Saturday, January 30, 2016

Unleash your Students' Talent and Creativity

This past week I had the pleasure of hearing Sir Ken Robinson and George Couros speak at the TASA conference.  It's rare that you get the opportunity to hear amazing thought leaders like this, but to hear two of them in one day was mind-blowing to say the least.  What I found interesting about them is that their messages emphasized the point that creativity in schools is not only essential but critical if we want more kids to be ready to inherit our rapidly changing world.

Now when we think about creativity in schools, we naturally gravitate toward a mindset of more difficulty, more work, or a vast departure from our normal way of doing things, but that was not the case in both of their keynotes.  In George's message, he drove home the point that in order to create the schools that kids deserve, it's all about establishing and maintaining meaningful  relationships with kids that unleash their creativity.   It's about knowing them as individuals and creating the conditions in our classrooms where we leverage our relationships with kids that inspire them to dream and create a future that goes well beyond the confines of the curriculum.

"Your job is to unleash their talent!" +George 

Robinson's message was similar but his approach to making change in schools focused on how we must engage and then empower our kids daily.  We don't know what kids will be when they grow up and neither do they, so we must remember that our job is to create an engaging environment where kids slowly discover that for themselves.  When kids develop confidence in themselves, they unleash their innate passion which is essentially the purpose for which they were born .

When the rhythms of education match the rhythms of a student's learning, kids will never disengage from learning. Sir Ken Robinson

How Can You Unleash their Talent and Creativity?
As you look at your students this week, I encourage you to view them not as what they are or where they're from.  Instead, view them as what they could become and the ultimate place we want them to be one day.  When we look at our kids from the lens of what could be, we create empowering learning environments that change FOR the benefit of kids and their future, not for the content they must learn.

Friday, January 22, 2016

6 Questions to Break the "Same-Old Same-Old" Cycle

An old high school buddy of mine slapped me in the face the other morning with his Instagram post below. 

The Same-Old Same-Old Cycle

As this image cycled through my mind, this question emerged.

Are my thoughts generating the same old results?

Think about it. The same old thinking leads to the same old results, but if we're not careful, the same old results will lead back to the same old thinking.  The "same-old same-old" is a vicious cycle that solidifies the status quo and "the way we've always done it around here", the cycle is solidified by our thoughts more so than our actions.  After all our actions are dictated by our thoughts.

We owe it to our kids to break this cycle because the stakes are too high, and the consequences are so great. In order to find new solutions to the same old problems that we have been experiencing all year, we must ask ourselves this question. Is the problem really our result or is it our thinking?  If we truly believe in helping kids grow, and if we want to accomplish this goal of every kid increasing their performance by 10 points from last year, let's look inward before we look outward.  

6 Questions to Break the Same-Old Same-Old Cycle

Below are a few questions that can help you evaluate your thinking and how you respond when you encounter results that continue to resurface.

Do you think about failure in terms of failure to grow and improve instead of the mindset of failure to pass?

Does your thinking about your response to a student’s failure to grow result in a meaningful change in the way you teach those kids who are regressing?

When a student fails to grow, do you initially reflect on your instruction and the ways it helped or didn’t help the student grow?

With respect to apathetic or disruptive students, do you think first about ways that you can change your approach to better meet the student’s deficits and how you can better connect with them?

With respect to academic deficits, do you reflect on how you teach concepts and whether or not they are truly meeting kids where they currently are in their ability?

When you don’t know what to do, do you look to your colleagues for guidance, suggestions and strategies to better meet the needs of your regressing students?

Do you have more checks in the yes column or no column?  

So how did you do?  If you have more no's, you may be stuck in the same old thinking.  If you have more checks in the yes column, you are headed in the right direction.  The same old results are precipitated by the same old thinking.  If we truly want our students to grow, we must recommit to our own growth and development first.  That will only happen when we honestly reflect on our own abilities and effectiveness and the thinking that reinforces them  When that happens, we will be more able to create new actions, skills and mindsets which will in turn lead to new and better results.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Escaping the Prison of Fear

Fear is a living breathing beast in schools.  No matter how talented you are or how successful your campus is, fear is lurking around your building and waiting to rear its ugly head.  The minute that scores drop, fear arises.  If anyone complains, insecurity mounts.  If an educator experiences divorce, death or difficulties in their own personal life, fear drives them into survival model.

But as I ponder fear and the effects that it has on teachers, leaders and a culture of learning, I am reminded of this picture by Tony Evans that I tweeted out a few months ago.

As leaders, we must remind ourselves that we have two options in how we can handle fear:

  • We can avoid acknowledging that fear exists, or 
  • We can create a culture that courageously and collaboratively conquers their fears. 

A culture that fails to meet its fears head on will eventually succumb to the stress caused by fear and spiral into chaos. However, a culture that conquers its fears may suffer setbacks along the way but will eventually reach a new and better place. As leaders, we must remember that fear stifles creativity. It inhibits innovation, and it puts people in their place.  Whether its personal or professional, all fear stifles progress.

Fear is a prison, but it doesn't have to imprison us forever. A leader's job is not to remove fear from the organization. It is to challenge people to come together to courageously confront all fears. Fear will always be a part of who we are because we are human, but the best leaders ensure that fear doesn't strangle both the organization and the people who make it thrive.  Organizations that thrive, are composed of many people who care about one another, support on another in times of difficulty, and pick one another up when they're in trouble.  In these organizations, fear is not confronted in isolation.  It's conquered through collaboration.

This week, take time to work with your colleagues to:

  • Face your fears and call them by name, 
  • Eliminate your fears with a plan of action,
  • Acknowledge that having fear is ok, but letting it stop you is not 
  • Rise above your fears by telling your story. 
You won't believe the progress that will follow.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Teaching is More about Selling & Less about Telling

I loathe car shopping as I can't stand to haggle over prices. The game over numbers, trades, discounts and other code words for money out of my pocket literally drives me insane. (Pun intended), but there is a time that I do like buying a car.  I enjoy buying a car when I happen to find a salesperson who connects with me on a personal level and understands me as a client. There's no game, no hassle, and no insanity. The deal is done or it's not done.

So let's apply that to Learning

Did you ever have the same feeling as a student in class?  Did you dread walking into that teacher's door because you knew you weren't going to learn anything meaningful?  Did you feel your excitement slowly fade into apathy the minute they started talking at you?  Did you resent being forced to learn a subject that felt more like punishment than actual learning?

Then at other times did you have a teacher that you just couldn't wait to see?  The minutes flew by, and you left class excited about the next day's lesson. Do you remember that this teacher wasn't even 'teaching' because what you were doing was so much fun. If you're like me, you can still see the lessons you were doing and feeling the fun all over again.  

The very best teachers sell what they're teaching. They believe in their product, and they convince kids to buy-in to learning with their charisma and confidence. Lessons and activities are devised with a focus on the learner first and the content second.  These exemplars of instructional excellence connect with kids as people first and as learners second because they know that getting kids to engage in learning is the exact same as getting them to buy a car. For some kids it's easy to make the sale, but for others it takes a little more relational work of showing them the benefits before they will purchase the learning.

The next time you walk in your class, think of your students as potential customers and your content as the product.  If you approach your instruction with the mindset of selling instead of telling, there's a strong likelihood that your kids will dread leaving your class because they will want more of what you're teaching.  Sell it; don't tell it.