What Trust Is Not…

Whenever we talk about trusting our kids, reservations inevitably arise. Safety? Wasted opportunities? Wasted time?

Often, these fears grow from a convoluted interpretation of what it means to trust our kids. So I’d like to start a discussion here on what trust is not. Trust is NOT…

negligence. Quite the opposite. When we define all the timetables, we are directors of our students, which really can take place at an arm’s length (I assign the work, you complete it by the end of class, test, repeat). When we trust, when become learners of our students, watching and listening as we immerse ourselves in their progress, offering guidance along the way. I found this approach to be beautifully captured by Faige Meller here:

We always wonder if they’re learning, if we’re doing a good job, if were covering the curriculum and if they’ll be ready for the next grade? We test, we do running records, we talk, we ask questions and we write report cards. But I have another idea!  How about we also watch the kids, we listen to them as they’re doing the learning. We see how they incorporate what we’ve taught in their authentic application of the learning as they write graphic novels; how they laugh gleefully reading to each other, discovering something in the story that was new to them; how they figure out how to cut paper to make pop ups (there’s math there folks,) and how eager they are to share with their teachers all that and more!

turning a blind eye. Sometimes, our students will waste their time, just as at times, adults waste time. But that doesn’t mean that clamping down on trust for them all is the answer. Trusting our students involves getting to know them extremely well. and then using that information to make more whole-picture decisions when they seem to fall short. This example from my friend Monte Syrie went viral on Bored Panda because people know it’s not about ignoring problems, but acknowledging the whole context with humanity.

a total lack of boundaries. That, of course, would be educational suicide. The nature of boundaries in a trust/student-centered classroom is a much more nuanced conversation. But mostly involves a lot of conversations with our students, both on the individual level and as a whole. More on that discussion here in “Baby Gates & Boundaries.”

insisting on too little structure too soon. Especially after years of being trained that teachers make all the important decisions regarding their learning, it’s understandable that many of our students struggle with ownership being given back to them.

We recognize that working toward greater levels of trust, along with that “gradual release,” is always an ongoing process, guided by how well we’ve come to know our kids and gaining their trust in return. (planning on centering next week’s provocation around this!)

lack of planning. When we become more focused on following and trusting the child, we work to become experts of the mandated curricula so we can identify where to help students make connections in their own learning paths. Sonya terBorg describes this well in her post on control:

Giving control of learning to the child doesn’t mean sitting in the corner with your feet up and letting them flounder.  It means becoming an observer, a guide, a road map of sorts – ready to be referenced.  It means being attuned to what is going on in your classroom and being prepared to ask for clarification from the children in your class.  It means posing the right questions, sharing the right provocations, providing the appropriate amount of time for them to work their magic.

unwarranted risk. We may face the raised brow by those who claim that the system — the programs, the lectures, the testing, the teacher control — is working just fine. For the few that still believe that, it may be hard to convince them that any deviation is necessary. But for those of us who see that kids aren’t retaining information fed to them in traditional school, aren’t applying learning in ways they find meaningful, or aren’t developing the skills the 21st century (and 22nd) will demand of them, we see we really don’t have a lot to lose with making a change. You’ll find a lot of us on Educator Voices, a shared blog of teachers who “share and celebrate how we are pushing the boundaries, shaking up the system and challenging the status quo!”

In the end, we may worry about what might happen if we trust our kids, but what we should be worrying about is what might happen if we do not. The benefits and opportunities far outweigh the perceived risks of trusting our students, as Taryn writes, “to make mistakes, fail, run out of time, learn, reflect and, inevitably, grow.”

(by the way, I have to throw out that this totally has #TeacherMom applications, too. See one of my favorite parenting sites, LetGrow, to learn how we can better trust kids to own their own childhoods).

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Mindful of the Messages We Send About Their Book Choices #TeacherMom

My 8 year-old has recently discovered how much she adores graphic novels. I don’t know why it took me so long to help introduce her to the genre; after all, I already knew how much she loves comics, and I could sense that while she’s a strong reader, she just isn’t yet ready for text-heavy pages. So the floodgates have opened:

Jennifer Holm

Ben Hatke

Ben Clanton

Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Raina Telgemeier

Dana Simpson

Geronimo Stilton

Even as we have enjoyed discussing each of these books (and laughing at how quickly she devours them), I can’t help but wonder: what if I held the common belief that comics “don’t count” as reading? What impact would that have on her growth as a reader? What impact would that have on our relationship?

Yet, when I consider my 4 year-old’s reading choices lately, I realize my response has been much less supportive. The reason? They all consist of massive encyclopedia-like texts that are just not fun for me to read to him. Books like:

Clearly, both my readers need equal support and enthusiasm from me in order to feel that their growing reading identities are valued and valid. I realize it’s time for me to spend as much time browsing the library shelves and placing holds for my son’s reading preferences as I do for my daughter’s, not to mention to embrace his bedtime story choices!

Only when we work to catch our sometimes subconscious responses can we find ways to do better to nurture our diverse readers.

What messages, good, bad, & ugly, have you sent to your kids over the years? How has that adapted? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments.

Announcing Our 2018 Design A Better Future Scholarship Awardees!

Over the last 6 years of running this scholarship, our program has evolved from an essay contest, to a multimedia project, to now a 3-round Design Thinking community improvement project. We can say with confidence that this year’s application process has been the most ambitious yet!

We certainly asked a lot of our 2018 applicants: a full project proposal, an artifact or prototype, and a final reflection including video. And we have been inspired by the determination of these students to strengthen their communities in diverse ways. While it was extremely difficult to make the final decision, we are very pleased to announce our final awardees are as follows:

Bryan Banuelos: Warrior Dream Program ~ Our top awardee who will receive an additional $5,000 toward another iteration of his project

Austin Fitzgerald: MindStrings free violin tutoring for low-income students

William Rand: OHBreathe wellness workshops at his school

Alexis Showalter: CyberCitizens tech class business for seniors

Isaac Stone: Invisible Cane device to assist the blind to navigate surroundings

Full details on their projects will be published on our Past Winners page within the next few weeks. Thank you to all the schools and administrators that helped spread the word on our scholarship, and thank you to every student that applied! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Learner Profiles: Balanced

When we’re asked what makes us feel successful as parents, I’ve noticed that our answers often involve our kids’ choices. But as I reflect, I can’t help but wonder if that is a perilous decision. After all, what if we do everything “right” and our kids still don’t “turn out” as we expected? Or worse still, what if our kids ultimately define success differently than we do? Might we then condemn ourselves to a life of stress and perceived failure?

Because we only truly have control over ourselves, hinging our sense of success within may prove more beneficial. And teaching our children to do so will in turn help them to take more ownership over the course of their lives.

To me, this is all tightly woven with being balanced. My days feel most scattered when I have neglected important roles, and they feel most successful when I have managed to give each the attention necessary. This week’s provocation is intended to help students consider what it means to find balance in their own lives, and to recognize what a lack of balance looks like.

Resource #1: Labeled food plate (story here)

Resource #2: Mobile by Verena Fels

A humorous and more direct connection to “balance.” I like how it addresses how we sometimes take ourselves too seriously in seeking balance.

Resource #3: Nuggets by Filmbilder

This video gets into the heavier topic of how drugs cause dependence. However, its representation can be expanded to anything that causes us to have extreme dependence, causing a lack of balance and self-control in our lives.

Resource #4: Yelp: With Apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” by Tiffany Slain & Let it Ripple Studio

The “looking for an info fix” here might add an interesting element to this discussion. I am a huge proponent for teaching kids the potential for good within tech use (rather than just teaching them not to do bad things); however, even with the most positive perspectives, might the result still be negative if balance is not part of the conversation?

Resource #5: Cinder Edna by Ellen Jackson & Kevin O’Malley

If you’ve missed this spunky twist on an old tale, it’s worth checking out! Adds a great element of what it means to be well-rounded.

Resource #6: Moon, by Alison Oliver

My 8 year-old was very clearly able to see that Moon’s to-do list was seriously out-of-balance. Investigate with your students what else our to-do lists should include to live balanced lives.

Provocation Questions: 

  • What does it mean to live a balanced life for you?
  • What does it mean to have balance in your family?
  • How does balance impact our quality of life?
  • How does balance impact our societies?
  • What are the consequences of a lack of balance?
  • What role do humor and flexibility play in seeking balance?
  • What changes might I make to achieve greater balance in my life?

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7 Ways For Promoting More Choice within “Compulsory Schooling”

In John Taylor Gatto’s book, Dumbing Us Down, he contends that compulsory education impacts children in the following ways:

#1: It confuses students.

“I teach the un-relating of everything, an infinite fragmentation the opposite of cohesion.”

#2: It teaches kids to accept their rigid class & grade-level placement.

“The lesson of numbered classes is that everyone has a proper place in the pyramid and that there is no way out of your class except by number magic.”

#3: It makes them indifferent.

“The lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?”

#4: It makes them emotionally dependent.

“By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestined chain of command.”

#5: It makes them intellectually dependent.

“We must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices.”

#6: It teaches provisional self-esteem.

“A monthly report, impressive in its provision, is sent into students’ homes to signal approval or to mark exactly, down to a single percentage point, how dissatisfied with their children parents should be.”

#7: It teaches them that they cannot hide, due to constant supervision.

“I assign a type of extended schooling called “homework,” so that the effect of surveillance, if not that surveillance itself, travels into private households, where students might otherwise use free time to learn something unauthorized from a father or mother, by exploration, or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighborhood.”

While I don’t necessarily agree with all he writes, he makes a pretty solid case regarding these consequences of the institution of school. Despite the fact that he wrote it in 1991, we are still seeing similar consequences today.

by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman, April 22, 2018

Nonetheless, here in 2018, we have so many opportunities to address these issues, even within the construct of “compulsory schooling.” I would like to visit how we might address each one today.

#1: Confusion Seek out inquiry & concept-based learning in which students start with the big concepts. Start with the student by provoking thinking and connections. See my list of provocations here on concepts ranging from empathy to color to how we organize ourselves. And check out Laura England’s fabulous recent example with her students’ big thinking.

#2: Accepting class/grade-level placement  Encourage student voice & global collaboration. Solicit their feedback & regularly meet in class meetings to ascertain their feelings about “how things are” and whether they have ideas on how it might be better. And if they want to talk with students or experts beyond their assigned grade level, facilitate that! See amazing examples here.

#3: Indifference Make time for student inquiry such as Genius Hour or Passion time for students to pursue personally meaningful learning over the longterm. See AJ Juliani’s guide.

#4: Emotional dependence → Reject trinkets & prizes in favor of intrinsic motivation. See this great example of how we can do so with regards to reading from Donalyn Miller.

#5: Intellectual dependence Put students in the driver’s seat as often as possible, from planning their day to self-regulation (see more details). 

#6: Provisional self-esteem  Implement Student-led conferences & blogging to allow students to clearly recognize and share their own learning.

#7: Lack of privacy  Ask what parents need (& otherwise view ourselves as support/appendages to the family, rather than family as an appendage of school).

There will always be limitations within the rigid public school system. However, especially as we make advances in technology that provides more opportunities for personalized learning and agency, there will always be ways to find flexibility to help learners take more ownership over their lives as learners. It may be the next best thing to fully self-directed learning.

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6 Gorgeous Picture Books Capturing Magical, Independent Childhoods #TeacherMom

One of my all-time favorite childhood books is Gyo Fujikawa’s “Oh, What A Busy Day!” What I found most magical about it as a child was observing all the ideas those kids pursued — without a single supervising adult.

As recently shared on the LetGrow site,

“Once upon a time, kids were part of the world. They were allowed to go places, do things, meet people. They were active.

For “active” now substitute “activities.” Kids participate in activities created for them, not by them. We take them, show them, teach them, protect them in a way that most of us — given the choice — would have rejected in favor of adventure.”

To me, this comes down to a major break-down of trust and community. Driven by our fears of all that might happen if we don’t do what is described above, we teach our kids that no one — not even our kids themselves — are worthy of trust.

That’s why I adore the following picture books. May they inspire you and your children to cultivate greater trust & recapture the magic of childhoods filled with healthy independence & adventure.

#1: Oh, What A Busy Day! by Gyo Fujikawa

Published in 1976, this picture book was ahead of its time with regards to diversity. It takes children through the possibilities of every facet of childhood, from make-believe, to fighting with friends, to enjoying the different seasons. I literally spent years trying to recall the author or title before I finally stumbled across our original beloved copy at my parents’ house — I immediately bought a reprint. Her own words describing how she felt about her audience sum up her beautiful work:

“In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind–will this picture capture a child’s imagination? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story? I am far from being successful (whatever that means), but I am ever so grateful to small readers who find ‘something’ in any book of mine.”

#2: Everything You Need for a Treehouse by Carter Higgins & Emily Hughes

This lovely read came from Colby Sharp’s recommendation. I loved it so much that I bought it for my daughter’s birthday book as it reminded me of her sense of adventure & creativity. Kids are shown the many dreamy ways they can enjoy treehouse goodness — even if they are still waiting on a tree.

#3: Windows by Julia Denos & E.B. Goodale

Go for an evening walk with a young boy as he learns about his neighborhood through his own quiet observations. I love the way this captures how much kids can notice about their communities when given the chance.

#4: Bertolt  by Jacques Goldstyn

A book that will speak to the introvert’s soul. A child loves spending time with his tree, Bertolt, more than anything else in the world. His quiet observations and problem-solving will win over the hearts of all that love to get some alone-time.

#5: Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran & Barbara Cooney

My friend Faige Meller first introduced me to Roxaboxen, and it has been a family favorite ever since! The Goodreads reviews are packed with nostalgia, but I think it’s important to note that kids haven’t stopped being capable of creating such a retreat. We as adults need to just get out of their way more often to let them make it happen. “Roxaboxen is always waiting. Roxaboxen is always there.”

#6: Raft by Jim LaMarche

A story filled with appreciation and self-discovery. Kids will love following Nicky through the woods as he comes to love a summer of solitude at his grandmother’s house.

What about you? What are your favorite reads that promote the independent and magical childhoods we are all nostalgic for (and that we can again support)!

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Inquiry Into Learner Profile & Skills: Thinker

Giving students an opportunity to inquire into what it means to be a thinker is valuable at any point throughout the year; when starting a new unit, when working on how to display thinking, when refreshing the concept of metacognition. For the PYP, this can be used for both the Learner Profile attribute of Thinker, as well as the Learning Skill of thinking.

Resource #1: Obvious to you. Amazing to others by Derek Sivers

Resource #2: Nature by Numbers by Cristóbal Vila (This is math-based, of course, but I love the broader applications to thinking here — how did Fibonacci’s thinking originally unfold?)

#3: How to Figure Out Any Day of the Week for Any Date Ever by It’s OK to be Smart via TheKidShouldSeeThis (great example to see how we can be great thinkers, too).

Resource #4: reDesign Skills (these are teacher activities designed to promote thinking skills, but especially for older students, I wonder what would happen if you allowed them to take the lead on one of these for their classmates?)

reDesign thinking skills

Resource #5: What Do You Do With A _____ picture books by Kobi Yamada

Provocation Questions:

  • What is the connection between thinking and organization? What is the connection between thinking and courage?
  • What is metacognition?
  • What kinds of mindsets help us as thinkers? What kinds of mindsets hurt us as thinkers?
  • How people change as thinkers over time?
  • How does being an active thinker impact our lives? How does it impact our communities?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto