Friday, November 24, 2017

5 Reflective Questions to Encourage a Growth Mindset


A teacher at one of our elementary schools shared this recently. She was talking about how she encourages her students to persist in the face of difficulties.

Instead of saying something that makes a wrong answer seem like a curse or worse, she encourages the process. She says to students with curiosity and wonder, "Oh, that's my favorite mistake!"

Students are then able to view problem-solving as something that is not just about getting a right answer. It's about having thinking that perseveres. It's about staying with the problem longer.

Thomas Edison failed over and again in trying to invent the incandescent light bulb. He documented 1,000 failed attempts before he was successful. When a reported asked him how it felt to fail 1,000 times, he replied, "I didn't fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." 

Our district has adopted new math curriculum, and it's challenging. But kids are rising to the occasion. And a big reason it's successful is the focus on the process and the greatness of teachers to promote perseverance and model growth-mindset thinking.

Here are five questions to ask your students to help them reflect on their own mindset. The questions might need some unpacking for younger students. But I think all kids can think about these ideas.

1. When I start to feel like quitting, what will I do in that moment to persevere?

This might be the most powerful question on the list. When people decide exactly how they will respond to a difficulty in advance, they are far more likely to push through in the face of the challenge.

2. What are my thoughts telling me about how successful I might be at learning this skill? If these thoughts are limiting to me, how might I think differently?

Lots of kids are thinking thoughts that are self-limiting. "I'm not good at math" for instance. It's helpful to think of phrases that are filled with belief and resourcefulness to replace the negative thinking. Teachers can help students find the words for this.

3. What am I saying or doing to myself that is holding me back?

There are many things that can undermine a growth mindset. Excuses, justifications, worries, perfectionist thinking, thought patterns, past failures, etc. It's important to recognize what unhelpful beliefs students need to overcome.

4. What would I want my teacher to say to me when he/she sees me taking a risk, trying hard, or pushing through mistakes to pursue this goal?

This question is helping to shift the perspective to expecting success. When I try hard, good things happen. My teacher will say this to me, and that feels good.

5. Imagine how you will feel when you accomplish something that is really challenging. Describe that feeling. 

Again, this one is beginning with the end in mind. Getting a picture of success is so important. Humans are the only creatures on the planet with imagination. We can experience the whole range of emotions through our minds. Visualization is extremely valuable. It teaches the brain to expect success.

When gymnast Mary Lou Retton won her first gold medal, a reporter asked her, "How does it feel to win gold?" 

She replied, "Just like it's always felt."

"But this is your first gold medal?" said the puzzled reporter.

"Yes, I know. But I've experienced this moment thousands of times in my mind," she explained.

The power of belief cannot be understated.

What do you think about these questions? Do you have suggestions for other questions that might be helpful for students? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Power of Keystone Habits



I'm currently reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business by Charles Duhigg. I couldn't put it down. These ideas are immediately relevant in trying to help myself and others (teachers and students) build capacity to do more and be more.

One profound takeaway for me is how small changes can lead to bigger changes and superior results. Habits are powerful, even ones that may not seem directly related to a particular outcome. 

Alcoa

When Paul O'Neil was named CEO of metals producer Alcoa, the company had been underperforming for years. Many questioned his selection for the top position, but after he spoke to shareholders the first time, he was especially under the microscope. You see, he didn't talk about raising profits. He spoke of creating the safest company possible.

He created an intense focus on worker safety, something he felt everyone in the company could get behind. The company had problems with quality and efficiency, but he didn't focus on on that. He made worker safety the driving concern.

But as his safety measures were implemented, quality and efficiency improved across the board, and soon Alcoa was turning profits that were extraordinary. Even though the company's energy wasn't focused squarely on profit-driving levers, those levers were subsequently effected by the focus on safety.

Impact of Exercise

Researchers have found over the decades that people who introduce consistent exercise routines into their lifestyle, also seem to improve other patterns in their life, often unknowingly.

They also improve their eating habits, smoke less, show more patience with others, and even use their credit cards less. It's almost like the consistent, positive change spills over into other parts of life. As exercise improved, so did other aspects of life, and it even happened unknowingly for participants. They weren't aware of the improvements they were making.

These types of habits, that tend to have the spill over effect, are referred to as keystone habits. They are the key to improving in a whole variety of ways.

Weight Loss

The conventional advice for weight loss was to join a gym, exercise more, follow restrictive low-calorie diets, and take the stairs instead of the elevator. Of course, those actions are helpful if you stick with them but most weight loss patients would not. They would follow them for a few weeks but slip back into old patters.

But when researchers asked 1600 obesity patients to make one simple change and keep a journal of what they ate for an entire day at least one day a week, the results were extraordinary. The people who kept the journal lost twice as much weight as those that did not and other behaviors changed, like exercise and diet, even though the researchers didn't make any suggestions to the patients about exercise or diet. They simply asked them to log what they were eating. It seems the journal was a keystone habit.

Other Keystone Habits

Families who eat together on average have children who make better grades, have more emotional stability, and demonstrate more confidence. 

Making your bed every morning has been shown to correlate to increased productivity, sticking to a budget, and better overall sense of well-being.

These keystone habits establish small wins in a person's (or organization's) life that can translate to bigger wins.
"Small wins are a steady application of a small advantage," one Cornell professor wrote in 1984. "Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win." Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

Implications for Educators

Are we taking advantage of small wins? Are we leveraging keystone habits in schools? 

Often when thinking about improving student achievement, we simply double down on math or reading. We implement more interventions. We increase the rigor, give more homework, or take away electives in favor of core instruction. And maybe we do increase performance just a little.

But at what cost? Is it worth it if we are sacrificing the joy of learning?

And, are we overlooking other levers that might yield better results and produce stronger learners?

What if we looked at other factors that might produce small wins and set some goals around these areas? I was part of a conversation with some local school leaders who were discussing goals for the year. 

One of the schools was focusing on getting more kids involved in school activities. Involvement in sports, clubs, fine arts, etc. has shown correlation to student achievement in studies. If we can get a small win in this area, it's good for kids regardless, and perhaps it will spill over to classroom learning.

What if you worked on having extraordinary greetings and made that an important habit in your school?

What if everyone made it a point to call students by name, make eye contact, and smile more? 

What if you focused on proximity in the classroom? Moving from the front of the room, sitting by students, being with students instead of in front of them.

I'm going to continue to reflect on how we can leverage the power of small wins in our school. What do you think about your classroom or school? 

Have you seen examples of the power of small wins? What do you see as possible keystone habits educators could develop in students? 

Leave a comment or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I'm curious what's on your mind.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A Lesson On Gratitude


Tis the season of gratitude and thanksgiving, and the video below had me thinking about what it means to be grateful.

Have you ever heard the saying, "You started at third base but you thought you hit a home run?" The idea is that sure you are successful, you hit a home run, but it was due to the advantages you had as much as it was due to the way you hit the ball. After all, you started at third base.

The video below illustrates the idea of social and economic advantage and how these advantages can impact chances for future success. It's undeniable that certain starting points in life can create greater opportunities for success.

I think this video could be a great launching point for discussions with students. There is plenty to think about and even to critique. It's powerful, but there are plenty of opportunities for critical thinking.



So who should be grateful in this video? Some might say the kids with the most advantages. They have more to start with than the others after all. It's statistically true that people with those advantages tend to be more successful on average than those who do not.

But here's the thing about gratitude, it should not be dependent only on having more or even having enough. Gratitude is a state of mind that is available to all of us all of the time. 

After all, if you aren't grateful for what you have now, what makes you think you would be grateful if you had more? Unless you make a choice to be grateful in all things, how will it ever be enough?

It's very difficult to adopt this mindset in our consumer driven culture. Even in the video, the end goal is a $100 bill. We are constantly reminded of what we don't have. But life is not about racing past someone else to win. It's not about having the most money or toys.

Life has far more to offer than economic success. Some of the poorest people in the world live the most meaningful, happiest lives. They are finding joy in life in spite of having very little material wealth. Every day presents its blessings or burdens. We choose our focus.

Everyone has challenges in life and everyone has opportunities. Sure, some have more challenges and some have less, but everyone has the opportunity to choose two things: thoughts and actions. 

Will you choose to focus on your blessings or your burdens? Will you choose actions that lead to blessings or ones that lead to burdens?

Stephen Covey wrote, "I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions."

Ultimately, I believe this is true. We can rise above circumstances, eventually. It may not happen as fast as we'd like. There are many stories of people who have risen above, people who are overcomers. There are people who have overcome terrible hardships and horrific circumstances, even abuse and neglect. If it is true for some, why can't it be true for all?

For all the problems we have in this country, there are still incredible opportunities, even if the deck is stacked against some more than others. Are there inequities? Absolutely. Should we be satisfied with a system that works against some? Absolutely not. But there are also tremendous opportunities for those who choose to rise above.

We need to help all students learn to be grateful even in the midst of challenges. Why? The research is clear (Harvard Health)
Gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.
Gratitude is an empowering state of mind. It helps us realize that we have blessings in our life. It also helps us offer blessings into the lives of others. 

There may be difficulties and disparities in our world. There always have been injustices and as long a human being are running this planet, that will probably continue to be true.

I would summarize my response to the video I shared with two questions:

1. Who will you lift up?
2. What will you rise above?

Who will you lift up? You have gifts to give. You can be hope and help to someone else. You can lift up someone who might need a helping hand.

What will you rise above? There will be challenges. There will be obstacles. But you have everything you need to be great. Just keep moving in the direction of your dreams.

What's on your mind? I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Facebook or Twitter

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Don't Let What's Urgent Keep You From What's Important



I bet you are a fantastic problem solver. Most educators have developed this ability because problems come at you all day long. And you make hundreds of decisions from dawn till dusk.

Our time is a precious resource that can be extremely scarce because of all the demands we face. If we're not careful, the tyranny of the urgent will consume us and may crowd out time for what's most important.

Can we agree that the things that are most urgent are often not the most important? Reflect on your day. There were things you felt had to be done. But at what cost?

When you spend all your time dealing with urgent matters, not considering what things would have the highest leverage for success, you are simply spinning your wheels. Lots of activity not going anywhere.

Benjamin Franklin dedicated 5 hours of his week to learning. His personal growth and learning was a priority. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Oprah Winfrey also share this personal commitment to learn at least one hour a day and probably more.

You will never reach your growth potential if you are captive to the urgent.

We did a strengths finder with our staff about a year ago. It was a survey instrument that gave us feedback on our strength areas. We shared these out in a meeting and enjoyed reflecting on how our differences make us collectively strong.

But we all got a chuckle when I asked for teachers to raise their hands if love of learning (one of the characteristics) made their top five strengths. Surprisingly, in this sizable group of educators, only 2-3 teachers had it in their top five.

Of course, I think our teachers love learning. But I also wonder how much of a priority we are giving to our own growth and learning. I challenge you to spend at least 5 hours a week learning and see how it impacts your effectiveness.

For me, my learning each week involves reading, blogging, connecting with other educators on Twitter, and thinking and reflecting. 

Make time to support your own growth and learning and watch how it influences the learning and growth of your students.

The most successful people in the world are extremely busy and they are still finding time to read and learn consistently. Don't let the urgent things rule over you. Take back what's important and invest in your own growth.

How are you growing and making time for the 5-hour rule? What are you reading? Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

11 Things You Might Unintentionally Be Communicating to Your Students



Some things we communicate intentionally. And sometimes when we fail to communicate intentionally, we send a message that we didn't mean to send.


Here are 11 things you might unintentionally be communicating to your students.

1. When you don't wait for all students to get quiet and give you their attention before you start talking, you might be communicating that it's not really important that they listen to you.

2. If you complain about the school, other teachers, or the way things are, your students will probably think it's okay to be negative about the school, other teachers, and probably your classroom too.

3. When you pass a student in the hall or they enter your room and you don't say hello or call them by name, they may think you don't really care about them.

4. If you give a grade for every assignment or activity and talk about how "this or that is going to be on the test," your students may think your class is more about grades than learning.

5. If the questions you ask have just one correct answer, there's a good chance your students will think your class is all about right answers, not about being better thinkers.

6. If you only recognize the 'A' students or celebrate the kids who have high test scores, that may communicate that only the 'smart' kids matter and that growth is not valued.

7. If you make mistakes in front of your students and then act defensive or embarrassed, you might be sending the message that only perfection is accepted and risk taking is not appreciated.

8. When you break a school policy or act like the rules are no big deal, you might send the message you don't really value a culture of respect and shared responsibility.

9. If you aren't intentional about making your classroom innovative and future driven, you may be sending the message to students that what their parents learned in school will be good enough for them too.

10. When you come in dragging, lack energy, or just don't give your best, you might be communicating to students that it's okay to try hard only when you feel like it.

11. If you don't give students choices in their learning or opportunities to pursue their passions, they may view learning as more about compliance than actually being about...well...learning.

We have to be very careful about what we are communicating. Kids are always watching. They want to see alignment between our words and actions. They are looking to see what we really think, what we really believe, and how much we really care about them.

What is being communicated in your school unintentionally? I think that's a good question to consider. I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What If We Aimed for Collective Greatness?



This summer I heard Ron Clark speak and tell his story of how he became one of our nation's most celebrated teachers and ultimately founded the Ron Clark Academy. It's truly an inspiring story for educators. 

He came into education almost by accident. He was only going to teach temporarily until something better came along. But then he started to love it. And the kids loved him. And he was having unbelievable success, even with the most challenging students. He was setting very high expectations, and he was creating learning experiences that were irresistible.

And then the principal of the school came to him and said, "Why are you being so showy? You're making the other teachers very uncomfortable." 

He was getting fantastic results. He was bringing passion, enthusiasm, and energy to the classroom. Kids were learning. Kids were having fun learning. Test scores were skyrocketing. You would think everyone would want to replicate what Mr. Clark was doing, right? You would think they would want to learn from him, right?

Wrong.

Years ago, after I had given a suggestion to a teacher about a practice another teacher was using, I was surprised by the response.

"Oh, she runs circles around all of us."

The teacher said this with a measure of envy and a touch of self-defeat. It seemed like she was saying she could never do that. I hadn't intended there to be a comparison between the two teachers. I was just sharing that so-and-so tried this one practice and it seemed to work.

Average minds want other people to have average minds too. They feel threatened by the boldness and daring of those who want to do something great. How dare you try to be great? You're making us look bad. You're making me uncomfortable.

So what kind of dreams do you have? What kind of difference are you trying to make? If you want others to be comfortable and accepting of you, maybe you should keep those hopes and dreams just a little smaller.

When you dream big and want to do more, be prepared for opposition from mediocre minds. There will always be naysayers who want to protect the status quo. They want to retreat to average and aim for nothing greater.

But you are different. You have gifts that you want to use. Everyone has gifts if they are willing to take the risk of using them. You aren't going to waste them. Don't waste your gift! 

People may not always appreciate your gift, but don't let that stop you from using it. Don't let someone else keep you from pursuing excellence.

Find those people who will allow you to change, grow, develop, expand, and be great. Better yet, find those people who will challenge you and encourage you to be great. Be around people who lift you up and want to see you dream big. 

Keep dreaming big.

If you want to be a difference maker, you have to be a risk taker. Your students will reach their potential only if you are willing to unleash your own potential. It's never a competition to be better than the teacher down the hall. Everyone has greatness in them. 

They should want to be great too! We want them to be great too!

We should all be pursuing greatness together, cheering each other on, celebrating each other's successes, and learning from one another. 

That's what we are ultimately pursuing. We want collective greatness. We want to create a school where excellence is everywhere. Not just pockets of excellence. We want a school where kids are experiencing learning that will literally change the course of their lives.

What can you do to further your dreams and help your school find collective greatness? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. Be great!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

9 Ways to Shift the Energy in the Classroom


The current generation of students is dealing with more stress and anxiety than ever before. I'm sure there are many reasons for this, but regardless of the causes we must work to help address the reality.

Here are the stats as reported in an article from Time:
A study of national trends in depression among adolescents and young adults published in the journal Pediatrics on November 14, 2016 found that the prevalence of teens who reported an MDE in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7% in 2005 to 11.5% in 2014. That’s a 37 percent increase. (An MDE is defined as a period of at least two weeks of low mood that is present in most situations. Symptoms include low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, and problems with sleep, energy and concentration.)
We hear the stories every day of kids fighting depression, feeling overwhelmed, struggling with problems with friends, parents, or both. There seem to be more kids than ever who are no longer living with parents at all.

And here's the thing, if you are depressed or filled with anxiety, how are you going to focus your energy on learning? You probably won't unless you shift your thinking. Or unless something in your environment helps you shift your thinking.

One of our teachers commented, "I want my class to be an oasis for students. For the time they are in my class, I want it to be so good they forget the problems on the outside."

So how do you do that? How can you help kids shift energy from a focus on problems to a focus on learning? 

Here's what won't work.

"Class, yesterday we worked on such and such and today we will do such and such. So let's get started."

Ready, set, go.

It's an abrupt attempt to start learning. That won't work because a bunch of kids in class are still thinking about how bad they feel, what was said to them that's hurtful, or how they are going to deal with that personal problem. They are distracted. They aren't emotionally in a good place to learn.

I believe every learner would benefit from more 'right-brain' directed starters in class. Lead with something that helps them access positive emotions, creativity, empathy, and connection.

It might take a few minutes to plan and execute these strategies, but it will be well worth it. In the end, there will be more learning by  helping students get the right focus. Start class by shifting the energy. Get kids in the right mindset first.

So here are 9 possibilities to make this happen. Find ways to open your class with one or more of these. And, look for ways to have these things show up throughout your class, too. It will help to inspire learning. 

1. Humor - Tell a joke, make fun of yourself, or do something zany and off the wall.

2. Music - Play upbeat music as students are coming into class. It's amazing how the right music can put us in a different mood. 

3. Relaxed Breathing - Slow, deep breathing and quiet relaxation can help students to calm body and mind.

4. Imagination - Have kids write or share with each other on topics that require imagination. What if you could time travel? What time would you visit? Why?

5. Drama - Create some fun drama in the class. Have a debate about something ridiculous. Launch an investigation. Make it absurd. Be over the top.

6. Play - Toss a ball around the class. Have a quick game. Nothing too competitive. Just bring some whimsy and playfulness to class. 

7. Movement - Stand up and stretch. Give a high five to someone. Or go for a quick walk outside of class.

8. Sharing Gratitude - Ask students to share something they're thankful for. Help them be grateful for the little things.

9. Stories - Share stories real and imagined. Find out what's going on in their lives. I always had some winning stories that I told just about every year. Kids were on the edge of their seats.

These techniques are not intended to treat anxiety or depression, but they can temporarily relieve the symptoms. Of course, students who have depressive disorders need professional help. But for the time they are in your classroom, maybe you can help them focus on learning by using these strategies.

What do you think? Do you have other ideas for shifting the energy in your classroom? I listed several general categories. I would love to hear your specific ideas. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Fewer Excuses, More Solutions



What stands in the way of a brighter future and better schools? 

Well, mostly people. 

People who tell others they can't or won't.

People who crush dreams and steal hope.

People who won't be parents to their kids.

People just showing up and going through the motions.

People who want higher test scores more than inspired learning.

People who cling to the past like it's a security blanket.

People who protect the status quo.

People making decisions for schools who are removed from the realities of what schools face.

People who spew hate and discord.

People who don't make kids a priority.

People who are selfish.

People who turn on each other, or a good leader, when something goes wrong instead of battening down the hatches.

People who make performance in sports or academics or anything more important in a kid's life than being a person of high character and respect.

People who make their own comfort their primary concern.

People who are petty.

People who complain about other people. I hate that!

People who are negative, pessimistic, or who go on rants. Rants are the worst!

Well, that felt good. But the problem is the more I think about the items on my rant list, I realize I'm probably guilty of many at some time or another. Like complaining or ranting. Ha! 

As they say, it takes one to know one. In fact, someone suggested the things we tend to like the least in ourselves, we often magnify in others. In other words, we're more likely to see faults in others in areas we too have struggles. 

And here's the other thing, it doesn't do any good to complain about what other people need to do. We need fewer excuses and more solutions. We need less focus on problems and more focus on actions. It starts with us. I cannot control another person, but I can control me. 

I can encourage.

I can reach out.

I can step out.

I can lead up.

I can lift up.

I can never give up.

I can be the change I want to see. 

I can set the example. 

I can keep growing and giving. 

I can dream of a better future.

I can work to be stronger myself, cause I have plenty of room to grow and learn. 

I'd like to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Are Innovative Teachers Happier?


I remember a post from George Couros about a teacher sharing how innovation had helped with improving classroom management. The educator reported that "the more innovative I have become, the less classroom management I have to deal with."

It was a great post, and I think the idea definitely has merit. Recently, I've noticed another thing. It seems like educators who have the inclination to take risks, innovate, and empower students, seem to have more energy and seem more satisfied in their jobs. 

It seems like innovative educators are happier. They seem more optimistic. They seem to have more hope. 

When they face problems, they see lots of possibilities to address the issue. They are willing to try different solutions. They aren't always expecting something outside of their control to change. They look to themselves first or partner with colleagues to find solutions instead of expecting a different structure, schedule, program, etc. to make the difference.

There are so many highly committed educators working extremely hard, putting in a ton of effort, who seem to be carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Sometimes they are trying to 'will' students to learn, but the methods they are using are the same ones they used last year or the year before that. They are just pushing harder with the same methods.

The innovative teacher will ask, "What might work with this group of students?" The innovative teacher is willing to try just about anything to reach these kids, all of them. These teachers are working hard too, but they are willing to change and be creative and step way out of their comfort zone to help kids learn.

They aren't just working harder. They are becoming more flexible in their thinking. There might be a better way to do this. They look for ways to make learning work better for kids instead of trying to force kids to adjust to how learning works in this class.

But why do they seem happier? More satisfied?

I think it's because they are hopeful for the future. They believe a better outcome is possible if they keep growing and learning. Other teachers are attached to their methods, their way of doing things, and when it keeps failing, well, that's quite disheartening.

The happiest teachers are the ones who are connecting, learning, trying new things and believing that even though things might be tough now, things can and will get better. 

So what do you think? Are innovative people happier? Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook
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