Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Balancing Green Time and Screen Time

Using Technology to Connect Students and The Environment is an incredible resource for teachers and especially science teachers that are attempting to integrate the physical connection and digital connection that our students need for growing into the solutionists that our world needs. Being globally connected is essential, and this requires our students to learn digitally. It means having a digital footprint and serving as stewards in the cyberspace they fill. These are the identical outcomes that we need when we attempt to connected our students physically to the local space that they reside. We want students to create a soft footprint in their neighborhood as well as be seen as assets and stewards to the community. The delicate balance that no one can ignore is how do we build the right amount of green time and screen time into the lives of our kids.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Visual Thinking Strategies-Tools for Learning

When I learn about  a "new" concept or idea in education, I often feel very silly. It begins to eat into my being. I ask myself how could I have missed some of the pure gold that has been in front of my face for this long. I felt this way recently as I leaned into learning surrounding the Visual Thinking Strategies that were cultivated by Project Zero at Harvard. These "routines" are an incredible way to get kids thinking about their thinking and learning process. Too often, we make assumptions that kids have structured ways to think about the complexity of the learning taking place. If you aren't aware of the power that can come from these routines, check out this blog dedicated to sharing how teachers using these strategies to enhance student learning. How do we lean through that feeling of being silly about our ignorance to a place where we can absorb the best stuff no matter how old or known it already is to the masses?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Another Bright Spot on the Educational Landscape

I am always looking for fresh ideas and success stories in education. They are everywhere. Pockets of excellence throughout the country that are buried in the mountain of stories surrounding schools as place of failure. By listening to my connected learning allies, I continue to uncover gems in education. The latest was the Making Community Connections (MC2) Charter School. It is amazing to see how they are using the QED Transformational Change Model in such a deep way to build a vision and mission for excellence.

Is it that time of the year for you when the tank is empty, and you are longing for something different, something better for students? Begin looking for bright spots. They are like that moment when the sun hits our skin in the spring and the world feels right again. Find a new school this week. Dream about the place that you would want to work in a perfect world or the school that you would want your kids to attend. It is probably out there in some shape or form. Pursuing learning from that space.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why Teach?- A Short Thought

This is cross posted at 

Serving others is the ultimate calling that all human beings possess. It is only through this service can we grow deeply in knowing ourselves. Teaching and the learning facilitated through teaching is the pinnacle of humanness. It allows a deep sharing of process and passion. It is in these spaces that we should all chose to teach. It allows for the neural connections of our human ecosystem to strengthen and shine as teaching is soul giving and soul receiving.

Monday, March 17, 2014

A Day of Firsts

There is a subtle difference in being first and having an experience that is your first. The desire for being first can be overwhelming. It can hamper clarity in thought. It can leave you with tunnel vision about those things of true importance. Having a first experience though is a memory, a story, a context in which to build future experiences. I've been trying to wrap my mind around the power of this video that showcases the first kiss of a group of 20 people (whether they are strangers or not seems to be in debate). It is powerful. It draws me into watching it again and again for the subtle of each movement. There is something about first moments for everyone that is so powerful. Experiences are essential to the happiness of life. First experiences are the catalyst for this mindset. How are you fulfilling your need for firsts without confusing that for being first?

Can we ever really take a break from learning?

With Spring Break within reach, it begs the question about whether or not we have time to take a break from learning or whether it is even possible to take a break from learning. There is always a struggle within me to know when it is time to pause to reflect, slow my thinking, and recharge the battery or press forward in the work to create the best possible learning spaces for kids. Learning is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week adventure in this world, and it is hard to pause knowing the fire hose of information that includes incredible opportunities is passing us by. I often ask whether taking a break sends the wrong message to our kids about the needed work ethic to succeed. Does anyone else share a nervousness about the message that taking a break sends? The right answer to this question is elusive for me these days, but it may lie in an always playing, always working model that requires a tender balance and solid communication with those that surround you. Enjoy the time ahead, whether it is learning, playing, or everything wrapped together.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Language Matters

The words that we use about our students, our positions, and our frustrations make a huge difference in the overall success of the organization. Words matter. During my time when I taught kids the concepts of being critical readers and writers, I always enjoyed the study of linguistics. Recently, the New York Times created an incredible activity to support conversations around linguistics. I hadn't had a chance to work with it until recently, but it is a 25 question quiz that pinpoints where someone lives based on their responses. Language says a lot about our story and the story of those that surround us. I can imagine being back in the classroom asking the following questions. Is there a right answer to these questions? Do our current language patterns trap us into our place in the future? Which question made you want to learn more about the potential responses? Take time to take this amazing quiz, and as you complete it, remember the importance of each word that we use to shape and support our learning spaces this week.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Innovation Infographic

Innovation never happens by talking about it. Innovation is action, and action is innovation. Too often, we are looking for books, leaders, and others to bring us to innovation, but innovation is a mindset surrounding action. It is a lens in which the world is viewed. It is taking the opportunities in front of us and amplifying them. Are we tolerant enough of those that do things different in our schools as it is in these spaces where innovation grows? Take steps to be different. Don't get sucked into the vortex of average teaching and average leading. Use the infographic below as a place to begin. Innovation is always the way out, the road forward, and a place where the richness of what is possible exists.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Demand Different

School leaders, teachers, and those that surround the work of education are in a difficult space. The demands to achieve are higher than ever, and the needs of kids, both academically and in the other spaces of their lives, are growing in intensity and complexity, while the resources are growing more narrow in scope. Think of resources broadly. Resources not only include the money used to run schools, but the people and ideas used to feed the schools as well. It is true that teachers and school leaders are working harder than ever, and for most, the work rate is reaching a breaking point. This is creating an unsustainable system. In addition, the metrics of success are often a moving target. Educators see the goalposts as either moving, invisible, or always under construction. Even with this, schools are working to get better each day, but unfortunately, this idea of working to get better may actually be the greatest limiting factor on education today.

A shift, with the potential to transform the learning spaces throughout the country, can come from voices around the country demanding different. Different schools are the ones that everyone wants their kids to attend. Different schools wouldn't allow someone to return from the moon after 50 years and still recognize learning as he or she knew it. Different schools are maximizing the learning and growth of both the students and adults using the passions and strengths that they bring to the table. Different schools aren't taking more tests, but they are testing solutions to the real-life problems that surround them each day. Different schools aren't about raising scores by 1% or 2% each year by wasting instructional time with test prep and unneeded benchmarking tests.

Thinking about different schools is scary, and they are even scary to lead in a time when it is easier to manage and hide in the camouflage of mediocrity that surrounds today's schools. Being with innovative people in innovative spaces that are building allies and networks is a place of hope for those demanding different schools. Different schools, though, won't be demanded around the country until we solve the gap, not the achievement gap, but the courage gap. Education has a courage gap. Educators are risk adverse to a greater degree than most professions, and it is catching up with the efforts to be excellent. It takes courage to lead a school that goes about its business differently. It takes courage to explain to parents that the honor roll assembly, the rewards, and the token economies are failing our kids. Because in a world where most of their children will be small business owners, self-employed, and entrepreneurs, external motivation doesn't get the job done. It takes courage to leverage the resources in an organization that embolden a larger mission while knowing that it will disrupt the inertia and happiness of many.

The schools that we need demand different. They need to support the open and transparent world that is exploding around education. This begins with pushing students into the center of the ring. In the center, there is no room to hide. It is a place of full engagement where real questions about real issues are being addressed with real solutions that will impact real people. Different schools are real. Different schools are life, and different school breath life into the students that they serve. The truth is communities, and this includes the global community, is demanding different, and the volume of our busyness to get better is drowning out the plea. The cat is out of the bag, but schools, for the most part, are trapped in the darkness of the bag. Demanding different means saying no to the industrial testing complex that surrounds the schools of today. It means being sensible about how to showcase learning for the teachers looking to shape new learning experiences as well as the external audiences. It means saying no to testing for the sake of testing, and it means creating excellence without the definition of excellence coming from the tip of a number two pencil.

It is easy to call for different, even to demand different, but how do educators go about crafting different. It begins with three words: engage, empower, energize. These three words should be the mission of all schools. Teachers and leaders that engage, empower, and energize will work tirelessly to push student choice, student voice, and authentic audience into daily learning. They will use these areas as the barometer of rigor and relevance. If they don't exist, it isn't good enough. Without these elements, the incrementalism of getting better creeps back into the equation, and the possibility of schools that are different becomes a dream of only a few.

Pockets of excellence exist, and they are available for replication. They are usually found in classrooms where teachers that are demanding different. They are hiding in plain sight in a school seeking only better. In these spaces, students are connecting to their community by learning beyond the classroom. This may be learning at the beach or the mountains, but community connection can also come from being in the backyard or a public park. Schools that are thinking different are finding ways to balance green time and screen time for kids. Kids are connecting deeply through technology, and there is a need for balance with community connection.

In other spaces, those demanding different are engaging, empowering, and energizing learning through the power of story. Every job, every career, every space in life requires understanding the story of others, crafting a coherent narrative of one's own life, and telling the story of the ideas that are worth spreading. Different schools are required to tell their stories in a poignant, coherent, concise, and beautiful way each day because the community knows better schools, but the community needs helps marrying itself to different schools. It means that students are the storytellers of their learning, teachers are the storytellers of their spaces of learning, and the school leaders plays the role of storyteller-in-chief. Someone is always telling the story of the school.  The storyteller, when done differently, should be such a cacophony coming from the inside that it is impossible for external forces to guide the story in the wrong direction. Different schools know that story connects humans, and that all story forms an ecosystem that makes sense of the world. Different schools make sense for students.

Different schools are making. They are designing, making, and creating in ways that push student passions to the forefront. The design thinking process is foundational to making. It surges empathy into schools, and allows for students to begin to develop their brand. Students have their creations (writing, music, video, inventions) in places for purchase for an audience around the planet have no time to tarnish their digital footprint. They realize that every Tweet, Facebook post, and picture on Instagram could be seen by a potential customer, and they don't have time to lose customers. Making allows for greater student understanding of marketing, economics, branding, and more. Different schools are demanding that their students are passionate enough to creative, willing to risk failure, and bold enough to demand their place in the world.

The best schools, not the ones trying to get better, are nesting learning in a way that eliminates silos, grows connections, and bring creation, collaboration, communication and critical thinking to the heart of things. This isn't happening with a focus on school schedules, earning credits, and having bells to dictate when learning stops. Demand that the chains of schools that have served yesterday release their bonds. Lean into the possibility that being a part of a different type of school will make your infinitely more hirable in the future. Embrace the power to amplify the work of not only the school in which you park your car each day, but all schools as the connections and networks are ready for this to happen. Say yes more often. Close the courage gap. Be willing to work different, think different, and serve different.

Demand different schools that engage, empower, and energize today's kids who are our everything for tomorrow.

Next Goal Wins

Not all failure is bad failure. In the best scenario, failing forward brings growth, but there is cousin to this type of failure that eats at the core of a school culture. Removing this type of failure can be a very difficult task for teachers, students, and schools. Eroding cultural failure can become part of the DNA of a learning ecosystem. Even though this corrosive failure wasn't there in the beginning for a student, a classroom or a school, this type of failure is a crafty devil that slips into the equation in moments of weakness. It is born in the language surrounding learning. It is born with what we say and don't say to parents and the community. It is even born in our inability to let go of the things that aren't working for kids. Shifting this inertia takes courage by all involved in the ecosystem. It takes a vision for doing things different as opposed to doing things better. It takes a long-term commitment to growth to exorcize the evils of failure from an organization's DNA. In the video, Next Goal Wins, seen below, there is a great example of a culture of failure coming to a close. We can learn from this video as we attempt to transform the learning spaces that surround us. Enjoy the video. Let's score the next goal together for kids.