Do We Give Students The Opportunity to Show Their Best Selves?

I came across this incredible story this morning:

As moving and remarkable as this story is, it makes me wonder: would this kind of response be unique to just that group of students? It seems to me that this highlights the broader goodness that is inherent in our kids, if only we give them the opportunity to rise to and express it.

And what does that take? Clearly, this teacher has taken the time to form a relationship with her students. She describes a classroom environment of shared ownership as her students step up to write on the board and pass out papers as she’s confined to a wheelchair.  She gives them the opportunity to find and share their authentic voices.

Of course, it’s easy to lose sight of these things amid all the obstacles we face as teachers. Pressures of time. Pressures of curriculum. And, like in the circumstance of this Detroit kindergarten classroom with 38 students this year, pressures of resources.

We can and should do what we can to fight for improvements in our schools. But even as we wade through these limitations, we can always find opportunities for student voice/choice and agency.

This might take the form of:

  • inquiry-based learning and provocations to help them make connections and discoveries.
  • regular class meetings in which students help address issues and express concerns/suggestions.
  • Authentic problem-based learning in which students investigate personally-relevant issues.
  • Less dependence on contrived-learning (ie, boxed or computer programs that take the person out of personalized learning), and more meaningful co-constructed learning experiences.
  • Teaching them ways to positively harness the power of social media and digital tools (rather than solely focusing on cyberbullying/safety).

As we work to find ways to give our students their voice and ownership, we will be astonished again and again at their ideas, their empathy, and their capacity to lead as the next generation.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Why I Focus On Agency #TeacherMom

The beginning of Netflix’s rendition of The Little Prince begins with a mother unveiling her child’s life plan to ensure admission to the “right school.” She tells her daughter, “Let’s face it. You’re going to be all alone out there. So we can’t afford to make any more mistakes. You’re going to be a wonderful grown-up.”

While it’s certainly an over-the-top portrayal, when we think about all the societal pressures to ensure our kids’ success, it’s more representative than it might initially seem.

I remember a day a few years back when I was feeling like a particular failure as a parent. I decided to make a list of all the things that were stressing me. In so doing, I realized that it wasn’t so much the daily to-do list itself that was weighing me down; it was the fear of what would happen if I failed at any given item on the list (ie, make sure the kids get quality outdoor play each day OR ELSE they might not develop proper health habits and someday contract heart disease; make sure the house stays clean OR ELSE they might grow up to be hoarders featured on some reality-tv show, etc, etc).

Dire consequences were attached to every task. And it came down to me to prevent every one of those consequences.

As I continued my list, I came to the essential realization: I had thought my actions were driven by love; turns out they were actually driven by fear.

At first, it may seem that what’s driving the action is irrelevant, as long as the results are the same. But upon closer inspection, we realize what happens in a fear-driven environment:

  • We focus less on others’ agency and more on control.
  • We don’t share the load, even with people who have an interest in it.
  • We trust less.
  • We worry more.
  • We stress over timetables & milestones.
  • We are exhausted.

As I have instead worked to start from a place of love, I have found that I focus more and more on the agency of those around me. Because only when I stop worrying about whether I’m enough can I more clearly realize see their strength. Their capacity. Their courage.

This quote from William Stixrud resonated with me so much that this is my second time sharing it in as many weeks:

“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.””

When we’re driven by fear, the burden rests with us to prevent calamity and shape the world.

When we’re driven by love, the burden rests with us all in an open, thoughtfully-discussed, and shared manner.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Attitudes: Independence

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

Independence is such an important element of a child’s life. But it can also be filled with much confusion as there is so much beyond their control. Why not open it up as an inquiry, allowing them to define, discuss, and better understand it? This provocation is suited for just that purpose.

Resource #1: La Luna, by Pixar

Resource #2: Memo, by Gobelins

Resource #3: Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal 

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be independent?
  • How does independence change over a person’s life? Why?
  • What are the different perspectives on independence? How can this sometimes cause conflict?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

When School Is a To-Do List…

…do kids see anything but the list?

…do they put themselves into the learning?

“Seeing a student completely zone out in front of a screen and letting the computer lead the learning is not where I hope education is moving…Let’s just remember that in “personalization” is the word “person.”” ~George Couros

…are they bringing their own energy and passion into those tasks?

…how is their ability for a self-driven life impacted? Are they more or less equipped?

“I start with the assumption that kids have a brain in their head and they want their lives to work. They want to do well. That’s why we want to change the energy, so the energy is coming from the kid seeking help from us rather than us trying to boss the kid, sending the message, “You can’t do this on your own.”” ~William Stixrud

…do they get the chance to discover the power of their own voices?

…is there any room left for curiosity, when so much energy is spent on compliance?

“How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them?” ~Edna Sackson

…is there time for reflection and metacognition?

…do students feel they are making personal discoveries worth discussing?

“I want the students to sit on their own shoulders – watch themselves, notice their responses and listen to their self-talk.  I want them to slow down, press the pause button and review their actions. I want them to ask: “what am I noticing about myself in this?”  “What did I just do/say?” “What is this telling me about myself?” “What could I do differently?” I want them to bring an inquiry stance to learning about themselves as people  and I want them to carry that disposition into the rest of their lives.” ~Kath Murdoch

What small changes can we make to better help students learn to own and drive their learning?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Lessons from Homemade Valentines #TeacherMom

I have zero problem with shelling out $4 for a couple boxes of Valentines for my daughter’s classmates. But when she insisted on making her own for all the kids in her class back in Kindergarten, it absolutely mirrored this Hedge Humor comic:

via Hedge Humor “Valentine Issues”

By the time we get to that last panel here, we’re all ready raise the white flag, drop everything, and run to the store for that silly box of dog and cat valentines with sayings like, “You’re purr-fect.”

But whether it was because she was emulating her hero, Fancy Nancy, in this Valentine’s book someone gave to her, or whether her sheer stubborn will wouldn’t concede failure, she insisted on continuing. Not just then, but in the years since.

And I guess, now that she’s off and away with batch 3 of her annual homemade Valentine’s, I would say I’m actually glad she continued. First and foremost, because it has brought her joy — but also, because it has taught me some important lessons:

1) Stamina is not fun to cultivate — which is why it’s crucial to leverage via kids’ interest. Stamina in writing, stamina in reading, stamina in simply seeing a project through to its completion — we know these are all valuable skills for students and adults alike. But without student-led interest, these skills can be as painful to work on as pulling teeth. At times, we may need to work on stamina as a stand-alone goal (such as training students to be able to read for longer and longer periods of time).

However, we will make much greater progress in stamina when students’ interest is leading the way; not because they won’t experience moments of wanting to quit, but because we can help them use their own end goals to pave their way forward.

2) Student-led endeavors always yield unexpected opportunities for growth. I’ve been surprised to discover that my daughter spends the days before V-day polling her classmates to ascertain their valentine preferences. She has conversations with her teachers about class lists. And of course, she’s always finding new strategies to hone her craft and rein in the glitter. But my favorite discovery here is the fact that there is growth and learning that I don’t even know about — all because she is in the thralls of intrinsic enthusiasm.

3) Zone of proximal development matters even for Valentine-making. Sure, that first year, my daughter pictured herself whipping up valentines as masterfully as Nancy (wearing a chic ensemble to boot). But the zone of proximal development is a place of, well, development. Scaffolding, patience, and time are all needed as we work together with students toward greater and greater independence.

We can also help shape the environment to keep efforts centered in the ZPD, rather than straying into the zone of frustration. For valentine-making, this might include limiting materials or providing pre-cut hearts.

 

In short, though I have no idea where my daughter got this love of arts and crafts, supporting her homemade valentine efforts has reinforced to me the way learning works. I suppose these are lessons I will continue to find most readily when I let my kids lead the way for their learning at home.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry Into Attitudes: Appreciation

This is part of a series of inquiry-based provocations for essential elements of the PYP and the Learner Profile. For more, click here.

As is often the case with these PYP elements, appreciation is another attitude that can be so easy for us to take for granted in our students (and ourselves). We might find ourselves shaking our heads about “kids these days” when the truth is that many kids may not have had the clear exposure, or opportunity to investigate these valued qualities for themselves. So this week’s provocation is designed to give them that very opportunity. Enjoy “Appreciation!”

Resource #1: Noticing the Soundscapes of Yosemite National Park via The Kid Should See This (a bit long, but even just the first minute or two will be sufficient for this provocation!)

Resource #2: “Last Stop on Market Street” by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson

“She smiled and pointed to the sky. “Sometimes, when you’re surrounded by dirt, CJ, you’re a better witness for what’s beautiful.””

Resource #3: “Windows” by Julia Denos and E.B. Goodale

“Then you arrive home again, and you look at your window from the outside. Someone you love is waving at you, and you can’t wait to go inside.”

Resource #4: How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher (a chapter book, but the first couple chapters are a great dose of self-appreciation about our potential to contribute as writers).

“Lies about writing your life story: Lie #1: You have to be a famous celebrity.”

Provocation Questions:

  • What does an appreciation attitude or mindset look like?
  • How does appreciation impact an individual’s life?
  • How does appreciation impact society?
  • What are ways/environments in which you can best feel appreciation?
  • What is our responsibility to appreciate people? Nature? Ideas?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

 

Apparently I’m Completing a “Design A Better Future” Project, Too

Each year, the company that sponsors this blog also sponsors a scholarship for high school seniors, which I have the privilege of maintaining. I have been so inspired by the passion of so many of these students!

This year’s Design A Better Future scholarship is much more involved than the multimedia/essay submissions of previous years because we have also dramatically increased the tuition award (from five $1,000 awardees in the past to five $10,000 awardees this year). Thus, we are asking students to dig deep and utilize the design thinking framework to launch a project that will improve their local communities.

Maybe it’s that as these applications have started rolling in, their visions have rubbed off on me. Maybe it’s because my #OneWord2018 is encouraging me to better discover my capacity for influence. Maybe it’s just my innate teacher-drive to model desired expectations to students. Whatever the case, I find myself also completing a project to try and improve my community.

Based on the Design thinking Launch framework (developed by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer), here’s where I’m at so far. I’m usually the one giving feedback to students, so if you have any feedback to share with me, I would love to hear it!

Look, Listen, & Learn: 

I have been an avid urban cyclist with my kids for the past 7 years. Over the years, I’ve noticed more and more bike-friendly changes: murals on the bike trail tunnels, more marked bike lanes, increasing social media presence, and a deluge of bike events, amenities, and general interest. My family and I have directly benefited from these changes as they have made our rides safer and more enjoyable. This has led me to curiosity about why and how these changes have come about? And more importantly, how can I help?

Ask Tons of Questions:

My curiosity led me to volunteer for our local city bicycle committee and attending one of their monthly meetings, during which I unexpectedly found myself signing up for a project to increase/improve bike parking in our city. The questions came in a downpour and continue today:

  • Why is quality bike parking important?
  • What defines quality bike parking?
  • How did the bike parking that exists come about?
  • How do we encourage business/property managers to add or improve bike parking?
  • How do we work with bike rack companies to help make it easier/more appealing for business managers to obtain quality bike racks?
  • How will better bike parking impact biking in our community?
  • Who are the people I talk to about what has been done so far? How do I ask for their help?
  • What existing organizations can I collaborate with to extend our reach?
  • …and on and on and on…

Understand the Process or Problem: 

These questions led me to immersing myself in TONS of literature. I read just about every bike parking guide in existence, and I created a new RSS feed category devoted purely to biking (my growing list currently includes Strong Towns Media, BikeLeague.org, Dero Bike Racks blog, Little Bellas, Momentum Mag, and more). I am also learning a lot from other more experience bike activists in our community through emails and meetings.

Navigate Ideas: 

In this phase, I synthesized what I had learned and started creating graphics to help me distill the most important information and to be able to share moving forward.

I also came to the realization that our bike community needs a coordinated representation of all the bike parking that’s currently available so we know where to go next. This led me to…

Create a Prototype: 

…a bike map! I discovered that I could create my own Google Map with custom layers and location markers for our city. I got started right away and presented back to our committee.

Highlight & Fix: 

Feedback from others in the committee led me to create multiple layers to differentiate which bike racks are in ideal condition, which need improvement, and which need to be installed. I also realized that the Maps layout can be kind of clunky for smartphones, and since we decided it would be best to use this as a crowd-sourcing tool, it has led me to tinker with other options like Google sites with an embedded Google Form.

Thanks to feedback from a particularly active member of the committee, I’m also working on incentivizing contributions to the map by asking for swag donations from local bike shops, as well as working to find discounts on bike racks to help encourage business owners to purchase.

Launch to an Audience: 

I have cycled back and forth between the “Highlight and Fix” and “Launch to an Audience” phases as I’ve met with various individuals and committees. But I’m currently working to prepare to launch to our public community for the crowdsourcing to commence. I know that my work with our bicycle committee will have me cycling through this Design Thinking framework again and again!

Whatever our role in working with students, it’s always a mutually beneficial exercise to try out what we’re asking of them. Not only does it help us develop more accurate insight on all that’s entailed in our requirements, but it demonstrates to our students that we are willing to continue to learn and grow alongside them as well.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto