Monday, June 19, 2017

Venting Doesn't Extinguish Anger, It Feeds It


It was a blast to join Jon Harper recently as a guest on his terrific podcast, My Bad. Of course, the show is all about owning a mistake you've made as an educator and reflecting on what you learned from it. It's a great concept because many of us working in schools think we need to be perfect. That's never going to happen. We just need to be authentic and striving to get better.

I shared about how I used to get so frustrated by students, parents, other teachers, administrators, etc. You name it. I got frustrated and let it be known. I didn't share my blaming and complaining far and wide, but with a small group of people it was common for me to just vent. And I thought that was perfectly healthy. It actually felt good. I looked forward to letting out all that frustration.

But I've learned that venting actually isn't helpful. In fact, it can cause more angry, aggressive behaviors. In his outstanding book, Originals, Adam Grant shares a behavioral study designed by psychologist Brad Bushman. It demonstrates how venting impacts our psyche.
Participants were asked to write an essay about whether they were against abortion or pro-choice. They then received some harsh written feedback from a peer with the opposite view, who rated their essays as disorganized, unoriginal, poorly written, unclear, unpersuasive, and low in quality, adding, "This is one of the worst essays I have read!"
The angry recipients were then randomly assigned to one of three responses, venting, distraction, or control. The members of the venting group were allowed to hit a punching bag as hard as they wanted for as long as they liked, while thinking about the jerk who criticized their essays and looking at his picture. The distraction group hit the punching bag but was instructed to think about becoming physically fit, and was shown a photo of someone exercising. In the control group, there was no punching bag; participants sat quietly for two minutes while the computer was being fixed. Which group would become most aggressive toward the peer who insulted them?
To find out, Bushman gave each of the groups the chance to blast their essay's critic with noise, letting them determine the volume and duration of the sonic blasts.
The venting group was the most aggressive. They slammed the critic with more intense noise, and held the button down longer, than the distraction and control groups. One participant got so angry after thinking about the insulting feedback that hitting the punching bad wasn't enough: he punched a hole in the wall of the lab.
Venting doesn't extinguish the flame of anger; it feeds it. When we vent our anger, we put the lead foot on the gas pedal of the go system, attacking the target who enraged us.
Working as an educator is a stressful job. There are many, many things we can choose to be frustrated about in a typical day. As a result, it is very tempting to vent to our friends, our colleagues, our spouse, or some other listening ear. But it's not a healthy response. It's better to do nothing than to vent.

But anger doesn't have to be harmful. Emotions are not good or bad inherently. They are only good or bad depending how we act on them. Anger can actually be a source of energy for taking positive action, solving problems, and making something better. Anger can motivate us to do something to improve a situation.

Blaming and complaining are completely ineffective. They just compound frustration and only have negative consequences, for us and others. Venting is blowing off steam without doing anything to correct the root problem.

Instead of venting, do something to create change.

But what about those situations you can't do anything about? There are some things that frustrate us that are completely out of our hands. We have no opportunity for influence. Now I would caution that these instances are rarer than most people perceive. We sometimes like to pass the buck and tell ourselves there is nothing we can do. Usually, there is some possible way to help or try to make something better. We just have to stop avoiding the things that frustrate us and step forward with solutions.

But if the situation is beyond us, it is still better to do nothing than to vent. 

Consider these questions when you are frustrated. What's bothering you? What would you like to do about it? What would be a helpful response? What's your next step? How can you be part of the solution?

I want to challenge all educators to stop venting and start doing. Be problem solvers. I'm trying to give up my venting ways. Complaining doesn't help me or anyone else in the long run. Let's all make it a point to give up on venting.

If you want to here my entire conversation with Jon, I've shared it with you below.


Question: How do you handle your frustrations? Are you ready to go beyond venting and help make the world a better place? Respond below or on Twitter or Facebook. I'd love to hear from you.


Thursday, June 15, 2017

We Want Students to Think 'HOW Am I Smart?' Not 'AM I Smart?'



In a recent post, I considered the importance of building on student strengths rather than a deficit-driven approach. When we help students understand their strengths and use them for learning, we show them they are valued for who they are. And we help them develop greater efficacy as a learner so they will want to learn more.

As I continue to reflect on this idea, I am reminded that we should never sort kids into smart or not smart. Even subtle decisions in the classroom can lead kids to think of themselves as not smart. And when a student's confidence suffers as a learner, then motivation is likely to suffer too. Instead, we want them to think, "How am I smart?" Every student has strengths as a learner.

And these strengths shouldn't be confined to just certain subjects. For instance, some students think they are only good at reading or writing, but don't recognize any strengths in math. I am suggesting that in every discipline, we teach students to identify their strengths and build on them.

So, even when working with a struggling writer, we can recognize that the student has a strength with imagination, spelling, or whatever. What is one area of writing that is stronger than the others? Identify that and build on it.

If a math student struggles with basic facts or number sense that gap is going to present challenges, but what mathematical skills do they have that we can reinforce? What is a way they can enter the problem based on a strength they have in their thinking? Build on that.

Students with highly specialized minds can be brilliant in certain areas and struggle mightily in other areas. When we recognize things that are familiar to them as strengths, we can use these things as a pathway to learn new skills. We start with the familiar and move to the unfamiliar. We all like to learn that way.

All students want to feel like learning has value, and they have a good chance of success. It leads to more engagement. In fact, all performance is built on strengths. That doesn't mean students shouldn't try something new or shouldn't be pushed out of their comfort zone. But we must first start with strengths and use that to lead into more challenging areas.

Question: What ideas do you have for identifying student strengths? How do we do this? I want to hear from you. Share a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Do Something Today to Move in the Direction of Your Dreams



Walt Disney was fired by his newspaper editor because "he lacked imagination and had no good ideas." 

Reportedly, Albert Einstein was told as a child, "You will never amount to anything!"

Beethoven's music was not initially accepted by critics and one music teacher said, "as a composer, he is hopeless."

You've heard stories like these of famous failures. We see the incredible achievements of their lives, but we often forget the struggles they most definitely faced. We all face struggles. Most every person can relate to withstanding a biting critique or unfair assessment. 

And when we hear these voices expressing doubts about us, our abilities, and even our intentions, it can cause us to doubt ourselves, our worth, and our purpose in this world.

But often the voice that is most damaging to our future is the voice within us. It's our own shadow. We are often our own worst critics. Our internal voice says play it safe, don't take any chances, just stay comfortable.

Our shadow makes us hesitate. It generates fear in us that is paralyzing. We retreat to the familiar, the routine, the mundane.

But don't let your shadow steal your dream!

If you have a dream, don't put it off. If you feel a push to do something, make it happen. As Henry David Thoreau urged, "advance confidently in the direction of your dreams." Don't wait.

The shadow's push-back against your dreams will not relent unless you push-through and just go for it. Make something happen.

Over a year ago, I took the first step toward a dream I have of writing a book for educators. I wanted to write a book that would make a difference for classrooms and schools. I started. But then my own voice of discouragement slowed my progress. I was too busy (so I thought). My ideas were lacking (so I thought). I hesitated.

But I am determined to push through. I am determined to see this dream realized. Before I return to school in August, my new book will be published. My hope is that it will challenge and inspire educators to crush the status-quo so we can better prepare students for an unpredictable world. 


Cheesy photo to keep me focused!


I want to use my effort, enthusiasm, and experiences to strengthen our profession. I want to see stronger schools. I want to see more excitement for learning than ever before. I want to see students and teachers engaged and empowered by their school experience. That is my dream.

And I want the same for you. I want to see your talents and passions used to reach for your dreams. There will never be a perfect time. Your shadow always wants you to hesitate. Don't listen to your internal critic. Do something today to move in the direction of your dreams.

A body in motion tends to stay in motion. And a body at rest tends to stay at rest. If you are going to fulfill your purpose in life, you have to step forward in faith. You have to take risks. You can't play it safe. You have to take that first step now. 

As I make progress on finishing the book, I'll share some updates here on my blog. I'll give you a preview of the book and detailed plans for release. And I'll also ask for your help in sharing the news in your circles. 

Press on toward your dreams! 

Question: What are you going to do this summer to move in the direction of your dreams? I want to hear from you. Share your story of overcoming your shadow. Let's unleash our purpose and potential together. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Deeper Learning Is By Discovery, Not Delivery


We've been talking about Bloom's Taxonomy and critical thinking for as long as I've been an educator. And yet we still have work to do to get kids cognitively engaged in classrooms. We can't seem to shake the traditional methods that turn education into a delivery system, rather than a powerful engine of discovery and inquiry.

So much of the conventional wisdom is wrong. For instance, many teachers believe we should teach the basics and then if we have time, include opportunities for critical thinking. Our assessments are often organized that way. Most of the items will be recall/knowledge level questions with one or two performance events or critical thinking tasks at the end. It seems like critical thinking is always an after thought.

In my first year of teaching, I remember one of my mentors gave me this advice, "Make them (the students) think." And that's exactly what we need to do. We need to design learning that involves students in making meaning, not just accepting information. If we want students to get deeper understanding and enjoy learning, that is what we must do.

Here are some of the differences in approaching education as a delivery system vs. a discovery system.

Delivery

1. Students are expected to accept information (textbook, lecture, study packet, notes, etc).

2. Learning is impersonal and disconnected. 

3. Understanding is limited to what was taught.

4. The teacher is doing much of the thinking and explaining.

5. Learning is measured by right and wrong answers.

6. The teacher mostly decides the direction of learning.

7. Teaches step-by-step problem solving (at best).

8. Relies on compliance, following instructions, rules.

9. Passive, receiving, accepting, memorizing type of learning.


Discovery

1. Students are making meaning of information (thinking critically and creatively).

2. It connects to the learner's interest, aptitude, experience, and even their personality.

3. Understanding often results in new ideas.

4. The student is forced to assume more cognitive load. 

5. Learning is measured by the quality of your thinking (and ultimately quality thinking will result in right answers).

6. The students' questions help determine the direction of the learning.

7. Teaches students to activate their reasoning skills to solve problems.

8. Relies on curiosity, interests, and exploration.

9. Active, reasoning, questioning, connecting, synthesizing type of learning.

There are numerous advantages to discovery learning. Students will remember more of the facts and fundamentals of the discipline when they learn this way. They will have more context to connect ideas and make learning stick. They will also develop skills as independent learners, something that will serve them well their whole life.

And it doesn't have to be complicated. Although I'm a big fan of project-based learning, we can make students think in simple ways without an extended project. Sometimes the simplest teacher moves are the most effective. Try this: Wait longer after you ask a question before you accept a student answer. Then, wait longer after the student responds to the question before you say anything. Instead of saying the answer is right or wrong, ask, "And why do you think that?" 

This summer I challenge you to think about how a lesson could be better next year. How could you improve your lesson design so that learning becomes more discovery and less delivery?

Question: What tips would you share for making students think? How do you achieve cognitive engagement? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. Your suggestions are like gold!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Are You Strengths-Based Or Deficit-Driven?


An important part of being an excellent teacher is attempting to create conditions that cause all kids to want to learn more. If we can consistently develop each student's desire to know, they will eventually become unstoppable learners. We can never assume the motivation and engagement of students is a fixed characteristic. We should never assume some students are just naturally curious and others are not. Instead, we should always be striving to unleash the natural curiosity and wonder in every learner.

One reason some students withhold effort and engagement is a feeling that they will not be successful as a learner. When students don't believe in their own ability to learn, they tend to avoid learning. School has a way of sorting students into smart/not-smart, learners/non-learners, capable/not-capable. At least, that's how a number of students feel. 

Unfortunately, for too many students, school has felt like a place where they are constantly reminded of what they aren't good at. And that needs to change if we hope to create learning environments where all students become curious, enthusiastic, and engaged learners.

What if every educator in your school committed to make learning a strengths-based endeavor? What kind of place would your school be? Talk with your team about the belief statements I shared below. How can these translate into a different approach to learning for your school?    

1. Every student has unique gifts and talents as a learner.

2. Students who are confident learners will learn more. They will want to learn more.

3. Each student needs to feel like he/she can be successful.

4. Educators should recognize different aptitudes and adjust accordingly. One-size-fits-all doesn't work.

5. Learning is build on strengths and not deficits. Are you reminding students more of their assets or their liabilities?

6. We should focus on what a child can do, instead of what he/she cannot do.




7. Teachers should design learning experiences that allow students to use strengths to make meaning. Allow students to enter the problem in a way that is familiar and go from there.

8. It's impossible to develop an effective learning experience if we treat a classroom full of students like they all have the same strengths.

9. Success breeds success. So if students have success with a task in their strength area, they are more likely to take on a task that isn't in their strength area.

10. We all give and withhold effort depending on our own feelings of talent, skill and efficacy.

11. Seek to understand how students learn best, and help students understand how they learn best.

When we help students find their strengths and use them for learning, we show them they are valued for who they are. Their confidence soars. And with increased confidence, students will want to learn more.

Questions: How are you building on students' strengths as learners? What needs to change to make school more personalized to account for different learning strengths? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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