Thursday, March 24, 2016

Finding Your Teaching Superpowers

Being a teacher is challenging work. A recent blog post on TeachThought reports that on average teachers make 1500 educational decisions a day. And these decisions, when skillfully made, have the power to create amazing learning experiences for students. You are never just a teacher. This is complex work.

And it's work that matters. Teachers have great influence on their students. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly. Your words and actions can be life changing for your students.

But how do you make the greatest impact possible? How do you find your teaching superpowers? Every teacher has a unique set of gifts to bring to their work as an educator. The qualities you have that allow you to have the greatest impact are your superpowers. Here are four ways to build on your gifts and become the very best teacher you can be.

1. Focus on your strengths. No one is great at everything. To be our best we need to focus on our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses. Too many teachers feel ineffectual or less than because they aren't like the teacher down the hall. They compare themselves to others and feel they don't measure up. They may try to be like another teacher they admire. That's not a bad thing. We definitely learn from emulating others, but we can't sacrifice our strengths to be like someone else.

2. Exercise your gifts. Find the things that really make you and your students feel energized, curious, and fully engaged. Find what you do well, and do it over and over again. That doesn't mean you shouldn't also be trying new things, but it's wise to regularly practice the things you do well. Your students will thank you. If you are a good storyteller, use stories. If you are great at asking deep questions, do more of that. If you have a great sense of humor, work that into your lessons. We all have unique gifts that can be powerful. With practice, these gifts become your teaching superpowers.

3. Have the courage to be different. Unhappiness comes when you try to be like everyone else rather than embracing the unique person that you are. Again, it's unhealthy to compare yourself to others. Instead, compete only with yourself. Set goals and compare how you perform compared to what you set out to do. Work to be better tomorrow than you are today. Bring your passions into your teaching and you will have more energy, be more effective, and have more enthusiasm than ever before.

4. Learn to cope with criticism. Have enough confidence in who you are that you can listen to others and be open to change without feeling you have to agree with their viewpoint or attain their approval. There will always be critics who try to pull you down. Learn to distinguish these from the voices of those who want to help you get better. They will offer constructive feedback that can help you grow. And always remember that even if you are striving to be your best, you will still encounter criticism. 

If you are doing these things consistently over time and still don't find the effectiveness and joy in teaching that you desire, it could be you need to make a change. Consider moving to a different position or a different grade level. Or maybe look at working in a different school. You want to feel you are making an impact and reaching your full potential as an educator. 

This great video from Daniel Pink offers two questions to consider each day to find your purpose and find your teaching superpowers.

Two questions that can change your life from Daniel Pink on Vimeo.

Question: What others ideas do you have for becoming your best? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Our Mission is Not Higher Test Scores

I've been reading Good to Great by Jim Collins. It's one of the top business books ever, but it has so much to offer for educators and really for everyone. The principles apply to life in a variety of ways.

In the book, Collins shares the story of Merck, the pharmaceutical giant. At one point in its history, the company gave away millions of doses of a drug that cured river blindness. The disease was caused by a parasitic worm that ultimately caused blindness in victims. 

The point of the story was that Merck didn't profit from distributing the drug charitably to remote places like the Amazon. Collins shared the story to illustrate that Merck had established a purpose for the company beyond profits.

Back in 1950, George Merck, son of the founder, explained the company's philosophy:
We try to remember that medicine is for the patient...It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.
Collins described how the great companies they studied all shared a commitment to core values aside from the desired end resultprofits. The companies all had different core values, but they were consistent in building these into the organization and preserving these values over time.

So how does this apply to schools? In recent years, schools have felt immense pressure to produce ever increasing standardized test scores. It seems that schools were being defined almost exclusively by how well students were doing on achievement tests. 

As a result, many schools lost sight of developing core values other than creating higher test scores. But raising test scores is not a vision for learning. It is not at the heart of what a school is or should be. We have, to an extent, created an identity crisis in education by allowing too much of our value to be defined by high stakes standardized tests.

But the purpose of my post is not to rail against standardized tests. In more recent days, it seems that policy makers have taken small steps to reduce the amount of testing and its exclusive role in defining successful schools. That's all good news.

But what are we doing to establish core values in our schools? Every school has a mission statement, and most of them are quite alike. But do the mission statements really reflect the culture of your organization? What is it you want your school to do better than anyone else? What are your core values?

I've adapted the words of George Merck to education. It's a brief statement about some of my core beliefs.
We try to remember that our school is about learning, and for the students. It's about creating better opportunities. It's about building on strengths and ultimately building stronger people. It is not about higher test scores. However, if we create a future-driven, learner-centered school, higher test scores will likely follow. But if we focus on test scores, we miss the mark badly and will likely fail many of our students.
I would like to see schools think deeply about the outcomes they are seeking for their students. I would like to see students, parents, business leaders, and higher education have a voice in the discussion. What do we really want for our bottom line? It's obviously not profits. And it's not standardized test scores either.

Every community has different needs and every school has different strengths, so I think finding a purpose and establishing core values should be closely tied to the individual school. But instead of focusing on outcomes like graduation rate, test scores, or attendance, maybe some schools would adopt one or more of these core values?

What if a school chose to make ending poverty a reality in its community?

What if a school's purpose was to find a cure for cancer? Or solve some other pressing problem plaguing humanity.

What if a school's purpose was to make learning as customized and personal as possible for students?

What if a core value was to make learning as creative as possible?

What if a core value was to construct learning on a foundation of each student's passions?

What if a school involved students as co-creators of their own learning?

Those are just a few ideas. I think the possibilities are endless. Instead of the same old mission statements, wouldn't it be great to see schools finding a unique mission to drive action and really make a difference in the lives of their students and in the world outside of the school?

Question: What are the core values you would want your school to embrace? What can your school do better than anyone else? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

What Great Leaders Do Differently 2016

Brent Catlett (@catlett1) and Brad MacLaughlin (@IsdBrad) led a great session at #edcamplibertyWhat Great Leaders Do Differently in 2016. I really enjoyed the discussion. It was everything EdCamp should be. There was enthusiastic participation from the room. Lots of great ideas were shared. 

In fact, several ideas were actually applauded. How cool is it that educators are gathering on a Saturday morning to discuss leadership and cheer each other on? The session gave me plenty of inspiration for this post.

So what do great leaders do differently in 2016?

1. They lead themselves first. Instead of focusing on managing others, they lead by example and model the qualities they would like to see in others.

2. Great leaders take risks. They view failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Great leaders make others feel safe to try something new. They understand setbacks.

3. They come from every corner of the school (students, teachers, support staff, etc.not just admin). Leadership is more about disposition than position. Great leaders help develop new leaders and share leadership roles with others.

4. Great leaders are flexible. They see problems as opportunities. They are comfortable with ambiguity.

5. They are present. The entire school is their office. Traditional leaders might manage from behind a desk, but 2016 leaders can work from anywhere.

6. Great leaders are instructional leaders. They are out of the office for a reasonto be supportive of learning.

7. They are authentic. They admit mistakes. They are self-aware. They know their strengths and weaknesses. 

8. Great leaders are digital leaders. They recognize what it takes to succeed in a digital world. They are modeling the use of digital tools.

9. They are quick to give credit. And even quicker to shoulder blame.

Great leaders share the credit and shoulder the blame. Tweet this image.

10. Great leaders know their stuff. They are lead learners. They remain curious and are always seeking to learn.

11. They listen. And strive to understand. They lead with empathy. They lead with heart.

12. Great leaders help others reach their goals. They don't impose their own goals or organizational goals. They start with helping individuals grow.

13. They generate enthusiasm. They have a great attitude, have great energy, and inspire others to be stronger and more enthusiastic too.

A common theme seemed to be that schools should be 'flat' organizations instead of hierarchies. And leaders should be working alongside other team members, in classrooms and hallways, and not separate from them. We need more great leaders for 2016 and beyond. Judging by the group at #edcampliberty this shouldn't be a problem!

Question: What are your thoughts on great leaders for 2016? What do they do differently? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or share on Twitter or Facebook.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Poplular Posts Everyone's Reading #ICYMI

Listed below are some of the most popular posts from my site over the last month or so. By far, the article with the most views was 9 Ways to Make Learning Irresistible. In the post, I share ideas about finding a place of flow in the classroom, where the learner is totally engaged in the work. Check it out to see what you think about creating this type of experience for students.

The other posts were on a whole variety of topics. I tend to write about all sorts of things related to my work as a high school principal. And of course, one of the posts was from a guest blogger, Amber Dlugosh. She shared her experience getting students more fully invested in reading. We had a ton of feedback from readers, so that was exciting for sure.

If you see something here that looks interesting, I hope you'll check it out. And be sure to leave a comment or otherwise connect with me on Twitter or Facebook. I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Guest Post: 5 Ways to Create the Next Generation Library

Guest Post by Bobbie Wooderson

People don't have to visit a library anymore to access information. As a result, successful libraries are adapting to the needs of today's students. The overarching purpose of the school library is still to support literacy and learning, but the modern approach to these goals can look very different than the libraries of yesteryear. I've described five ways we've evolved our space into a next generation library.

1. Enlist brilliance

Every new idea for the library begins with input from students. Everything from the decor, to our Bolivar HS Makerspace, to reorganizing our fiction collection by genre. My students are brilliant, and when I empower them, they come up with ideas I would've never considered. They also share responsibility to carry through the ideas they develop. It has helped create an ownership of the space and has resulted in students promoting the library to their peers. Students feel this is THEIR space! Students are fostering a library community built out of their imaginations. They have helped transform a once traditional library into a high traffic collaboration space filled with creativity. See our Genius Hour group play this out!

(oh and we play music and let them eat in here too..shhh)

2. Repurpose, Reuse, Rebudget

I repurpose everything I can! And I beg for donations. Updating our library to a more current look started with just two cans of paint, two cans of spray paint, and a handful of artsy students and parents. We looked at every white space, blank window, etc. and asked, “How can we use it to promote reading?” Even though we set out to “design on a dime,” I think we did it for pennies.

When we needed a little more money for updated furniture, I surveyed teachers and students to see what online resources they were actually using. As a result, we didn’t renew a couple of our online subscriptions, and this provided the budget to buy eight new couches and funky Ikea lights. It is now a welcome “sanctuary” as the students like to call the space. We stretched our budget by redirecting library funds based on patron feedback. 

3. Focus on the customer

I encourage my students to “treat our visitors like customers.” We want them to walk in happy, and walk out happy with their “purchases.” Whether it’s helping with Chromebooks or finding the perfect book, I expect our student workers to smile, be friendly, and always be available to help. We also work diligently to promote our “products.” We are using Instagram and Twitter for book talks, shout-outs, peer-to-peer suggestions, and staff picks. We market the library and our books to our patrons enthusiastically. And it’s working. We’ve enjoyed circulation increases the last two years and our reading culture is growing stronger. We are creating an inviting atmosphere and teaching students “soft skills” for their future interpersonal interactions. 

4. Bring in the SWAT team

This year our school went 1:1 with Chromebooks. You might think our library would be less busy now with the removal of desktop computers and whole class reserves. Think again! The hub for Chromebooks has become our library. Our newly established SWAT (students working to advance technology) team is helping with any Chromebook/Google needs for students and staff. They will also be learning how to do basic repairs soon. Next year, our giant over-sized circulation desk will become the “help desk." Our library is now the go-to place for learning and technology support.

5. Collaborate like a crazy person!

I love my colleagues. Every day they amaze me with their creativity and passion for making learning purposeful. Along with our students, these like minded educators are the reason our library flourishes. When we heard phrases like “I hate to read,” I collaborated with other teachers to find new ways to put the fire back into reading. Check out my literary partner in crime Amber Dlugosh to find out more about it. Through this collaboration a fun new class launched, Reading Cafe. Check it out on my very bearded buddy, Andy Love's podcast.

Last but not least….my biggest fan is my principal! He believes in our library, supports our innovations, promotes our program, understands setbacks, and guides us by example as a reader and leader.

Collaboration and feedback guides every decision, every purchase, every change in our library. Bolivar High School Library is committed to making our library outstanding for the next generation patron!

Bobbie Wooderson is Library Media Specialist at Bolivar High School. She is passionate about reading, learning, innovation, and student ownership. Although she has worked in the Bolivar district for a number of years, she is in her 2nd year at BHS. In this short time, she has made a remarkable impact. She has been a leader for Genius Hour, makerspace, and modern library design. And, of course, she has been a champion of reading and research in our building.

Question: How has your library changed to meet current needs? If there were no barriers, what would your school library be like? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment below, or respond on Twitter or Facebook

Sunday, March 6, 2016

7 Biggest Surprises of 1-to-1 So Far

Last August we launched into 1-to-1 at Bolivar High School. After years of dreaming and planning we were thrilled to be off and running. We elected to go with HP Chromebooks as our school provided device, but also allowed students the option to use their own device, provided it would run the Chrome browser or be compatible with Google Classroom and Google Apps.

Overall, we have been very pleased with our implementation. There were definitely a few early challenges we had to overcome. And there are some challenges that remain.

1. From our survey data, we learned a majority of parents report that they really don't know exactly how the device is being used for learning. So we have some work to do in this area. I don't think it was for lack of trying though. We held parent meetings leading up to the implementation and have showcased examples of the devices in action through social media and parent newsletters.

As a result of the survey data, our student digital leadership team is planning a Digital Learning Showcase in conjunction with our regular Parent Open House. We are going to have tables set up manned by students who can demonstrate different ways they've used the devices for learning. We'll let parents play Kahoot. And we'll display examples of student work that has been developed using technology. It will be completely student led.

2. It's challenging to get filtering right. Our intent was to filter content at home as well as at school. There proved to be some technical challenges with the original plan our tech department had developed. We ended up choosing Go Guardian as the solution to our home filtering concerns. The only thing we filter at home is adult content.

Filtering at school has also been challenging. Our tech people tell me our current filter is to blame, and we will likely have a new provider next year. It seems we can never be sure what is being filtered from day to day. We wanted to keep YouTube unblocked since so there is so much opportunity for learning there. Of course, there is also plenty of material that isn't right for school, or maybe for anywhere. 

Most social media is unblocked at school. Exceptions are Facebook, Snapchat, and a few others. Again, social media has become much more than a tool for social. It is quickly becoming a major source of business, networking, marketing, and learning and sharing. Maybe we should consider unblocking Facebook too? The decision to keep it blocked was made on the belief that it had fewer benefits to learning than some of the others.

3. Teachers can help lead professional development. Our training plan wasn't nearly as comprehensive as some others. We didn't want to treat everyone as if they were in the same place in their learning. We wanted it to be more customized. Our philosophy is that professional learning is 51% the responsibility of the individual. The school is there to support and create conditions for adult learning as a partner for the other 49%.

So most of our PD was done through sharing with each other and by sharing resources. We did provide teachers with a Chromebook a full semester in advance of our launch to help give them a head start. We held a few Tech Cafe meetings, where teachers met together to learn and share. And, we provided a few lessons online that teachers could work through on their own.

Once a month, we have a group of teachers lead learning for the rest of the faculty by sharing ways they have used digital tools to support learning. The teachers are deciding which tools and practices to share and then leading the staff through some related learning. So basically we asked teachers to own this piece and help other teachers get the information they need to grow.

4. Digital distractions are a concern for teachers. Nearly 60% of our teachers indicated that students were constantly distracted from academic work by the Chromebook. But only 7% of students we surveyed admitted that the Chromebook is a regular distraction. The discrepancy in the perceptions of our students and teachers raises several questions. Do students not think they are distracted but they really are? Is there a difference between what students and teachers consider distracted? Are students in complete denial? Are teachers hyper-sensitive to student multi-tasking?

I'm not sure about the answers to these questions. It calls for further exploration. However, I do think fears about distractions can be magnified by educators. There have always been distractions in the classroom. Students don't need a device for this to be an issue. When I see students slumped over in desks, with their eyes heavy and nearly lifeless, I see a distracted learner in that situation too. Daydreaming. Passing notes. Reading a book. There are lots of ways students have been distracted now and in years past, even without devices.

I think the key to the distraction problem is to create a more relevant, engaging learning environment, one where students are actively learning and not just passively consuming information. I detail a vision for this type of learning environment is a recent post, 9 Ways to Make Learning Irresistible. We will continue to have conversations about this and find ways we can support students and teachers. Dealing with distractions in our connected world is something most everyone faces.

5. There were some early logistical issues we had to work through. Nearly 90% of our students are taking the Chromebook home daily. The others check the Chromebook in and out in our library at the beginning and end of the day. At first, this process was a little crazy. But we now have a few student workers who completely manage the check-in and check-out routine every day. It took some time for us to work out some of the details. As well planned as we were, the devil is always in the details. How do we collect the device when a student moves away? How do we track damage? How do we track loaners? Collect payments? There were a few bumps along the way, but most of these systems are working well now.

Everyone has use of a Chromebook during the school day, but we require students to pay a $25 insurance fee to take the Chromebook home. We wrestled with this issue quite a bit. On the one hand, we don't want students to miss out on access because of lack of financial resources, but on the other hand, we felt there would be greater personal ownership if there was an upfront investment. We tried to make that cost reasonable.

6. We need a more concerted effort around digital citizenship. We did a few things early on to communicate expectations to students. We had some lessons on Google Classroom. We had a guest speaker provide assemblies related to cyber safety. And of course, we have an acceptable use policy. But I still think we need to do more. 

Our teachers are great about using teachable moments to share wisdom about online use. And digital citizenship is part of the curriculum in a couple of courses. But I would like to see us develop a more comprehensive approach that is really embedded in our culture. We've talked about having a system where students can earn greater access, to social media for instance, by completing certain activities and demonstrating positive leadership in this area.

7. And one of our best surprises is that damage to the devices is less than we expected. That's a real credit to our students. They have done a great job taking care of the Chromebooks. Mostly, we've had some broken screens, a few devices that were lost or stolen, and some hardware failures covered by warranty. But overall, we are doing very well in this area. We were able to add 800 devices in our building without adding any additional staff. I don't think that would be possible with any device other than a Chromebook.

There are a lot of moving parts to make a successful 1-to-1 program. Beyond the logistical concerns, the biggest shift has to be in how we teach and learn. Most every teacher in our building has taken steps to use the technology to benefit learning. But we definitely still have room to grow. We didn't mandate how the devices were to be used. Instead, we worked to develop a framework of why technology can be so powerful in shifting agency for learning to the learner. 

I can't say enough about how our technology department has supported this effort. They really make all of the details work so we can focus on the teaching and learning aspects. If they weren't so committed to this project, there is no way we would be where we are today.

Question: What are challenges you see with 1-to-1? What is your best advice for a school considering going 1-to-1? What questions do you have? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or respond on Twitter or Facebook.
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