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.