Letting Go of Control

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This year has brought a whole new level of parenting as our oldest son is learning how to drive. I’m a certified, master degreed educator with 20 years of experience. I should be able to handle this. But I have to be honest, it is remarkably terrifying! It is not his driving that is the scary part. He’s actually a very careful driver and a quick learner. It is the inability to control the situation that is the most difficult for me. I know how to drive, I have years of experience doing it. We would get there safer and faster if I took the wheel, but the whole point of this is HE needs to learn.

This experience made me reflect on how much control we exert over our students in the classroom. How often do we just take the wheel when we think they are not ready? Have we swooped in to save the day when things were not going according to plan? Do we really let them take control of their learning to gain mastery? One of my favorite questions from Alan November is, “Who owns the learning?” I think many times if we answer honestly, it is the teacher and not the students.

There is value in productive struggle. The struggle is real and that’s OK. That is where the learning happens! Students must sit with hard questions, difficult tasks, test solutions, discuss, debate, question and try again. There is not value in learning if they are just given the answers. As educators we need to support and guide learners with supports to help connect the dots, and then we need to let go. That may be the hardest part of teaching after all!

In a twitter chat earlier this month this tweet from awesome Plano ISD Principal Matthew Arend got me thinking.

TTESS is the newly created Texas Teacher Evaluation and Support System. The goal is to not only look at teacher practices, but how students respond to what they are doing. The rubric works to move from teacher-centered to student-centered actions. The new model is much more like Cognitive Coaching with continuous feedback and includes the teachers as a partner in their learning by setting goals to create a meaningful professional development plan. It is a great model of differentiated support for teachers, just as we should see in the classroom for students.

It is what teachers do in the classroom that allows the learning to happen, but the students should be the ones doing the real work. It is the educator’s responsibility to set up the learning environment to allow curiosity, make space for real exploration and collaboration, then release control to the students so they are the owners of their learning.

Like my son with his learner’s permit, he is not allowed to go out on the road unsupervised …yet. Thankfully, I get to be there as a guide, providing constant feedback and support while working on my own patience to remain calm. But the end goal is for him to have enough experience and practice to be able to make it out there safely on his own. This is what the classroom should be for students. A place to practice, learn, get feedback and grow enough so they will be able to make it on their own without us. They need to learn how to learn new things, not just content. We can’t let go too soon, but we also can’t hold on too long. What can you let go of to let your learners take the wheel? You may be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

Why Character Education Matters

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Unlike academics, character education is not tested or monitored for school accountability purposes and may fall down the list of priorities. I would argue in today’s world, it is the most important learning we need our students to connect with and take with them into the world!

One of my favorite projects to oversee is the State Schools of Character program for Texas. This is the 6th year that TEPSA has been the state sponsor and I cannot tell you how inspiring it is to read the applications and learn about all the great things going on in schools across the state. If you have ever heard someone say they don’t have time for character education – they are totally missing the mark. It should be embedded in the work we do everyday!

Because students spend so much time in school, our schools offer a critically important opportunity to ensure that all students get the support and help they need to reach their full potential. Schools that embrace character education become places people want to be because they bring out the best in everyone.                                                – from character.org

Don’t we want that for our staff, students and families? Schools to be a place that people want to be and bring out the best in others – I do!! Building this should be the number one priority of schools. If a culture exists where core values are collaboratively developed, understood, taught and lived out – learning will go far beyond expectations. We’ve all seen the stories and about that teacher or principal who brought their students to amazing success in the face of extreme challenges. This doesn’t happen with implementing the latest technology or a new academic program. It always goes back to the dedication and commitment of educators building strong relationships to bring out the best in others – that is character education.

I’ve learned so much about the quality tenets of character education and what schools should be doing from being a part of this process. It is not about a program or specific training to develop strong character in your staff and students. While there are several quality initiatives that exists, they are not a necessity to be successful. A great free resource is the framework of the 11 Principles of Effective Character Education. These principles were developed by experts in the field and serve as a way to assess campus efforts around character education.

The 11 Principles are:

  1. The school community promotes core ethical and performance values as the foundation of good character.
  2. The school defines “character” comprehensively to include thinking, feeling, and doing.
  3. The school uses a comprehensive, intentional, and proactive approach to character development.
  4. The school creates a caring community.
  5. The school provides students with opportunities for moral action.
  6. The school offers a meaningful and challenging academic curriculum that respects all learners, develops their character, and helps them to succeed.
  7. The school fosters students’ self-motivation.
  8. The school staff is an ethical learning community that shares responsibility for character education and adheres to the same core values that guide the students.
  9. The school fosters shared leadership and long-range support of the character education initiative.
  10. The school engages families and community members as partners in the character-building effort.
  11. The school regularly assesses its culture and climate, the functioning of its staff as character educators, and the extent to which its students manifest good character.

How is your school doing in your character education efforts? Most campuses are doing several of these very well, but there is always room to grow. One area where I see schools often missing the mark is in developing self/intrinsic motivation. Educators tend to rely heavily on individual awards and extrinsic motivators for encouragement. Research shows that extrinsic motivation only produces short term effects (at best). As a teacher I was never good at keeping up with the sticker charts or prize patrol for my students. I knew in my heart if they were doing it for a sticker or prize, that wasn’t the right reason. I wanted my students (and my own children) to make good choices even when no one was watching because that is where true character shows.

Moving to intrinsic motivation takes time and commitment. Edutopia has some great ideas to help develop intrinsic motivation in students. Kids also learn to be their best selves by watching strong role models (you!) and learning about others exhibiting strong character in difficult situations. Scholastic put together a great list for elementary educators of 100 books that develop character with lesson guides and resources. Sometimes we need to develop more intrinsic motivation in our staff too. Daniel Pink explains the puzzle of motivation in this TED-Talk. The true keys he explains in his book Drive are autonomy, mastery and purpose. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

Another area where the 11 principles takes it to a deeper level is in the opportunity for moral action through service learning. Many campuses do community service projects and that is fine. But service learning empowers students to identify a community need and lead the initiative while integrating academic content within the project.

Service learning is different than community service in several key ways. Service learning includes student leadership, reflective and academic components, and chances for celebration once the service activity has been successfully completed. Students reflect on community needs, ways to help, and once their service has been completed, they can internalize how their efforts have helped, while learning more about academics such as geography, math, or science.                – from character.org

If you are looking for more ways to develop character I hope you gained a little insight reading this. Some other great resources on character education include:

Drumroll…we will soon find out who will be named a State School of Character for 2017. A huge congratulations to the campuses that receive this recognition as it does not come easy – and congratulations to all of the other schools that are doing great things to build quality character that have not applied…yet. Check out the schools listed. Plan a visit (in person or virtual) to one to learn more. A wonderful thing about schools of character is they love to share the work they are doing to help others!

We’ll start and end with Martin Luther King’s thoughts because no one says it better. “Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

No Longer a Lurnker

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If you are new to Twitter, or any social media platform, you have probably done your share of lurking. Not creeping in the bushes with a flashlight kind of lurking…but watching the feed, reading through a chat or seeing what others post without contributing your own thoughts. I know I have and there is nothing wrong with that! I’ve been on Twitter awhile and I was all about the lurking and learning at first. It takes time to get used to the format, functionality and flow of any new platform. I had all kinds of questions like what’s the difference between the @names and #hashtags? What does this button do? Will they know if I follow/unfollow them? How do I make it do that? It can be a bit discombobulating trying to make sense of it all.

In the #txed chat earlier this month we got into a funny sidebar conversation about lurking and learning that led to the creation our new word – lurnking!

There is definitely some value in lurnking, just don’t stay there very long. Don’t be the kid at the back of the class that never speaks up. You’ll never experience the full value in connecting and learning (in person or on social media) until you move from lurnker to contributor. As with many endeavors in life – The more you give, the more you get!

I’ve purposefully become more active on Twitter participating and leading chats regularly. I cannot tell you how many great people I have met and actually feel connected to, even though we have not met face to face. I used to think social media was a way to stay connected to those I already knew and don’t see all the time. It is great for that, but there is so much more when you are willing to put yourself out there, share ideas and learn with others. That never would have happened if I stayed in lurnking mode! And the ideas – oh my goodness. They just never stop! I’ve had in depth conversations about dyslexia, professional learning, design thinking and learned all about #booksnaps from Tara Martin in just the last few weeks!

Twitter can be one scary place and educators really don’t need anyone else criticizing the important work we do. But I have found that educators who are active on Twitter are the most positive, supportive, smart, fun and energetic group of people. They are so committed that you could spend all your nights and weekends participating in learning conversations. I don’t recommend that because we all need unplugged time, but they will be there when you need them! You just may need to know where to find them. Read this if you need the basics of getting started on Twitter.

Here are some tips to find and connect with amazing educators on Twitter.

  1. Follow the Leaders: The amazing thing about Twitter is you can easily connect with education experts from all over the world in an instant. Here is a great list to get you started from Craig Kemp. You can find him @mrkempnz See who your favorites are following and connect with them too!
  2. Education Hashtags: There is a hashtag for everything! New to the principalship? search #cpchat (connected principals). Want to learn more about flipped classrooms and byod – no problem – #flipclass and #byod will get you there. George Couros recently asked his followers about their favorite education hashtags to follow. It was fun to see what was shared! Here is the complete list of education hashtags put together by TeachThought.com Maybe your campus or school district already has a #hashtag to follow, so you are able to share and see all the great learning happening with your school community. If not you should look into getting that started! My former campus uses #AustinLearns and it is awesome to keep up with them. What’s your hashtag, I would love to see what’s going on at your school?!
  3. Education Chats: Many educators have specific days and times to meet for a chat focused on different topics. There is no lack of chats to join, the trick is finding what is relevant and important for you. Here is the official list of education chats for twitter. If your is not on there, you can submit to have it added. Once you’ve participated in some Twitter chats and are no longer a lunrker, you may want to host your own. Here are some great tips on hosting your own chat.

Maybe you’ve already found your network, know all about social media and moved out of lurnker mode. If so, congratulations! If not, I hope you feel a bit more empowered to join the amazing conversation in education. We need your voice to be a part of it!

 

 

 

The Challenge is Showing Up…

This year I decided once again to participate in the 30 day challenge at my yoga studio. As I walked in for my daily class, people were marking themselves off on the board of participants before class had even started. I laughed because in the car I thought about doing the same thing, but decided I would wait until the end of class to put my mark. The goal is 30 classes in 30 days and I hadn’t done class yet. When I told my friend I was going to wait until after class she said, “Oh no, the challenge is showing up! Once you get here class is easy.” For those of you who have ever done Bikram yoga, class is NEVER easy. It is 90 minutes of yoga in 105 degree heat and 55% humidity. (I love this hilarious account of a husband taking class for the first time.) But when she said that, my thinking completely shifted. I felt accomplished and grateful that I’d done the hard work to get there. What a difference! I went in to class a little lighter and ready to do the best I could.

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I’m really good at making excuses why I can’t get to class – too much work to do, kids need help with homework, too tired, you name it! Don’t we do this in leadership too? We tell ourselves there is not enough time, money, technology, resources, we don’t have the right people, we’re unsure what to do…the list goes on and on. I’m not saying there aren’t real challenges in education, there are! But that is even more reason we need great educators to show up everyday to serve our students.

Sometimes it is difficult to show up because of the fear of criticism. Everyone believes they are an expert about education since they’ve been a student. Parents, grandparents, business leaders, legislators…these days everyone seems to have a critique of education and what is wrong. And there is a platform to share their thoughts. But the more you show up to lead your classroom or school, take the opportunities to connect with your students and share the great things that are happening, the more support you are going to build. Brene´ Brown shared this section from a Theodore Roosevelt speech in Daring Greatly, which is a book every educator should read, actually every human should read! I absolutely love the message and have repeated these words to myself many times in the face of difficult challenges and failures. (We don’t really need motivation when everything is going swimmingly…)

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

-Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

I get it, the work is hard and the demands are endless. But Congratulations – you showed up today! Give yourself credit for it. You are in the arena and giving all you have . Put that checkmark by your name. You are present and ready to get to work.Keep showing up and I bet something good will happen!

 

Connecting the Dots

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Well here it is, my very first blog post. I have been thinking about a blog, even writing down topics and composing posts in my mind for a while, but haven’t been brave enough to click the button. What a fun way to start the new year doing something different and out of my comfort zone! I hope to share my thoughts and ideas on education (and life), pull in some fun stuff and connect to continue the conversation. Life seems like individual moments or dots in time. But sometimes as you reflect and pull back you can start to see how events, people and ideas are really all connected. I’ve always loved connecting the dots and I look forward to doing more of that in this space.

The name Leadershift comes from an event we had several years ago. That year we were making several big changes to the long established learning conference. We wanted to acknowledge things were changing a bit but put it in a positive light. I was thinking about how we would always focus on leadership but needed to shift things around a bit. It was a fun lightbulb moment when the two ideas came together as Leadershift. It was the perfect word for the moment and I think it fits great here too. Not really a word, but you can easily understand the notion. In education we are at a turning point and things are changing at a rapid pace. We must refocus and shift our thinking in many ways to ensure we are meeting the needs of todays learners.

Thank you for checking out my blog and I hope to connect some dots here with you. I look forward to learning with you and would love to hear your feedback!

#OneWord2017

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This quote hangs on the wall in my office as a gift from my former principal. I love how it changes a problem into a learning opportunity.

For many years I’ve chosen my word inspired by  @JonGordon11  #OneWord  to focus my year. Past words have been Focus, Growth, Joy, Intentional and others I can’t remember. When I started thinking about my word for 2017 I struggled coming up with something new and different that would speak to me. I began thinking about what I really loved and how I want to be in 2017. What will help me to take action, change, grow and learn new things but not feel like a mandate or more work? The answer was easy, I LOVE to DANCE!

Ever since I set foot in my first ballet class with a kindergarten friend, I was hooked! I went straight home and begged my parents to sign me up for dance classes and never looked back. I spent so many hours at The Dance Shoppe growing up, it was like a second home. I competed with our dance group in middle and high school and was the director of the UT Dance Team in college. While I don’t dance formally anymore, there is plenty of dancing around the house, in the car and an occasional two-step with the hubby. Dancing has always been in my life and it helps me feel alive. I want more of that in 2017!

Trying out new dance steps

I love the notion of literally dancing more, because it sparks joy for me, but also in the figurative sense. My friend who is a professor and life coach uses the phrase “dancing on your edge” frequently when talking about pushing boundaries and trying something new. I want 2017 to be a year that I push myself to try new things (like writing this blog) and dance on my edge more. Education is transforming and we must push ourselves to be better for the students we serve. I look forward to dancing more on my edge to get out of my comfort zone, experiment, be brave yet vulnerable, try new things, find out what works, share ideas with others and be supportive.

Kick off your Sunday shoes

One of my favorite movies is Footloose. I actually liked the 2011 remake almost as much as the original (1984), but it’s hard to beat Kevin Bacon! There are many great lessons in Footloose, but one stands out as I look forward to dancing through 2017. Sometimes we’ve gotta cut loose! At times, I can take life too seriously, especially when I’m stressed or tired. It is a total energy drain. Learning and leading can and should be fun. I’m giving myself (and you) permission to cut loose sometimes! Smile more, be goofy, don’t be afraid to show your sense of humor, dance like no one is watching. Education is built on personal relationships and developing them is much easier when we are having fun. Don’t worry I won’t make everyone dance, but I will focus on creating a fun learning environment to grow and support meaningful relationships.

Dancing in the rain

Life is going to have rainy days, that is unavoidable. How we handle those rainy days and our reaction is something we can control – really the only thing. When I traveled to Bali in 2011 it rained everyday. At first I thought the “bad” weather was going to ruin the trip. One day we were on a tour and it started raining. Immediately our guide turned his face and hands up to the sky with a big smile and proclaimed, “Our daily blessing!” My negative attitude about the “bad” weather instantly changed! Now every time it rains I’m grateful for the blessing. Rain does not have to be a problem that ruins your day, but can be a learning opportunity. It actually is really fun to dance in the rain! Have you tried it? Have you tried it with your kids? As we move into 2017 I hope that I will be able to dance through the rain and change problems into learning opportunities.

Start a movement

We’ve probably all seen the youtube video of the dancing guy who looked a bit crazy at first, but with commitment, collaboration, support and some new friends he created a movement! Sometimes I feel like the lone crazy guy dancing out there alone, but as I continue to share and connect with others I believe we are creating a movement that will transform education. I hope you will join me and dance, try something new, have more fun, turn problems into learning opportunities and maybe even start a movement! Here’s to a great 2017!!