School vs Learning #IMMOOCB2

As a student, I did “school” really well. Showed up, completed assignments, memorized facts and figures for the test but school was not relevant to me. I didn’t see how I would use what we were learning in my daily life or future. Little did I know I would be using y=mx + b to decipher the latest school accountability formulas in Texas (don’t ask).

I was always impressed that my brainiac sister actually remembered details and enjoyed learning. For me the joy was sucked out because I was focused on doing well on the test. We both did well, but she did much better! How is it that sisters in the same schools (2 years apart) had very different experiences?

Where I saw school, she saw learning.

I’m floored by the ability of my own children to learn new things when it is something that they care about. Using the internet and their networks they literally have access to the world. Spanish becomes very relevant when playing games online with kids from South America who only speak Spanish. They actually want to learn new vocabulary and try out speaking the language! Extra credit in Spanish class for this??

How can we make school more authentic for students? What if school was a place kids couldn’t wait to go to learn about things that interested them? A place that would help kids learn things relevant today and for the future. A place where we help kids discover their unique gifts and talents even if it’s not academics.

The great teachers already do this, but the system doesn’t support it…yet.

There is work to be done moving from pockets of greatness to a better system. We are in a very exciting time in education and I see the tide turning. Parents no longer value standardized tests, colleges are looking for more than the highest GPAs for their incoming students. It should not be school vs learning – school should be the hub of learning. And it should be a joyful place.

Let’s keep working on that!

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.

#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!!