Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Does Your Classroom Inform, Inspire, and Entertain?

Sketchnote by @woodard_julie

I recently had a conversation with someone who was preparing some remarks for an event where he was receiving an award. I was asking him about his speech, and he said he was aiming to inform, inspire, and entertain. I thought that was spot on. He laughed and said he heard that somewhere, and just thought it was really true about a good speech.

It made me think of school and learning. Teachers really must try to do those things also. In my first year in the classroom, I taught 7th grade social studies, but the next year I moved to the high school to teach English. When I was interviewing for the high school position, the principal asked me how my approach would be different working with older students. 

I said I didn't think I would have to entertain them as much. The principal objected. She said you need to be just as creative and engaging with the older students. It was really good advice.

Some teachers really hate the idea of entertaining. Not everyone feels like they are cut out for that. And some don't feel like they should have to do that. 

But I think all three are important, including an element of entertainment. It's probably more true today than ever. In fact, edutainment is actually a thing. Look at TED talks. They are extremely popular because they inform, inspire, and entertain. The most popular ones do this extraordinarily well.

Sometimes, I think we get in a pattern of only informing or delivering instruction but don't focus on how we are going to inspire or entertain. All three of these are needed to really make learning irresistible. 

We need to inform to increase understanding and make meaning.

We need to inspire to infuse learning with a sense of meaning and purpose.

We need to entertain to ignite the wonder, awe, and whimsy of learning.

I challenge you to think about your classroom. How are you seeking to not only inform, but to also inspire and entertain? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I want to hear your thoughts to take the conversation deeper.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Are Today's Kids Different?



Sometimes I hear people complain about kids nowadays. I can tell you it doesn't really set too well with me. Sure, there are examples of kids making poor choices. There are kids who are lazy. Some are selfish. We know they are into their devices. But hey, so are we. And there are some challenges they have now we probably didn't have when we were growing up.

But I can tell you I'm going to defend our kids. I'm going to challenge them, but I'm also going to defend them. I'm going to remind everyone of the amazing things our students are doing. I'm going to share the incredible work of the ones who are leading up and lifting up every day. They are making our school a better place. They are making our world a better place.

And even when they make mistakes or show up with all the baggage any of us can bring, I'm not going to stop believing in them. They are the future. Most kids want to do the right thing. But like all of us, they are still learning and finding their way. And some of them haven't had the best examples. 

They need someone to lift them up and believe in them. I can tell you with certainty, you'll have far more influence on kids by believing in them than by doubting them. If you want to make a difference, stop doubting kids. They're not going to rise above your low expectations. They need you to believe in them.

Today, we held our semi-annual academic banquet to celebrate the success of some of our students. I know some people on Twitter have written about not having award ceremonies and that type of thing because it can reinforce a fixed mindset and not acknowledge the growth of other learners who are achieving but may never get recognized. I get it. We need to notice the good work all students are doing.

But at the same time, I'm not going to apologize for recognizing kids who have achieved at a high level. They even had to miss part of the Kansas City Chiefs (Go Chiefs!) game to join us for lunch and a short program. It's a great opportunity to interact with parents and say thank you.

I asked a few students on short notice to talk about the Bolivar Way (see the visual below). It's become our mantra. It guides most everything we do.

I was blown away by the comments our students had about the importance of questions and curiosity.

About making excellence a personal mission and doing your best.

About lifting up others and being a great friend and teammate.

About leading and showing others the way. And to never give up even when it's tough. 

I was amazed by the comments and was totally pumped about this year and what's happening in our school. Our students are "making us better." I'm so proud of them.




So if you want to complain about kids these days, I'm probably not the person who is going to commiserate with you. But what I would like to talk about is how things are different today than when we were kids. Things seem increasingly complex and uncertain. Change is accelerating. The ability to adapt and learn is more important than ever.

So instead of talking about how kids these days need to change, let's talk about how schools need to change to meet the needs of today's kids. 

We owe it to them to teach the enduring principles that will help them succeed. And we need to teach them the skills that are going to be uniquely necessary for this generation. 

Let's challenge the status quo at every turn and build on the positives. Let's create schools that are relevant and passionate. Fill your school with laughter, hope, friendship, purpose, curiosity, creativity, and togetherness.

What kind of culture does your school have? Are you complaining about kids these days? Or, are you investing in kids these days? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. And keep being great!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Creating Stronger Learners, Stronger Leaders



As I think about what I really want for our students, it always comes back to learning and leading. I want our students to be stronger learners and stronger leaders. I want them to develop habits and mindsets that cause them to continue to grow as learners and leaders even when they leave school.

In my new book Future Driven, I shared what Google senior vice president of people operations, Lazlo Bock, had to say about leading and learning at Google:


For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability. It's the ability to process on the fly. It's the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they're predictive.
And the second is leadership—in particular, emergent leadership as opposed to traditional leadership. Traditional leadership is, were you president of the chess club? Were you vice president of sales? How quickly did you get there? We don't care. What we care about is, when faced with a problem and you're a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what's critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.

So does content matter? Sure it does. However, the content will change over time, but the ability to learn and the desire to lead will endure even as shifts occur in the world around us. As educators, we only have so much time to work with these studentsthe current groupbut if we can inspire them as learners and leaders, that will carry forward with them. Our impact can endure and continue to pay dividends beyond our time with them.

But we need to help our students have the most authentic learning experience possible. Students need opportunities to practice leading and learning. They need to do things that make a difference beyond just getting a grade or completing an assignment.

You cannot develop as a leader by only reading about it in a book. You can learn leadership principles, but you will only build your capacity as a leader by applying what you learn. You could memorize all sorts of leadership ideas and be a terrible and completely incompetent leader. Growing as a leader happens with the opportunity to practice leadership skills and to get feedback and reflect.

Similarly, you cannot develop fully as a learner if you are only accepting new information. You can memorize stuff. You might get right answers. But that's not enough. Students need opportunities to apply learning, to make choices as a learner, and to refine their personal learning interests. 

The traditional model of school has not served students well in developing adaptable learners or leaders, in my view. Sure, there have been some opportunities to develop in these areas, but we need to consistently provide opportunities for students to develop their capacity as learners and leaders.

What about in your classroom? I certainly hope students are learning content. But are they also having opportunities to develop more deeply as learners and leaders? Are they learning HOW to learning? Are they learning HOW to lead? Leave me a comment. I want to hear from you. You can also share out on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Is It Ever Okay For Teachers To Get Angry With Students?


I wanted to get some feedback from my PLN on whether or not they felt it was okay for educators to get angry with students. So I posted the Twitter poll I included below. Thanks to everyone who contributed to the discussion. Your comments helped to inform my thoughts on the issue. I share some of my thinking below.



1. There are no good or bad emotions. Anger is a normal emotion that every person experiences. Teachers are no exception. To expect a person to never become angry in their professional role is to expect them to become a robot. We don't want robots teaching kids. It's also not healthy to repress anger. Repressed emotions end up manifesting themselves in all sorts of unhealthy ways.

2. Anger can be a force for good. I believe educators who are passionate are more likely to become angry because they don't accept mediocrity or actions that aren't in the best interest of learning and kids. Let's get angry about stuff that matters. Some of our frustrations really don't matter. Let that stuff go. Get angry because you care. Get angry because you want the best for your students. And use that anger as positive energy to create change and make things better in the world around you.

3. It's important to be slow to anger. Being quick-tempered is not a helpful quality. Although I am advocating for some of the benefits of anger here, I think it should usually be more of a slow-simmer rather than a explosive response. When we act too quickly in anger, we will likely do more harm than good. 

4. As I mentioned before, emotions are neither inherently good or bad. They are just emotions. And our emotions are an important part of who we are. Every person is entitled to every one of their feelings. Often we cannot control how we feel, but we CAN control how we respond to what we feel. 

Part of being a mature person is learning how to handle emotions and direct them in positive ways. Teachers need to model this for students. They need to use words to talk about how they are feeling. For example, it's good to say, "When I see a student treat another student disrespectfully, I feel angry." People who can talk about what they are feeling are almost always more skilled at handling emotions. 

So it's always a good idea to describe HOW we are feeling rather than acting out on how we are feeling and expecting others to create their own interpretation. Students need to see teachers modeling this type of awareness for all emotions, including ones like anger, sadness, fear, or embarrassment that might sometimes be frowned upon.

5. If you are finding yourself stuck in anger, that is not a healthy place to be. Emotions should come and go. Anger should subside. Getting stuck in anger or sadness can lead to depression. It can harm your relationships. We want to have balanced emotions.

We held a workshop for our staff several years ago called 8 to Great. We learned the following:


If we think of angry people as "mean," we'll cut ourselves off from our anger and get stuck in depression.
If we think of sad people as "weak," we'll cut ourselves off from our sadness and get stuck in rage. 

7. Is it ever okay to yell at students in anger? Well of course not, you might be thinking. How could an educator ever yell at students and feel like we are acting in a professionally appropriate manner?

One year during our Homecoming week, there was a rumor that our seniors would have silly string and air horns at the assembly. So before the assembly started I talked with the group and explained what I'd heard, and asked them to please not use the air horns or the silly string and of course I explained why. I asked if I could count on them to cooperate on that. They said they would.

Well, when it was time for class yells, the seniors did their thing but there were also a bunch of air horns going off and silly string was going everywhere. It really touched a nerve with me because it seemed so blatantly disrespectful. I had specifically asked them not to do this.

So I made the entire senior class stay after the assembly, and I gave them a highly spirited talk. Was I yelling? Yes, I'd say I was. I explained how disappointed I was in them. I told them how much I cared about them. I told them I would never intentionally disrespect them. I told them how much I wanted them to have a great year. I let them know I knew everyone wasn't responsible, but that what happened wasn't acceptable for Bolivar Liberators. It was a brief, but very intense few moments.

I have very rarely yelled at students over the years. Was this worth yelling about? Is anything worth yelling about in anger? I don't know. Respect is very important to me. It was interesting how many students came up to me and apologized afterwards and even said they completely agreed with everything I said. Were they the same ones with the air horns and the silly string? Probably not. But I think they appreciated that their principal took a stand for what they knew was right.

What do you think? Did I go too far in yelling at the kids? In general, I would say it's never appropriate to yell. How else could I have handled this situation? What are your thoughts on dealing with your anger as an educator? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Focus On Who Students Are Becoming, Not Just Who They Are Right Now


I'm thankful I don't always get what I deserve. Sometimes maybe I've gotten worse, but far more often I've been blessed far beyond what I merited. It's because people believed in me even when I didn't have a clue. And the people who believed in me had a great influence on me.

As educators, we are working with immature human beings. They are kids. Of course, there are plenty of adults who still haven't matured, but that's what we're trying to avoid. We want to help students develop into mature, responsible grownups.

But it can be very challenging. As a teacher, you know you will be mistreated. It's just part of working in a school with kids who bring all their junk with them each day. We should also remember we're bringing our fair share of junk too.

Students are going to challenge your kindness. They aren't always going to appreciate your offers of help. They don't always respond the way we would like them to. And that's why it's important to keep a long-term perspective. Today may have been a really bad day. But let's make sure we have a fresh start tomorrow.

Let's focus on who students are becoming, not just who they are right now. The temptation is to treat students as they deserve. 

I'll treat them with dignity when they act with dignity. I'll show respect when they earn it. I'll show them kindness and help them when they live up to my expectations.

But what if we tried a different approach? What if we extend grace and treat them better than they deserve? What if we focused on showing them we believe in them? Why not try something different?

Today, as I was greeting kids coming into school, I got a good morning high five from a student who has been less than respectful to me this year. I was shocked. More than once, I've thought about directly addressing some of the passive-aggressive behaviors I've felt from the student. 

And that would've been a perfectly appropriate response. In fact, I think some teachers probably need to be more assertive in setting boundaries and communicating expectations. I never want to condone bad behavior. Accountability is important, but the most important thing is growth. Sometimes growth comes from giving someone space to grow.

So in this case, I decided to just continue being nice. I decided to keep smiling, saying hello, and brushing off the subtle offenses. I decided to treat the student with the most care and concern I could muster. And maybe it's working? The high five this morning was a good sign. But only time will tell.

When you extend grace, it can turn a heart around. Instead of allowing a student to create an adversarial relationship, refuse to be part of that. Continue with kindness.

How will you interact with your students? Will you treat them as they deserve? Or will you treat them like they might just change the world someday? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.
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