Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Share Understanding and Spare Pain

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Like many of you, I've had so much on my mind lately. I have several blog posts upcoming that will express more of what I'm feeling. But I wanted to share this quick bit with you. 

If we only read and share things that confirm our current thoughts, feelings, and beliefs...

If we only pursue our own certainty and confirmation of our current way...

If we only listen to the stories of people who are like us...

If we only seek to debate "the others" and don't really listen to them...

If we gather in our tribes and seek opponents instead of allies...

If we dismiss, diminish, deny, or invalidate the pain of others...

If we avoid the things that make us uncomfortable or that are painful...

If we don't question ourselves deeply, our motives, our hearts, our privileged lives...

Then we will never grow, and we will never love more deeply, and we will spread even more pain in this pain stricken world.

How can we develop a spirit of curiosity and empathy for others? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Combine Your Skills With Technology

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The best advantage is the ability to combine your human abilities with the best tools available.

In the world of chess, the best players in the world can no longer beat the best machines in the world.

However, a combination of top players with machines can nearly always defeat a machine-only opponent.

Even more impressive, a slightly above average chess player teamed with a machine can defeat the top computer chess algorithms in the world.

Some people push for technology like it's the answer. But technology doesn't usually solve problems alone. 

Although technology is getting smarter every day, it's most effective when people leverage the technology to solve problems.

It's the combination of well-developed human skills and the effective use of technology advancements that will lead to the best opportunities.

What does this mean for modern learning? How are you taking into consideration the tools your students have at their fingertips?

If students don't learn to leverage their skills with technology, they will always be at a disadvantage.

Learning must consider the world our students live in, and we mustn't cling to the world we grew up in.

If you’re teaching just as you were taught, you’re basically teaching in a time capsule. 

And as a result, your students will be precisely prepared for a world that no longer exists.

How are you teaching your students to leverage technology? How have modern tools changed what is taught or how it is taught in your discipline? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Doing Your Best Work

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No one does their best work out of compliance or out of obligation. 

No one does their best work expecting a reward. 

We do our best work when we see it as a privilege, a contribution, and an enjoyable experience. We do our best work because we want to, not because we have to.

Can you do quality work out of obligation or compliance? Probably so. But you won't do your best work.

Can you do quality work to earn a reward? Probably so. Many people will work very hard for rewards. But again, I don't believe you do your best work for rewards.

I'm not suggesting you won't try hard even if it's out of compliance or even to seek a reward.

But your passion, your purpose, your gifts are greater than transactions. 

This for that. 

Give to get. 

Rewards and punishments.

You'll do your best work when you care about the work. When you care about the people who benefit from your work.

The reward is in the work itself and the opportunity to contribute to something larger than yourself. It's the opportunity to make a difference. It's the opportunity to do something of significance. It's the opportunity to use your unique gifts and strengths in meaningful ways.

Your best work comes from your desire to add value to others. It's from a desire to contribute, not from a desire to be highly esteemed or to avoid punishment.

It's not that we "have to," it's that we "get to" contribute from our very best selves.

Teachers and leaders must create conditions where students/others can do their best work. That means they need a measure of autonomy to use their gifts. They need a purpose larger than themselves. And they need the opportunity to take risks, be creative, and make choices about their learning and the direction of their efforts.

If we're creating an environment driven by compliance or by rewards and punishments, we may get more work out of people, but we won't enjoy the best work from people.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

How to Respond When You Feel Disrespected

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Once I was working with an entire class of freshmen at the beginning of a school year, and one of the kids made some kind of wise-guy comment in front of the whole group. I don't remember exactly what he said, but I do remember that I felt a little disrespected.

Another time, I remember a large majority of students were talking and being disruptive and generally not paying attention. Again, I felt like the students weren't showing their full respect.

If you work with teenagers long enough, you’re bound to experience some of these behaviors from time to time.

In each case, the student or students, may or may not have intended to be disrespectful, but that's how it made me feel. That's an important distinction. How you feel, or how it comes across, and what was intended may be two entirely different things. 

The behavior is probably more about the student(s) and their struggle(s) than it is about you as the educator.

So never tell a kid they're being disrespectful. It's not helpful, and you don't know what's in their heart. The behavior may have felt disrespectful to you, and it should be addressed, but do it in the right way.

Here are three steps I use when dealing with anything that makes me feel disrespected.

1. Let them know you're committed to always treat them with the greatest dignity and respect. 

So instead of accusing them of being disrespectful, let them know how much you care. 

"I want you to know I will never intentionally disrespect you. And if I do, I want you to let me know, so I can make it right."

Start with your behavior. Let them know how you will treat them...always. This is something you can say in a private conversation or with an entire group of students. 

I say this with my full heart because I mean it. I pledge my respect with humility and kindness. This is important to me. I want to preserve respect and show students I care.

Of course, you should only say this if you mean it. They will see right through this if you're sarcastic to kids or talk down to them or use disrespectful tactics to control them.

And then follow up with...

"Have I ever been disrespectful to you in any way? I want to know if you feel that way, so we can talk about it."

And then listen. Usually, they just tell me I've never made them feel disrespected. Of course, there have been times when my behaviors felt disrespectful to a student and responding to that with care is important.

2. Ask them about their intentions based on their behavior.

One of the most common problems in classrooms is students don't respond to reasonable requests made by the teacher. And that tends to make us feel ignored and disrespected. Even if you don't feel disrespected, this same conversation can be good reflection to address a non-learning behavior.

So, after you share your own intentions from the first step, address the behavior you observed.

"When you were on your phone today, after I asked you a couple of times to put it away, how did you intend for that to make me feel?"

And then wait...and listen.

Usually, they will say they didn't intend to be disrespectful. They might explain they're having a bad day, or something is going on that was upsetting, or they just made a bad choice in the moment.

Sometimes they will even apologize. 

3. Find a path forward and invite them to commit to a different set of behaviors.

This step is very important. I've noticed educators often describe the behavior they want to stop, but they don't always get the student to commit to doing better. That makes a big difference.

Listen with empathy if they have reasons to explain away their behavior. But then remind them of the expectations.

"I hear you. You have a lot going on. Stuff outside of school is pressing down. You still can't let your schoolwork slide. The expectation in this classroom is your phone won't get in the way of learning."

"Next time, can I count on you to keep your phone from being a distraction? And if I have to address it, can I trust that you will cooperate with me on that?"

Most every time, in my experience, the student will commit to doing better. But I don't stop there.

I want it to be crystal clear what my expectations are. And I want to check in with the student to make sure the expectations are clear to them also. So I follow up with this question.

"I want to make sure we're both on the same page with this conversation. What is your understanding of what we are agreeing to do going forward?"

Sometimes, students don't have the words to summarize the conversation at first, but I help coach them through it until they can verbalize exactly what the expectation is. I want them to be able to say it clearly because I've found that helps them to feel the weight of the commitment to the new behavior.

After they summarize what's been discussed, I ask one more question.

"I hear you saying that you will make sure your phone is not a distraction. And I believe you. I can tell you mean it. But if it continues to be a problem, what do you think should happen?"

They may have some ideas for responding to this and they may not. But I will further clarify the boundary.

"In the future, if your phone is a distraction again, then this is going to happen." Maybe it will be a phone call home to notify parents, or a discipline referral, or the phone will be "parked" each day at the beginning of class. The important part here is that a clear boundary is created and enforced as promised.

At the end of the conversation, I thank them for helping me work through the issue. And I try to find some way to encourage them. I may give them a complement or joke with them in some way.

Oh and by the way, this exact process will work in any relationship you have, not just with kids. The phrasing might be a little different if you're not an authority figure in that person's life, but the general framework remains the same.

1. Focus on your behavior first. What are you committing to? (respect, love, care towards the other person)

2. Clarify intentions. How did you intend for me to feel?

3. Establish boundaries. What are the behaviors needed to make this relationship work?

Because in the end, it's all about healthy relationships.

Was this helpful to you? What are your thoughts? Let me know what you think. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Authentic PD: 7 Benefits of a Book Tasting Event for Your Teachers

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We recently had a full PD Day for teachers in our building and wanted to do something special to start off the day. I'd heard of book tastings from my Twitter PLN and wanted to give it a try.

A book tasting is an event where people sample different books in a relatively short period of time. I was lucky to have some fantastic help with decorations, planning for food, and setting up our "book store" area.

At our book tasting, we selected about 75 books we felt added value to teaching and learning. Some of them were not necessarily education books. We also included books from psychology, personal growth, leadership, and more.

There were approximately 55 teachers included in our event, so we had plenty of extra books on hand. For each round, participants would select a book to review. We set a timer for 5 minutes for participants to quickly scan the book, look at the table of contents, pick out some interesting quotes, and take a few notes.

Each participant had a "menu" to help guide their book tasting experience. It included some general instructions and some questions to guide thinking.

Menu adapted from:

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

How Humor Contributes to School Culture

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I'm not sure exactly how it got started, but for the past few years I've shared a joke every morning with our entire building to start the school day.

It's important to me to help get each day off to a good start and part of that is my daily attempt to inject some humor. Let me tell you, though, it can be a lot of pressure to have a new joke every day. I am constantly searching for new material.

And I have to admit, my jokes get a mixed response. In my mind, people are laughing all over the building. But in reality, I think mostly it's eye rolling that's happening all around the building.

But there have been some interesting things that have happened as a result of this simple routine.

1. Students and staff share jokes with me regularly. I guess they think I need some better material. A teacher recently sent a student out of class to find me, because they had a really good joke for me.

2. When I see parents, they will share jokes with me. They always think their jokes are the funniest. I bet their kids disagree.

3. Multiple students have bought me joke books. "Hey, Dr. G, I picked up this book for you at Barnes and Noble over the weekend. You need all the help you can get!" 

4. One student rates my jokes each day. When he sees me, he will say, "Dr. G, your joke today was a 3 out of 10." I rarely get higher than a 5 or 6, and often it's a 1 or 2. Oh well.

5. On a survey of my faculty for feedback on my performance as their principal, one comment suggested that I should "watch some professional comedians and take notes." I wasn't sure how to take that.

6. We occasionally have some students and staff members who provide the guest joke of the day, to offer some variety.

7. We've also had joke battles. A student tells a joke. I tell a joke. And then everyone votes for which one they liked best via Google Forms. I've lost the joke battle every time.

8. One student in particular, who is living in extreme poverty and struggles in school, has been a joke champion for me. He has the best jokes, and he is constantly helping me with my material. I think he gains something significant from that. I know I do.

9. When students were asked to write notes of thanks/encouragement to a staff member, I was grateful to receive a couple that mentioned that they liked my jokes. Those kids are going to go far in life!!!

It's probably clear to you now that this joke of the day thing is really not about the jokes. 

It's about making connections.

It's about a sense of belonging.

It's about creating an environment that kids and adults enjoy. 

It's about bringing people together. 

And those are things that really matter for nurturing your school culture.

What rituals do you have at your school that contribute to your school culture? Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Experience Alone Is Not Enough

I recently finished reading Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool.

One of the things in the book that was interesting to me was related to the impact of experience on performance. In 2005, Harvard Medical School published a review of existing studies on how years of practice in the field influences the care of doctors.
"If years of practice make physicians better, then the quality of care they give should increase as they amass more experience. But just the opposite was true. In almost every one of the five dozen studies included in the review, doctors' performance grew worse over time or, at best, stayed about the same.
 The older doctors knew less and did worse in terms of providing appropriate care than doctors with far fewer years of experience, and researchers concluded that it was likely the older doctors' patients fared worse because of it. Only two of sixty-two studies had found doctors to have gotten better with experience."
Other studies have noted similar results when looking at medical professional decisions as well as the performance of nurses. Counter to what might seem intuitive, experience didn't seem to correlate with improvement. The reasons for this phenomenon aren't completely known. However, it seems very clear that with few exceptions, experience alone is not enough.

I'm guessing this truth might also apply to educators. If you've worked in education long enough, you've probably observed people who have continued to grow and improve, but you've probably also noticed that some people tend to stay the same in spite of experience, or even decline in some sad cases.

So what makes the difference? How can experience be valuable to continued growth and improvement?

Here are three ideas I might suggest...

1. Not knowing can be a strength. 

As we gain experience in the profession, we can fall into the trap of being certain about things when we shouldn't be. We are no longer curious or open to other perspectives or open to new information. We cling to our beliefs even when they aren't true or helpful. A better approach is to test our ideas and beliefs and seek opportunities to abandon unhelpful approaches in light of new information and possibilities. Sometimes unlearning can be as valuable as learning.

How are you challenging your own beliefs and practices?

2. Widen your perspective.

While we may feel experienced because of the amount of time we've spent in education, our experience may be limited in its useful because of the context that surrounds us. In other words, unless I see beyond my classroom or school, I may not be able to accurately reflect on what is possible for my classroom or school.

Something that has been helpful to my own growth has been examining my own experiences with those of others from different schools. I've learned from visiting others schools, from connecting with other educators outside of my school, from hearing their stories, and from consistent engagement with the larger education world on Twitter. I've also gained perspective from reading professional books and articles. It's important for ALL educators to pursue these types of opportunities to support their own growth.

If we don't widen our perspective, we create a type of professional bubble, where the types of ideas and practices we know and develop are probably very limited. We don't know what we don't know, and we get locked into a certain type of thinking.

How are you seeking to widen your perspective beyond your current context?

3. Reflection is required for learning

As John Dewey said, "We don't learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience." Experience alone will not result in growth or change. We must have a process for collecting feedback about our experience and then considering how we might adjust in light of that new information.

If we're not careful, we rush on to the next thing without slowing down to consider what might be different next time. The tyranny of the urgent keeps us from a process of reflection and adjustments that might result in a better learning experience for our students.

How are you developing and refining a process for continual reflection?

Does this sound right to you? What are your thoughts on experience and effectiveness? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Facebook or Twitter.
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