If you’re a teacher in New York state then you know that summer recess has only just begun. Spending the last Thursday before the end of school with Chris Lehman was an inspiring way to close out the 2016/2017 year. On June 22, 2017, we concluded another year talking more about how to question rather than dispensing answers. We celebrated this ideal by diving into a thoughtful conversation around Chris Lehman’s wonderful book, Energize Research Reading and Writing. After all, this is at its core, what #G2Great is really all about; loving the questions and welcoming the search to know more. Chris Lehman’s message extends beyond research to every aspect of teaching and learning.
What does curiosity look like in the classroom?
Curiosity is the ember that ignites the flame. It burns hot and with great intensity in the heart of every person who has a desire to learn. Chris invites us to grant freedom of choice because this is how we empower our students to engage the world: Curiosity looks like choice…
Just recently I asked a group of educators to “embrace the mess” that comes with learning something new. We are preparing to implement a new program which involves new approaches to teaching mathematics. I talked about how we have to move outside of our comfort zone in order to grow and get better, because that is what will help our students grow and learn. Part of that mess that I invited them into involves making mistakes, mistakes that lead us to greater learning. Reframing a mistake as an opportunity for learning can have a powerful impact on the learner. Mistakes are opportunities for learning. Brain research has taught us that when a person makes a mistake a synapse happens in their brain, creating a dendrite. The dendrite is evidence that the brain is growing and learning.
On June 15, 2017 #G2Great welcomed Jon Harper as a guest host to lead a conversation around learning opportunities that come from mistakes. Jon invites guests onto his podcast My Bad to share their mistakes and to explain how those mistakes led to new learning opportunities. This was the perfect complement to #G2Great where we are always striving to move from Good to Great Teaching in the spirit of Dr. Mary Howard’s book which is the heart of our Twitter community.
Jon’s tweet below emphasizes not only the mistakes but how important it is to share those mistakes with others. He talks about how this lifts the weight off of our own shoulders. The more transparent we are about our own learning, the more comfortable everyone becomes with sharing mistakes. This creates a safe environment where we are no longer afraid to take the risks that are necessary for learning.
Sharing our mistakes with our students gives them the opportunity to see that everyone makes mistakes and that in fact, that is how we learn. If we talk through our mistakes and our students learn how to do that while receiving feedback they can experience the learning process in a very transparent way. As Jon points out we have to be willing to “step first” and be open about our mistakes, others will follow.
Once an open and safe environment has been created to embrace mistakes, leaving some space after a mistake can provide time for the learner to reflect and work through the mistake. This is powerful because only one’s own brain can create a dendrite — it is not something a teacher can do for a student. Inviting that time for processing and reflecting on their own mistakes is critical to the learning process.
Allowing ourselves to be in situations of new learning where we feel uncomfortable is important so that we do not lose the perspective of the learner. As Jon pointed out in this tweet, we have our students in these situations every day, we have a responsibility to empathize with their feelings so that we can provide the supportive environment that welcomes the messy process of learning.
The world we live in places pressures on us to be perfect, be smart and to only value the product. As Jon points out this creates a culture where people are scared to show their imperfections. We need to be vulnerable, we need to accept imperfections and approximations. We need to embrace the approximations that come with growing and learning.
Dani Burtsfield visual Word Cloud
If you are interested in learning more about Jon and the power of making mistakes see the links below:
Is it the competition? Emerging victorious? Or just the knowledge that if you win the Super Bowl that you are the world champions? Saturday I had the opportunity to try on two championship rings at a football event: Marshall Yanda’s and James Ferentz’s rings. Each ring is as unique as the team and the player. They are huge personalized outward symbols of a world championship team member. On my ring finger, this covered both of my joints and was filled with glitz, sparkle, and a weight that emphasized its success!
The link above will take you to Heinemann and ultimately a free copy of the introduction and Chapter 6. If you are a teacher, coach or administrator you will want to read this book and study the ideas that Patty presents as well as follow @pattyvreilly on Twitter.
What makes this a championship book?
“Regardless of age, grade level, geographic location, type of school, discipline, or curriculum, ” Patty writes, “A student needs to be engaged in his or her learning in order to excel and succeed.” She suggests a sequence for implementing the principles of teaching that lead to engaged classrooms, including (Heinemann, p.xiv ):
“Creating physical, emotional, and cognitive classroom environments for optimal learning
Building meaningful classroom structure through whole class, small group, and independent instruction
Applying the principles of choice to content, process, and product
Connecting students to the world around them through popular culture, technology, and the community.”
Why is engaged student learning important?
Engagement is definitely not to be confused with compliance. Patty tells us that: “Engaged learners are passionate, hardy, persistent, thoughtful, committed, and connected to their work. Behavioral engagement includes participation, focus and following school procedures. Cognitive engagement is being minds-on in academic tasks and includes willingness to challenge oneself and be reflective. Emotional engagement is the ‘relationship’ part of learning and includes interest in learning, connecting with others and having a strong sense of self.” (Heinemann, p.xiv)
During the course of the chat, Patty’s tweets outlined six actions for teachers to build engagement in classrooms:
1. Consider the three dimensions of engagement
2. Cultivate engagement in the classroom; don’t teach it!
3. Establish routines to cultivate high engagement
4. Use assessments to build engagement! (with example)
5. Use choice to build engagement (with an example of independent publishing)
6. Cultivate your own engagement (with an excerpt from the book)
I am a firm believer of “begin with the end in mind”. What is the question you have about student engagement in your classroom? How are you building that championship culture? Do you need to begin with the sixth action and assess your own use of your posse and your engagement in learning? Or do you need to begin at the beginning in order to learn more about the behavioral, emotional and cognitive environments? Each book chapter includes a checklist that will help you prioritize your needs. Please build your own mini-action plan to cultivate engagement in all aspects and for all students, as well as yourself!
The first time Todd and Adam’s book appeared on my Twitter screen, my eyes fixated on three words that reached out and grabbed me by the heartstrings – Kids Deserve It. I recall wondering if the authors could possibly do these words justice and truly push and challenge the boundaries of conventional thinking. Any doubt in my mind dissipated in minutes as their introduction held me captive word by exquisite word:
“Educators can’t get complacent. We can’t allow ourselves to be stopped by the roadblocks that will pop up in our way. We must persevere. We must keep pushing the envelope and fighting the fight to give our students the best possible education. Because each and every one of our kids deserve it.” (xii)
To my delight, my status as captive audience lingered from cover to cover as I found myself joyfully anticipating the repeated phrase that ended each chapter – becausekids deserve it! On that first exuberant reading, I scribbled happy notations lovingly across now dog-eared pages and still frequently revisit those words for renewed inspiration.
Our #G2Great chat with Todd and Adam elevated my Kids Deserve It lovefest and made me appreciate those three magical words even more. And so in honor of our guests, I’ll borrow their inspired phrase to share six powerful ideas that permeated our #G2Great hour with Todd and Adam as we heed their challenge to avoid complacency… Because Kids Deserve It!
Because Kids Deserve Teachers Who are CONNECTED
I am so grateful to live in an age where we have been afforded incredible opportunities to step beyond our own spaces so we can expand our circle of dedicated others. Becoming connected allows us to join forces in ways that were never available to me when I began teaching in 1972. With the gift of social media literally at our fingertips, being connected is not just an opportunity but also a responsibility. During the chat, we each exchanged our personal fears that once thwarted this brave shift as connected educators and the realization that those fears were unfounded in reality. We each acknowledged the impact of social media in our lives and the generous support of other connected educators who have elevated our day-to-day professional efforts through thoughtful collaborations.
Because Kids Deserve Teachers Who are KNOWLEDGEABLE
I often reflect on how much I’ve grown as an educator over the past 4 ½ decades. While I certainly celebrate my growth process, it is actually how much further I have to go that inspires me most. We have a myriad of options to support our growth journey (social media, reading, dialogue, webinars) and choosing from these options demonstrates firm commitment to increasing our own knowledge base. That base includes our knowledge of research and the practices that enrich our teaching but we also recognize that this knowledge will only come to life where it matters most when we know students. This combined knowledge allows us to determine the best possible practices for each student at any given time. Professional knowledge is crucial, but keeping knowledge of students in our sights allows us to apply these understandings in responsive ways.
Because Kids Deserve Teachers Who are PRESENT
Being present in the learning moments that surround us became a familiar theme across the entire chat discussion. Todd and Adam helped us honor the relationships that form the foundation of our work but they each turned our attention to these relationships from multiple perspectives. Todd reminded us to listen more than we talk as we seek to understand the viewpoints of others. Adam highlighted the power of meaningful dialogue driven by our curiosity about children and unbridled determination to move students from where they are to where they could be as we honor the same for ourselves. Listening and thoughtful talk helps us to be present in those moments so that we can do our best work for our students because we know that everything we do is an opportunity to consistently and purposefully make student success our priority.
Because Kids Deserve Teachers Who are APPRECIATIVE
One need only spend a few minutes on Twitter chats like #G2Great to recognize the potential for celebrating inspired learning from our own lens and from that of our colleagues. Whether we are working to build relationships with our students or with our peers, the focus and outcome are the same. We begin by noticing the many amazing opportunities around us and then intentionally celebrate those noticings as we honor them for ourselves and others. Over time, our celebrations become a habit of mind that can only survive in a schoolwide culture grounded in mutual respect. It is this genuine respect for our children and for each other that has the potential to take us to a whole new level and we embrace these opportunities wholeheartedly.
Because Kids Deserve Teachers who are FULFILLED
Everyone who participated in our #G2Great chat recognizes the value of connecting but as the chat continued, disconnecting began to loom large as a counter point. Teaching is fulfilling but it can also leave us riddled with doubt so we refill our life buckets as we turn those celebrations inward by giving equal attention to our personal lives outside of school. This may require us to turn off technology but more importantly it means that we take the time to turn off our minds and embrace quiet moments with family, friends, nature or whatever may personally renew us. We are the sum total of our professional and personal lives so we cannot allow one to blind us to the other.
Because Kids Deserve Teachers who are UNWAVERING
Perhaps one of the most important points in my mind that came from this amazing book by Todd and Adam and also from our chat discussion is that we can never give up – not on children and not on each other. While there will certainly be children, educators and events that challenge us and fill us with self doubt, we choose to move beyond those challenges by finding supportive others who will inspire and support us on our mission to avoid roadblocks as we “persevere, push the envelope and fight the fight.” Eachof us may do this in our own unique ways, but we have a common commitment to hold tight to our vision no matter what roadblocks may stand in our way so that it will not impede our efforts to give our students the best possible education.
Since this week #G2great celebrated the message of Kids Deserve It, it seems fitting to end with two messages Todd and Adam released to the world within the last 24 hours of writing this post. Their words tie this post together and re-energize our commitment to do this remarkable work because kids deserve it.
Thank you for keeping those words at the forefront of our minds Todd and Adam!
“No more no – educators need to be in the yes business. Tell kids yes and see what happens. Give them a longer leash. Give them a chance. Believe in their ideas, even though it wasn’t yours. Our kids and teachers deserve it!”