive risk taking. 

Can you think of any other phrases or messages that keep us stuck in apathy or mediocrity? Share your thoughts here or on Facebook or Twitter. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Evidence You Have Unlimited Potential

Did you learn things in your first year of teaching you knew you needed to do differently? Of course you did.

If you could do year one over again, do you think you could learn even more from it? Are there things you could do differently, more efficiently, more effectively if given the chance to do it again? Probably so.

What about year two, three, four? I'm guessing when you reflect on your past from your where you are now, there are lots of things you realize you could've done differently.

You've come a long way.

And that truth demonstrates how your capacity is unknown and unlimited. If you can recognize you left some of your potential unfulfilled in the past, that's proof that you are capable of even more in the future. 

If you continue to grow, learn, and change, there are no known limits for you.

Excellence is making the most of your opportunities. It's getting the most from your chances to grow. The key is to never stop growing.

You truly have unlimited potential. So do your students. So does everyone with a willingness to pursue continuous growth. 

Excellence is always striving to grow, learn, and change. It's striving to be better today than yesterday, better this week than last week, better this year than last year.

The opposite of excellence is not failure. The opposite of excellence is apathy. It's choosing, either intentionally or unintentionally, to stay the same.

Failure is opportunity in disguise. Mistakes are helpful when you use them for your benefit, like Bob Ross explains in this short clip.

So believe in your own possibilities. Believe in the possibilities of your students.

Aim for excellence. And crush apathy. You have unlimited capacity for greatness.

Reflection Questions...
1. How am I growing and pushing my limits?
2. Are there areas I'm protecting the status quo?
3. Where can I be more open to change?
4. Who gives me energy and inspiration to move forward?
5. If I'm stuck, what can I do to disrupt my unhelpful patterns?

Friday, November 22, 2019

Never Ask a Student This Question About Their Behavior

Students who are in trouble almost always have a good reason for why they did what they did. Sometimes a student will admit fault and take full ownership, but that's not usually the case, especially for students who habitually shift responsibility. Usually, they explain away their behavior and how they were misunderstood or how someone else's bad behavior led to their actions. 

So how should educators handle that situation? Is it okay for a student to act badly if they have a good reason or feel justified in their behavior? Absolutely not. If they can explain their intentions, does that make it better? Not really.

I had this conversation with a student the other day. In life, people are going to know you by your behavior, not your intentions. So I hear what you're saying. You didn't mean to be disrespectful. You didn't mean to cause a problem. You had a good reason for what you did. But I can't know your reasons, truly. I believe what you're saying. But it's not for me to judge your intentions. No one can know what's in another person's heart with certainty. I can't know your intentions. But I can observe your behaviors.

And life will always hold you accountable for your actions. It might not happen immediately. You might get away with it for a while. However, the choices you make now will impact your future. And as someone who cares about you and your future, it's my job to help you be accountable now so life won't be so hard on you later.

So I never ask students this question:

"Why did you do it?"

That just reinforces the idea that if you had a good enough reason, it's okay to act badly. That if you had a good enough reason, it's okay to act in a way that's harmful to others.

Instead, ask the following:

"What did you do? Which choices you made caused a problem?"

"Who or what was harmed as a result of your choices?"

"What are the expectations (rules) here about these choices?"

"How might you correct the situation so it doesn't happen again in the future?"

Keep the focus on the behavior and not the underlying motivations. If the student tries to justify their behavior, keep coming back to the specific choices and how those choices aren't acceptable in this space. When we keep the focus on what happened and how it had an impact on others, we encourage full responsibility.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Three Myths About Kindness


It's been great to see all the posts today for #WorldKindnessDay. It got me thinking about what it means to be kind. I think there are a few myths out there about this concept, and I wanted to address them.

Myth #1: Kindness is weak.

Kindness is NOT weak. In fact, it takes courage to show kindness. It takes strength. It takes setting aside what's easy for what's valuable. Being kind requires strength of character.

Myth #2: Kindness is the same as being nice.

Kindness is NOT just being nice. Being nice is one aspect of kindness, but that's not the end of it. Kindness is about making decisions that result in healthy relationships. It's about giving your time, your attention, your caring heart, your extra efforts, your helping hand, your selfless actions to lift up others. 


Myth #3: Kindness is a feeling.

Kindness is NOT a feeling, it's a choice. It's a behavior. You're not going to like everyone you meet. You're probably not always going to feel like being kind to them. But you can choose to treat everyone you meet with all the care and concern of people you do like. 

The more you practice being kind, the easier it is to demonstrate this behavior consistently. It becomes a habit. It becomes who you are, and you don't even hesitate to act in kind ways.

You can never do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

How has someone shown kindness to you? How are you growing in your own ability to be kind to others? What other myths exist around kindness? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

The Power of Perseverance

In this instant everything world we live in, it seems like life is moving faster than ever. It's a text, tweet, Tic-Tok world for our kids and the idea of staying with anything for very long seems very old school. And that's a common concern I hear from teachers. It's extremely difficult to have a successful learning environment without learners who can persist in learning.

Perseverance matters for learning and life, and educators must be intentional about helping students develop this trait. But how can we do that most effectively?

This past summer I was blessed to be part of Education Write Now Volume III, a collaborative writing project for educators sponsored by Routledge publishing. The team gathered in Boston for this effort and produced the book in just over 48 hours!

This year's volume, set to be released in December, will feature solutions to common challenges in your classroom or school. Each chapter will address a different challenge.

While the book promises to be a great resource for overcoming education challenges, the proceeds for the book also support a great cause seeking to overcome one of the most pressing challenges imaginable, teen suicide. The Will to Live Foundation supports teen mental health projects and is doing great work in that area.

For my chapter, I shared some thoughts on developing perseverance in students. How can we respond when students show apathy? What are strategies for nurturing grit and growth mindset? How can we ask better questions to encourage honest reflection and self-awareness in students? Those are a few questions I tried to explore.

One thing is for certain, our students are not going to reach their potential or make the most of academic opportunities unless they have an orientation toward working hard and persevering when faced with difficulties. There is great power in perseverance.

Here's an excerpt from my chapter:

As educators, we must plan for teaching students about perseverance just like we would plan for teaching subject matter content. Developing perseverance in students is just as important as learning any academic content and will support the learning of academic content. I believe the investment in educating kids about productive failure will result in increased learning across the board. As a building leader, I also want to support this work and take every opportunity to recognize and celebrate perseverance in our school.

We can all probably agree that perseverance is important and that it’s valuable for kids to develop these skills, but we have to be intentional about creating the structures and systems that support the development of perseverance. We can think it’s important, but what are doing to act like it’s important? Intentions without actions aren’t going to result in any progress.

As you're planning for your classroom or school environment, are you being intentional about character and leadership development? Are you teaching students how to persevere? 

When we see students struggling with an essential life skill, one that's keeping them from academic success, I believe we should be just as intentional about teaching these skills as we are about teaching academic standards. It was an honor for me to share several specific strategies that might prove helpful in #EdWriteNow Vol. III.

So what's it like to write a book in 48 hours? Exhausting? Yes! Exhilarating? Yes! But when you've got a great team to help you's an amazing experience. It's an experience I'll never forget.

What are some of your thoughts on teaching skills like perseverance? Do you feel this is a significant challenge in your classroom? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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