Inclusion? Inclusive? Respect…

Inclusion? Inclusive?  Respect…

This morning, on my way to work, I was thinking about the notion (yes, notion…) of inclusion.  I’d spent a day and a chunk of change to attend a workshop on inclusion in the school community. I got to thinking…Inclusion? Inclusive?  What’s the difference?

Have you ever joined a new group?  They’ve posted a call for new members looking for fresh faces and fresh ideas and you think, “This might be someplace for me to contribute as well as to learn and grow.”

You put on your strongest face and brave the first meeting.  When you introduce yourself, you explain that you saw the call and thought you could… well… contribute, learn and grow.  You explain that you’ve been following the group or it’s chapter for some time.  You’re a subscriber to their values and beliefs and really feel open to the possibilities you can bring to the table. They appear enthusiastic and you feel the possibilities growing in your heart.

But along the course of the coming months, you see the leader of the group at other events.  The first time, you greet him/her warmly.  But he/she seems ceremonious in his/her greeting.  You think, well, perhaps he/she is busy with the events at hand. 

But the second, third time you meet/see this person out and about, you’re sure that he/she has seen you. And you see that look.  The one that comes from the corner of their eyes.  Their eyes avert yours and you begin to feel uncomfortable.  You’re not sure why.  Not sure why they would avert their eyes.  You’re not sure what you may have done.  After all, you only see this person occasionally and most often at the group meetings.


I couldn’t help but wonder: do we know that we do these things?  What is that about?  Do we do these to our students?  How does the ‘inclusion’ become ‘inclusive’?  When does inclusion become more than a model? 

As I pondered this idea, it occurred to me that inclusion moves to inclusive when respect is present. 

I know I’m not the first to see this connection.  In the workshop I mentioned earlier, the speakers spoke about the efforts they used to make inclusion their schools an accepted model.  The speakers talked about character education; building respect was tops on the list.

During the workshop presentations, the speakers, as you would expect, spoke about how each of us have differences.  They presented how their 4th graders worked with the pre-school disabled class.  The students spoke of the empathy and compassion they developed from understanding that disabilities are nothing more than strengths in other areas.  Again, as I reflected on the workshop, it was clear that the students were developing respect for the disabled students.

I wondered:  Does that respect carry over to their peers?  Are the students more understanding, respectful and thoughtful… more open to their peers with whom they are not friends after experiencing the positive outcomes from their inclusion experience? 

As well educated individuals, we are aware that research shows diverse teams perform better.  In  1999, (eons ago…) Stanford University Graduate School of Business published the results of Margaret Neale and her colleagues’ research on team diversity.  Not surprisingly, Neale, the John G. McCoy-Banc One Corporation Professor of Organizations and Dispute Resolution at Stanford Graduate School of Business and her team found that diversity is not only limited to color, gender or age. “Diversity is also based on informational differences, values or goals that influence what one perceives as the mission of something as small as a single meeting or as large as a whole company.”

So.. what does this have to do with the ideas of inclusion, inclusive, and respect?

It is human nature, I presume, to fear bringing someone into a group that could, in effect, derail your best laid plans.

Patton

My father, a successful entrepreneur, used to say to me, “If we’re all thinking the same, then no one is thinking.”  Thanks to the internet, I’m guessing he was paraphrasing George Patton’s famous quote.  Truthfully, this has apparently been attributed to many people, but I will always attribute it to my dad…

The idea of seeking out an opinion that challenges your ideas takes bravery. It is not used by leaders who are faint of heart or just want to get on with the process.

It is an idea, though, that sits in the back of my mind at all times and I think its most profound influence is that I am open to dissenting opinions, perhaps, some might say, to a fault.

But as a leader, I am always interested in the person’s perspective that least agrees with mine. This could, I guess, be perceived as a weakness; I might appear unsure of myself or my decisions.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I want to hear their perspective.  Not because I am humoring them; not because I am unsure.  Rather, because it is as my father had said, we can’t and shouldn’t all think alike.  He’d explained that being surrounded by ‘yes’ people was not what had helped him grow his business.  Quite the contrary. While he may not have embraced the idea proposed, he’d explained, it did give him something to consider.  What and how he chose to use the information varied. But, he’d said that it usually gave him something to think about.

Which leads me to my question: When is inclusion inclusive?

I would suggest that it stems from my belief that inclusion isn’t inclusive if not accompanied by the respect for the possibility that another’s ideas, talents, and experiences could find a flaw in my thinking, my plan. 

I explain this as my desire to turn the faceted apple to the light as many ways as possible in order to expose an unforeseen weakness or oversight in my plan.  It is only when I am certain that I’ve uncovered as many of these possibilities, within the given constraints, that I will commit my team to a new path.  (Even once committed, I am still listening for ideas that may tweak the path for the better.)

I believe that being open to finding that idea is one of the keys to effective leadership.  Respect for ideas (and the unlikely people that may bring them) just might be the twist your plan needs to be the most successful idea ever.

Reference:

  • “Diversity and Work Group Performance.” Stanford Graduate School of Business. N.p., 1 Nov. 1999. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.

The Power of Intuition

It’s Saturday morning and I’m at my regular breakfast stop:  my kitchen counter with my computer at hand.  I’m watching some light Saturday morning news, which is my ‘brain break’ from the normal research and heavy reading I do during the course of a normal week.

A news story catches my interest.  A medical doctor is being showcased not to acknowledge how data drives his medical decisions (which  it does), but how intuition plays as big a role in an initial assessment of his patient.

As he said, ” When a patient walks into your office, and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, you tend to pay attention even before you know… you just know.”

Meriam-Webster’s online dictionary’s simple definition describes intuition this way:  “a natural ability or power that makes it possible to know something without any proof or evidence; a feeling that guides a person to act a certain way without fully understanding why.”

I’ve only recently acknowledged that I’ve been intuitive my whole life. I’ve only recently become comfortable saying, “I just know…” My husband describes his intuition as the ‘little guy on his shoulder’. If the little guy on his shoulder says that there’s something going that he can’t quite put his finger on, then he knows he needs to proceed with caution.  (I wonder if intuitive people ‘find’ each other through their intuition?  I would never describe our finding each other as ‘love at first sight’; rather, I just knew he was a good man… even before I really ‘knew’ him…)

But I digress…

My question at the heart of this is:  Where and how does intuition fit into education?  Does leadership contain an intuitive ability?

As a leader, many of you have met someone for the first time, or entered a classroom and had an intuitive reaction.  Intuition sets off an alarm in your head.  You have this innate sense of possibilities… or struggles… in front of you.  You have no data… no evidence… on which to base your assessment.  But, there’s no denying you sense it.

I set out to find out what the research has to say on the role of intuition in teaching/learning and leadership.

Atkinson and Claxton (2000) say  that intuition is defined as “one component of the dyad conscious analytical thinking”  (p.74) and the “less conscious and intuitive processes” (p.82).  Through this lens, they examine the process of mentoring.  They ask: How do mentors balance between providing specific practical knowledge and good grounding in theoretical understanding to proteges or supervisees? Their work shows that the key to a new teacher progressing from a knowledge base to the skilled teacher is his/her ability to intuitively sense how to adjust to the students’ receptivity of the lesson.  The mentors’  key? The ability to develop strong reflective practices within the mentee so she can learn to trust her intuitions.

Marzano (2011) and Danielson (1996) would, to my mind, describe this as the ‘art’ of teaching and each has built the ‘art’ into their respective models. (Marzano, Domain 3) (Danielson, Component 4a).  No one would dispute that intuition can replace knowledge. However, I would assert that a teacher with knowledge but without intuition is missing an important skill; one that I’m not sure can be taught.

In my experience, intuition can be developed. In fact, I would assert it’s the real ‘education’ in education.

 In 1986, Donna Lynne Harlan’s doctoral dissertation reminds us that the 1959 Woods Hole Conference, led by Jerome Bruner, was convened to address issues that are still circling today.  Namely, that the battle between the progressive philosophy that education requires the use of unconventional thinking (intuition/guessing (1960)/having a hunch (1971)) and the structuralist view that focuses on performance and outcomes. Bruner (1977) said that student creativity develops when students are surrounded by creativity and discussions.  It’s the reason we are focusing on higher level thinking skills at all levels of education; we want our students to trust their intuition– to take risks in their thinking– to examine, in the light, those ideas that are lurking in the background of their thoughts– to be brave and put those ideas out there, into a supportive thoughtful environment where those ideas can blossom and spur other ideas for themselves and those around them.

As a leader, from the perspective of observer instead of the observed, these are the subtle talents woven into the evaluation domains that I am looking for: can the teacher take her knowledge and interweave her intuition to create thoughtful reflective students who feel safe enough to bring their ideas to the light? Can she encourage her students to be academically brave?

Knowledge can be gained.  Intuition?  It’s stuff dreams are made of…


Citations:

Bacigalupe, Gonzalo (2002). Inviting Intuitive Understandings in Teaching and Professional Practices: Is Intuition Relationally and Culturally Neutral? Review Essay: Terry Atkinson & Guy Claxton (Eds.) (2000). The Intuitive Practitioner: On the Value of Not Always Knowing What One is Doing [16 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 3(4), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0204514.

Bruner, Jerome S. (1960). The process of education. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960

Harlan, Donna L. (1986). The role of intuition in the teaching/learning process. Doctoral Disserations

On Understanding “judgmental”

In my current In-Class Resource/Support role, I am sometimes conflicted about expectations between myself and my general education co teachers. Sometimes I find myself feeling judgmental.  It makes me uncomfortable to feel judgmental.   I’m trying hard to understand it. 

Being a curious sort, I went where anyone would go— Google.  I was surprised to learn that, like many things, being judgmental has several roots (or flavors, as I  prefer to say).

The flavor that fit me best was this:  I see people behaving in a way that I would not and because I resent their behavior, I become judgmental. Hmmm…

According to LittleBuddha.com:

Because you would be embarrassed to act this way, you resent somebody else doing it.

This type of judgment might reveal that you are not fully expressing yourself, hence you feel resentful or put off by others doing so, even if they do it clumsily.

( I don’t think the last part applies to me in this particular situation, but you can be the judge.)

Let me clarify:  One of my classes is watching the movie, “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee”.  We’re moving into the unit that examines the westward movement in the United States in the mid-1800’s.  The students don’t understand a ‘cowboy and Indians” reference and have no background in the strife that took place at that time between the federal government and the Indian Nations.  When I learned that we were watching this, I thought it would lay a good foundation as we prepared for the next unit of our curriculum.

If you’ve seen the movie, or have any back ground  (prior knowledge) reference to the westward movement, The Battle of the Little Big Horn, Col. Custard or Chief Sitting Bull, you are lightyears ahead of this generation.  (Is that bad to say?) 

I digress.  As we watched the movie, some of the students snickered and laughed as the Indians chanted and danced.  It made me uncomfortable, to say the least.  I waited for the general education teacher to stop the film and address the students, asking them to be respectful of another culture’s customs.  That although the dances and chants may seem odd or uncomfortable to them, part of the journey of the film is to introduce the students to lives and peoples who lived during this period of time.  (This is where the judgmental piece comes in.)

I began to feel judgmental toward my co-teacher.  Because I would be embarrassed to act this way, not correcting the behavior of the students, I resented somebody else not doing anything about it.

As I write this piece, I’ve concluded that before my class begins the next section of the movie,  I will respectfully prompt the students about expected behaviors, developing tolerance, and being respectful of that which they do not yet understand. Then I wondered, am I overstepping my boundaries by putting morale guidelines out for my students like those I would put out for my own children? Is it an appropriate action for me to take?

In a recent general television newscast, pretty plain vanilla and usually of little interest to me, a reporter spoke about the impact of the recent attack in San Bernardino; people were not going out (nope not me.), people were not traveling (nope, I’m not traveling because of the possible threats, I’m just not going anywhere…), people were shying away from people of other cultures (… hmmm, was this happening to me, I wondered?).

Again, as I write this, I flip back and forth between the two ‘conversations’ in my head.  As I flip, I realize that I think  part of my job is to teach tolerance.  I work in a public school where we say the  Pledge of Allegiance every morning. 

“….one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all…”

How can we have liberty and justice for all if we don’t have tolerance for each other?  In the grand scheme of life for which I believe I am preparing my students, we must learn to tolerate people for many reasons.

We may work with someone who is just plain mean, and that person may well be our boss to whom we dare not voice our opinion unless we have alternate employment opportunities clearly in place.  We may have a neighbor who has such different values that she just doesn’t think the ordinance about picking up after your dog includes her and her dog, too.  (At least here you can call the police…)

As adults and parents, we communicate levels of acceptable behavior so very subtly.  It is said in things we say as much as what we don’t say. It is one of those, “do as I say, not as I do’ kind of things that, as we know, doesn’t work out well. 

I believe it’s as hard to be a responsible role model today as it ever was.  We have eyes on us all the time.  We owe it to ourselves to decide what kind of legacy we want to leave in our children.  Lately, the environment has taken center stage.  As a new Congress takes its place in January, our fiscal legacy  and immigration will be front and center.  Some dinner tables and car rides will be filled with newscasts or discussions that create more divide than collaboration.  As responsible role models, (#RRMs, if you will…) how we discuss these issues may very well more important than what issues we discuss or what outcome results.

I’m reminded of the phrase, “If you see something, say something”.

Well,” if you hear something, say something”.  Be respectful.  Our children are always watching.

Cultivating Optimism

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 8.32.27 PM
 Joshua Graham

My friend and colleague Walter McKenzie caught my eye tonight with his blog post ,  “Unstuck”.  Then, as I cruised through my communities and connections, I came across a page of remarkable inspirational quotes.

I confess that I can be an tough mark for inspirational quotes. That said, not many of them really grab me.  But let one of them strike a note about my children or hit a string about a hurdle I’ve overcome (or am currently working on overcoming) and I’m hooked.

As an educator, I often wonder about the role of resilience, grit, problem solving skills.  But lately I’ve begun to wonder about optimism.  In March, 2008, Richard Sagor  wrote an article in ASCD Educational Leadership magazine about optimism.  I came across it recently as I organized my copies of the magazine on my library shelves.  As I read, I remember thinking the premise was an interesting one:  is optimism more important than resilience, grit or problem solving skills?  Is the student who is optimistic destined to be more successful because he/she expects to be?

It’s funny to me how my mind works.  Truth be told, I don’t think it’s that much different than most brains.  Things … ideas…suggestions…tend to get stuck in it and hang around without my even knowing it.  Until that is…when it collides with one of my other ideas that has also been hanging around quite unnoticed.

So it is with this optimism thing.  I got to thinking that a situation can’t change unless I (or you) want it to change. Until we take a deliberate action.  As we know, change isn’t something that rains down on us out of no where (although there are many days when it sure feels like that!)

Change happens because someone makes it happen.  The law changes.  The superintendent determines the implications for the district.  He/she hands it off to the principals and supervisors who hand it off to the teachers.  And the change begins.

Again… change happens because someone makes it happen.

What if you’re looking for a change but don’t really believe you’ll be successful?  Can change happen then?  Or does change actually take the energy of a truly optimistic view that if the change is actively and positively pursued it will eventually happen?

I didn’t think I’d quite embraced the optimism idea until I read Walter’s post: “Unstuck“.  I realized that I had been feeling stuck for quite some time.  I’d been reluctant to actively pursue change because I just didn’t think It would work.  There were so many things that blocked my way.

But a funny thing happened on the way:  I began to proceed as if it was inevitable that I would be successful.  Failure never occurred to me.  I proceeded as though on a mission.

My mood lightened. Work was easier.  People were easier.  Tasks were easier.  Life… was easier.  And change has begun to happen!

Now my question: how do I cultivate optimism in my students?  How do I inspire hope when they get knocked down so often?  Being a student is hard work these days.  There are those inspirational teachers that lift them up… give them hope.  And there are teachers who I think spend their nights figuring out how to take the wind out of everyone’s sails…

As I reflect on this idea of cultivating optimism, I think I will listen more to my students’ small voices… those small voices that talk about what they’d like to do in the future… what they want their future to look like and then focus on how I can make our work connect to those goals on a more visible basis every day for their eyes to see and not just mine.

*  *  *

 

 

 

 

Not Giving Up…

I feel like giving up.

Maybe my brain has moved out.  

Maybe I’ve been in the game too long.

Maybe the last five years have just done me in. 

I’m tired of failing. I’m tired of getting it wrong.  

I’m tired of teachers who don’t listen and learn.

I want to just throw in the towel.


As I typed those words about my own frustrations with a personal pursuit, I began to think about my students.  I reflected on what I would say to one of them; what I have said to any one of them who has expressed a similar feeling.

I’ve asked them: What could you do differently?  What could I do differently that might make you successful?  In reality, of course, they have had no real idea of how I could help them. They shrug their shoulders and stare at the floor because they’ve failed…again.

I, of course, knew.  I knew that they needed more time.  I knew they ‘saw’ the answers but couldn’t show their work.  What I didn’t know was why? Why were they able to do the algebra in their head and ‘see’ the answer but not be able to write it down? I understand differentiation.  I understand modifications and better strategies. What I was doing wasn’t working.

What was I missing?

As you may know, for the last 5 years I’ve worked as an in-class support teacher for varying levels of high school math.  I have watched as year after year, class after class, for a total of 2,250 class blocks, teacher after teacher, teach Algebra from the logical left-brained sequential step-by-step process.

And year after year I’ve watch student after student, classified or not, fail their way through these classes.

Teachers describe them as lazy; they don’t do their homework but they get solid B’s on their assessments despite the fact they’re doodling on their iPads.  They end up with D’s because they’re missing homework and the plethora of zeros that get put into the grade book, that brings their grades down to almost failing.

I’ve watched as they try to listen to the lecture and they try to write the process down. But their mind wanders.

Teachers complain that they take too long to do their 30 math problems for classwork; that they don’t finish them.

Enter the Right Brain-LeftBrain Thinker.

Quite frankly, this is not a new idea; that some of us are more logical (left-brained) and some of us are more creative (right-brained).  But what is new to me, and I’ve been doing this for 20+ years, is the idea that kids with ADD, ADHD and Autism tend to share a very common thread:  they think… in pictures.

What is a right brained thinker?

We’re whole-to-part thinkers.  Show me the end and I’ll figure out the middle parts.  Step-by-step?  I can’t.  I can’t hold the picture in my head long enough while you go through the minutia for the left-brain thinkers.  I loose it. I move on. You say I’m not paying attention.  I want you to move faster.  Get to the end so I can go back and fill in the middle. I can’t help it.  It’s how I’m wired. I don’t do it to aggravate you.  I look up when I’m telling a story or answering a question because I’m looking at the pictures in my head.  I’m great with faces but awful with names.

I’m not broken.  I’m just wired differently.

I’m not fast at math.  I have to pull up the pictures I’ve stored in my head.  That takes more time than going step-by-step. But I know how to do it.  I just need more time.  I memorize the formulas and then go back and figure out why they work and how they were derived.

I’m not broken. I’m just wired differently.

True Story

GE Teacher: “Time’s up!”
Student:  “I’m not done.  Can I finish during lunch?
GE Teacher: “No, that wouldn’t be fair to the other (left-brained) students.
Student: “But my brain doesn’t work that way.”
GE Teacher: “Maybe if you studied harder; maybe if you didn’t daydream during class you’d be able to finish in the same time as everyone else.”
ICR Teacher:”You can finish during lunch or meet me after school”
GE Teacher to ICR teacher(aside):  “He/She doesn’t have an IEP.  You can’t do that. It’s not fair to the other students.”
ICR Teacher: “He processes slowly. (I didn’t know  at the time was because he thought in images).  I’m actually leveling the playing field so they don’t have an unfair advantage.”
GE Teacher: (silent)

It’s true.  Right-brained people take longer to process.
It’s true.  Right-brained people have a deficiency in organization and linear thinking: executive function.
It’s true.  Right-brained people are highly visual-spatial, non-sequential processors who learn by remembering the way things look and by taking words and math into mental pictures; think Albert Einstein, Temple Grandin, Thomas Edison, Leonardo Da Vinci.

How do we serve this growing population?

Right-brained people need teachers to teach to them differently. They need teachers who can present information in whole-to-part instruction.  Whole-to-part instruction needs to be added to the differentiation schema. They need alternate assessments and choice boards. They need extra time and fewer problems in math because visual learning literally takes more time to do.

They need to be taught how to speed-read.

Surprised?  Consider that a whole-to-part brain needs to see the big picture and fill in the parts.  Speed-read a chapter for the overview. Go back and scan for the details that fill in the whole.  Different? Yes.  Effective? Very. For right-brained people.

My hurdle isn’t convincing my readers.  My hurdle is convincing math department chairs that going slowly and ‘trying harder’ and not ‘day-dreaming’ isn’t the answer.  My hurdle is not being in a position to make the impact that needs making because 25% of Algebra students, nation wide, are failing algebra. I believe we are failing the students and I want to do something about it.

The answer is in changing the understandings of what’s best for kids to doing what’s best for all kids and teaching the teachers how to get them there. The answer is changing the paradigm of how right-brained students are taught.  It’s the challenge I’m embracing for this new school year.

This blog was inspired by the book, “Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child” by Jeffery Freed  & Laurie Parsons (1997)

My Summer Leadership PD, 2015

As a person who was a life long learner before I knew it was a good thing, I have always spent my time and personal monies to increase my understanding of my work, regardless of whether it was in education or my previous career in finance.

To that end, I recently signed up as a member of NJPSA’s Leadership Cohort 6.  As with all things, I’m never really sure whether I will learn anything really meaningful when I spend $700, but I must write that I was pleasantly surprised.  
 
The first of the cohort’s five meetings on August 6, was led by Dr. John Bormann, Superintendent of Rumson School District, NJ.  As I write this, I struggle to express how refreshing it was to have an instructional leader speaking to aspiring administrators and first/second year administrators without the educational babble. He gave us real roadmaps for implementing PLCs for unpacking standards to tighten the vertical alignment of our curricula; how to implement Webb’s Depth of Knowledge  (DOK) work that leads to construction of common assessments that result in meaningful grade-wide and school-wide data leading to real instructional change. 
 Wow…
 
The hours I spent in this professional development have added a new dimension to my ability to implement meaningful educational change
 
Don’t misunderstand. Teaching is a second career for me.  In my previous career, I was hired for my ability to implement corporate visions and bring new ideas to teams of people who needed to adjust to the merger/acquisition that brought in new leadership. My job was to expand our community and bring new people together into new and stronger teams.
 
This is not unlike accepting a new administrative position.  I know how to bring someone’s vision to light.  I know how to bring teams together. I know how to add value by being a critical thinking member of the team to make the implementation successful while supporting the mission and vision.
 
But the roadmap for implementing PLCs in an educational environment was something I didn’t  know how to do.
 
Before August 6, I didn’t understand how to lay the groundwork to successfully implement common assessments. I couldn’t really understand why department chairs can’t just ‘command’ that common assessments be constructed because I didn’t know why having a tight curriculum was a critical component of that process.  Or how important it is that each grade level completely understand the standards at their grade level as well as before and after their grade level.  I didn’t know how to teach teachers how to modify their instruction to bring their students’ critical thinking levels to new heights and depths.

As I reflect on my decision to be part of this cohort, I feel more and more sure that it will be time really well spent.   I also think it reveals why leadership doesn’t end at your own front door.  Leadership should go on so the talents that took leaders to the top don’t remain locked away with them.  Leaders who are able to make meaningful educational change should be willing to step forward so others can benefit from and build upon their learnings.  I am grateful Dr. Bormann chose to do so.

Video of Dr. Norman Webb explaining his new model for learning.
(YouTube, July 1, 2014)

Confidence Lost….and found…

What happens to us? Why do we lose our confidence? Why do we believe that we cannot do the things on which we have had our hearts set for so long?

I’ve just spent several days at the ASCD Annual Leader-2-Leader conference in Arlington, Virginia. I had the best time talking ‘shop’ with other teacher leaders who are as impassioned about their work as I.

We spent hour after hour talking about ‘growth mindset’. What it is; what it looks like; what it doesn’t look like; what it doesn’t feel like. One would think that I would have unbounded energy this week. And instead I find myself in a funk.

I can’t seem to get out of my own way.

I wonder how to ask for help. But instead, I turn to my keyboard to help me find my way through. As I type, I wonder about my students.

A non-educator would think me mad. Why would I wonder about my students as I try to get myself out of this funk? Why am I not buried in a video game and eating junk food?

Well, I’m a grown up. I know that this will pass. I know that my confidence will return because I am resilient.

What about my students?

What about when they lose their confidence? I don’t mean for the day and I don’t mean over a girl friend or boy friend. What about when they grow up without hope? You see, I believe that hope fades because we have no confidence that we can be or do something great.  As if no matter what, life just doesn’t see us.

What about when kids decide that that school doesn’t hold any opportunity for them? No way out. Life is the same as it’s been and there’s no changing it. So why stay in school?

The cards are stacked against them. They’re poor. They’re white. They’re black. They’re hispanic. They go to school in the largest school district in Virginia with the highest poverty rate in the state.

They’re invisible. Their school is in disrepair. It needs paint. It needs windows. The principal is tired. He is despaired. His work has not provided the results he so dearly wanted when he took the job.

But one day…

But one day… a new leadership team arrives at this super-large district. They bring a new vision. This team has a new idea about supporting students. They bring an open mind about the possibilites that can come if ideas are given an opportunity to see the light of day.

For example, instead of having the poorest and most under achieving students spend the month before standardized testing doing the normal drill and kill (that we all know doesn’t work), they asked their students why they hate school.

Why do they hate coming to school? The students say that their school looks like a prison. It’s old. It needs paint. And it has no windows.  (Really…. it has no windows… can you imagine going to school where there are no windows…?)

And the team says, “Let’s change that. If you could change it, what would you do?”

“We’d build tree houses in the multipurpose room.”

And so they did. And beautiful tree houses they were.

And guess what? Their standardized test scores were the highest they’ve ever been! (Neuroplasticity anyone?)

The principal isn’t retiring. He’s staying because he said he hasn’t had this much fun since he was in the classroom.

Or this…

In another school, the principal always ran the remedial summer school just like he was expected.  But nothing really changed.  The kids still failed. They still didn’t find any reason to come to school.  So he brought a new-fangled idea to the new team. What about running a maker-camp instead of the the boring unsuccessful remedial summer program. (Think kids would be lining up for this one?)

And guess what?  The super superintendent said yes….

And a little boy who had failed every subject in sixth grade… who was a behavior nightmare for every class he’d been in… who came to maker camp and was asked, “”What do you want to make?” [nothing.]  What do you like? [nothing.]

The boy said, “I love baseball.  And I hate it when the umpire calls a ball a strike and a strike a ball.  I really hate that.”

And within 3 weeks, this boy who felt like an academic wasteland, developed the prototype for a laser guided system that would call balls and strikes without error each time.  Think he has hope for his future now? Think he wants to come to school and sit in a chair and do worksheets?

I want to be that kind of change.

These students didn’t find hope.  They found themselves because someone dared to use a growth mindset in the most unlikely places.  Small changes can have big impact.  Just like Superintendent @PamMoran  and  @IraSocol of the Albemarle School District in Virginia  are doing for the children in the Albemarle School District in Virginia.

Presentation by Pam Moran and Ira Socol, ASCD L2L, 2015

Swimming Against The Conformity Current

I started my Saturday morning off as I start many of my Saturday mornings.  I typically wake up (always a good start…) grab some coffee and work my way to my spare bedroom/office and jump into #SATCHAT with my other buddies who share a passion for sharing and learning.

After concluding my chat time and regrouping for my work for the day today (aka, refilling my coffee cup), I went back and reread the posts from the morning’s chat.  A post from Pernille Ripp caught my eye:

@pernilleripp
Thanks go to @PernilleRipp and #SATCHAT (2/7/15)

Of course I had to click on the link (goo.gl/lBKJqk) and I invite you to do the same.  Her words spoke to me as if she were “Killing Me Softly With (Her) Song” .  I don’t often add comments to a post; I’m not much for the Redundancy Chamber.  But given that I’d had the following experience just the previous afternoon, I was compelled to respond.

I wrote on Pernille’s Blog:

(A brief recap: My co-teacher and I designed a unit length project using ExplainEverything using all the electronic materials the students are given (aka handed) on their classroom wiki, in their iBook, and possibly some Internet research (beyond minimal). Their assignment: create an ExplainEverything project using 3-4 slides per unit from their learning goal rubric where they identify and synthesize their understanding of the topics presented. Their first unit had 17 learning goals. Upon presentation of the project to them, they immediately did the math and said…51 to 68 slides!!!??? and under their breath… are they crazy????)

If you went to Pernille’s blog and read my response, which I hope you will take the time to do, you will read a bit more about the question my Gen-Ed HS Biology co-teacher and I were asked:

If doing this kind of work is so important, then why is this class, our class the only one doing it?  Why isn’t every teacher making us do this kind of work, to work so hard, in all of our classes?

The truth is that I ask myself this kind of question every day.  Why aren’t teachers in our high school asking the students perform creative knowledge constructing projects every single day? Why do we ask so very little of our students? 

To be fair, which is a code I live by every day (and some days better than others), some of the teachers in my building are doing incredible work.  But it still begs the question asked to us by our student:  Why isn’t every teacher asking us to work this hard?

As I said in my post to Pernille, I had to hold my tongue.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student what I’ve experienced in my co-teaching classes.  I couldn’t possibly tell my student of the multiple or even many conversations I’ve had with my building colleagues about changing their craft to include projects like the one I created and (to her credit) my co-teacher has supported. (This has been a bumpy journey; bringing a project like this into a classroom for the first time is filled with unforeseen bumps in the road, despite my months of planning. And she has been a terrific co-pilot, pointing out how we can tweak the implementation here and there to make the process less stressful for the students. God bless her…) But I couldn’t possibly tell my student the words I’ve been told In conversation after conversation; the words that strike frustration and disbelief to my heart:

“I don’t have time. I’m too busy with (insert your excuse of choice here) and (insert your other excuse of choice here) to put all that time and energy into changing what I do.”

During this morning’s #SATCHAT as with many other Twitter Chats I follow, someone inevitably goes down the road of ‘providing teachers with professional development…..”.

Which brings me to my question of the day:

What does it take to have/inspire/cause a teacher to swim against the Conformity Current?

I wish I was writing because I knew the answer.  I wish I could say that the tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of dollars my district has spent on iPad training for our staff was the answer. I wish I could say that getting teachers (yes, even new teachers) to swim against the conformity current had an answer I could provide.  But the sad truth is that I don’t.

Before I close, I will share with you where I find the inspiration and courage to fight the good fight, as my friend Courtney Pepe would say (@iPadQueen2012), everyday.

For health reasons, I was home last spring, away from my classroom, and missing my work.  I was using Twitter to stay current on my political addictions and I decided to see what was going on in the educational arena.  Of course, you know the ending to this part of the story; I found my courage and inspiration from the millions of you out there who support and encourage us to do what’s best for kids everyday; to fight the good fight.  And if needed, to swim hard against the Conformity Current.

In swimming against the Conformity Current with the support of my Twitter friends and colleagues, I was no longer alone in the fight but supported by hundreds of others with a greater vision like mine: that kids won’t have to just do worksheets and multiple choice tests, but will have to put their minds to work and create new understandings and possibly change the world in the process.  Now… How Cool Is That?

P.S.  Thank you for choosing to Swim Against The Conformity Current and inspiring me every day.