Last week I was on the beach enjoying an afternoon with the family, building an awesome sandcastle village. Great teamwork was happening. I was building the main castle while my daughter built the huts crabs would stay in. Then suddenly a wave come crashing in and threatens the front of the village. We hunkered down and built a deeper moat around the village, but eventually the waves did their work and eroded the front of our creation. As always, by the next morning there were no signs the masterpiece ever existed.
Do you ever feel like this in education? We work hard to build something, then the new tide comes in and knocks it down? In my 19 years in education I have seen an evolution, but not at the pace it should be. So, what do we do to stop knocking down our own walls?
I don’t have the answers, but I know as a leader I am going to change my perspective. Are the castles we build gone just because the new initiative has a different name? We have to stop worrying about names and acronyms and seek to make connections between the old and the new. In Professional Capitol, Hargraves and Fullen talk about blending the best of the old with taking risks and implementing new ideas.
By changing the way we look at our sandcastles we can enjoy the beauty of what we are building in the moment and look forward to tomorrow where we will get the opportunity to build a better one using the experience we gained from the last. The new sandcastle will be even better if we take the time to reflect upon our process and visualize the creation we are going to make with our fresh palette.
In January I heard of this new trend of replacing resolutions called One Word. I grabbed the book and read it the next day. I printed the sheets that help you figure your word, and then….nothing. My word didn’t come to me. Like our resolutions we normally set in January, I let the creation of my word slip away.
On Easter Sunday we went to church for the first time in quite a while. The sermon was to the theme of broken. An awesome visual was used to illustrate how something that is broken may never be what is was exactly in the past, but it can be used to create something beautiful if put in the hands of a craftsman. Simple concept, we are all broken and Jesus is here to help us fix things. That evening my word came to me.
Mend Definition: repair (something that is broken or damaged).
There are lots of pieces in my life that are “broken.” I am going to dedicate this year to the process of mending those things. I will expound on how in the coming weeks and months through my reflections on here. For now, wish me luck and for any of those of you who are part of my life, thank you in advance for your part in the process.
The last three weeks at school have drug me down. I feel like I am spinning my wheels dealing with drama and situations that do not impact the learning happening in the school. This is frustrating. I went into administration to support great teacher trying to do great things. I know discipline is part of this support, but (ah, there is that magic word).
I fell into the trap. I fell into the downward spiral of the “yeah but” trail that leads to nowhere positive. So now it is time to reflect on why I am truly in the spot I am? Where do I want to be? What are the steps I can take to bridge the gap between the two places?
I am unhappy. Not unhappy with where I work or what I do, I am unhappy with myself for letting myself get into the “yeah but” mindset I hate. I am tired of not being the leader and instigator of positive change I walked into this role planning to be. Right now is the moment that changes. I am kicking my “but” and getting a better attitude starting right now. How many of you feel the same way? What do you do to “kick your buts?”
Imagine it is your closest loved one’s birthday and you are on the way to their workplace to surprise them with a gift. Part of the gift is a beautiful large helium happy birthday balloon you just bought at the store. As you get out of the car, the string to the balloon breaks and the balloon takes off into the sky. Within a minutes time, the balloon is just a dot of color in the middle of a white puffy cloud on the horizon.
What if you were an eight year old girl and this happened to you as you took the balloon to your mama at work? How would you react? Last night this happened to my daughter Chy. As the shock of the moment set in, I looked in her eyes and feared a fathers worst moments, tears in his little girls eyes. While sadness and a bit of confusion of how to fix her dilemma of not having the balloon to present her mama set in, to my shock the tears stayed away. As we talked about the event, I asked Chy, “where do you think the balloon will end up?” Without a delay she answered with a smile, “Sawyer (our pet rabbit who passed away a few months ago) is playing with it in heaven.”
Today I reflect on that moment asking myself, can we all find the positive in moments like this? Everyday we have small events like the lost balloon. How do you react to them? You cannot change the event, so do you seek out the positive that can from it?
As we sit on the beach for our family vacation watching my daughter ride the waves on her boogie board, the term “riding the wave out” keeps coming into my head. I have often heard veteran educators say this phrase. They have seen so much happen in their career, they have created the habit of just riding the wave out. Over the last twenty years politicians have taken more and more control away from the educators when it comes to how we run schools. Is it because we continually ride waves out? It is time for us to stop riding waves out and ride crashing into the waves. Many constraints have been placed upon us, but constraints are just the soft walls around our creative space. All creative spaces have constraints. Lets hop on our boards and ride crashing into the waves. We may fall off our boards a few times in the process, but in the end we will have taken back the ocean of education.
We all have big grand ideas. Let’s call them elephants. Elephants are ideas we believe will change the world. Because of their enormity, it will take a long time to fully develop our elephants into a “doable” plan of action. It may take even longer to convince those around us that the elephant is a good idea. Many people will be scared of the elephant. Elephants are nice to look at from afar, but when it is time to get up-close and personal, most people will stay behind the fence and watch.
So how do we get our elephants to become reality? We eat the elephant. Yep, the entire elephant. So how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. If you truly believe in an idea, take a small bite out of it each and every day. Spend at least 15 minutes doing something that will move your idea forward. It can be as simple as writing a blog post, reading an article, talking to someone or sketching notes. If every day you take one bite out of the elephant, over the course of days, months, and even years you will have eaten the entire elephant. Just think how satisfying that meal will be.
What is your elephant and what bite are you taking out of it today?
English teachers always get on students when they use the word can incorrectly, but do they do the same for the word can’t? How often is the word can’t used correctly? Think about the times you have said the word can’t. How many of those times could you have replaced the word can’t with I won’t, I don’t want to, I don’t know how to, or any other similar phrase? In reality, there are very few things in this world we can’t do. More often we are not willing to do what it would take in order to do something.
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.
People who use the word can’t frequently have a fixed mindset. We need to help them shift to a growth mindset. If we can help people make this semantic shift, we would be helping them begin the journey from a fixed mindset to a growth one. We can all start by modeling the honest use of the words. My question is what else can we do? How can we get those around us to see that the problem isn’t that they “can’t” so something, it is the fact that they are making a choice not to?
If I were to ever reenter the classroom, what would it look like? I have been out of the math classroom for 10 years. A lot has changed. I have changed even more. So, what would it look like? Here are some of my thoughts.
I wouldn’t have grades. Yes, there would be letters at the end of the 9 weeks because the system tells me I have to report out a letter. What would be different is how the letters were generated. There wouldn’t be any daily points that lead to a sum out of a huge total in the end. Mastery of the content and skills would be used to generate the letter. As Dan Pink recently tweeted, “learning should be the carrot.”
I would gamify the classroom. After read Game Storming, I understand that you can turn anything into a game environment. Start with a hook, some way of getting the kids to enter the “game.” Let them diverge from the start into the learning. In the end, they reach a goal. That goal will serve as the starting point for entering the next “game.” I’m not completely sure how to do this yet, but I hope to play more with this idea.
I love the idea of flipping. I hate the misconceptions that are coming with it. Flipping is not a way of removing the teacher. Flipping is a way for the teacher to do more of what is important, spend time with small groups or individuals meeting their specific needs. I would create and use online lessons to serve as the direct instruction. Students would receive the direct instruction on an as need basis. I would use formative pre-assessments to drive the direction students would go.
In part two of this post and beyond I plan on expanding on each of these ideas. Before I get to that, what do you think? What would a secondary math classroom structured this way be like for students?
After watching this, it leaves me asking, should we be turning our schools, classrooms into a game? Would it be more engaging for students? Would they learn more? Deeper? Is this a piece of the evolution our schools need to go through?
On Monday I will be attending the Ohio eTech conference. After attending, and presenting, at this conference for more than a decade, I sometimes wonder why I attend. Just like our schools, this conference looks almost exactly the same today as it did the first time I attended in the 90’s. The technology has improved, but the use of time and space are pretty much the same. Shouldn’t a technology conference that has the power to get thousands of Ohio’s educators in one place be a model of 21st century learning? Shouldn’t this conference look more like an edcamp than every conference held in the 20th century?
The question becomes, how do we get them to change it?
Till then, I am going to make eTech a little like edcamp myself. Instead of worrying about what session I am going to attend next, I am going to seek out who I can have a conversation with next. I hope to see some old friends to reconnect with and make some new ones. I look forward to learning something from the stories I hear.
Oh, I just remembered why I do attend. I get to share the stage with the best teacher I know, my wife.