5 Principles For Giving Inspiring Feedback

I would like to highlight, once more, feedback that I recently received from a friend in my PLN:

Her words inspired me to the extent that I shared a follow-up post last week about how her words led me to a shift in personal action and mindset, and in which I publicly thanked her for being such an asset to my personal/professional learning.

Why? What was it about her feedback that led not only to change, but to even greater mutual respect?

After all, it’s not easy for any of us to hear when we might have fallen short. Yet it is crucial for us to recognize ways we can grow. So the art of giving feedback that inspires is an invaluable skill for us all in this age of information and communication. For those of us educators using social media platforms for some #diyPD, it’s especially helpful to consider the ways that will facilitate the best kinds of connection when we share our insights with one another.

Here are 5 questions we might ask ourselves:

#1: Is there a relationship? This is the #1 question in all contexts when working with people. If we turn up out of the blue without previously having made any efforts to know where the person across the table is coming from, we can bet that our insights won’t be as well received as they might otherwise have been. This is a particularly important question to ask ourselves as we work with our students.

#2: Is there kindness? At first, this seems obvious, but it’s actually easy to take for granted amid the anonymity of social media–easy to forget that there’s a living, breathing, feeling person on the other end of our sometimes-harsh words. I’ve been surprised to read comments on larger educational websites like Edutopia where feedback quickly devolves to personal attacks or scorn. A good rule of thumb is, if you wouldn’t give that feedback in person to a colleague in your building, don’t give it on social media.

#3: Have you read the content in full? Whether the feedback is negative or positive, it’s important to have the full picture before imparting. This helps ensure our feedback is as relevant as possible.

#4: Are you genuinely curious? As long as we remain curious about one another’s work and opinions, we are much more likely to avoid assumptions, and to remain centered on growth over correction.

#5: Are you in the arena, too? This is derived from a quote from Brene Brown. Simply put:

Speaking of Brene Brown, I can’t ever write a blog post even remotely related to feedback without sharing her fabulous “Engaged Feedback Checklist.”

I am so grateful for those who have taken the time to give inspiring feedback that has helped me grow. How have you been inspired by others’ feedback as you seek learning in your PLN?

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What Child Autonomy Is Not #TeacherMom

When kids feel constantly acted upon, with little understanding of what’s coming next in their lives, we can expect problematic behavior. This is what autonomy is all about. It’s why I have so deeply appreciated learning about the philosophy of Self-Reg. It’s why I write and tweet so frequently about #StudentVoice and #StudentChoice. And its why I’m always searching for ways I can better help my kids take the wheel in directing their lives.

Most recently, I decided to make little labeled picture magnets to help my 3 year-old organize and understand the flow of his days. It’s still unfolding, but I’m working on labeling or grouping the pictures so he can see which are activities he can choose from (pic below), which are activities that I will let him know are happening that day (library, local recreation center), and which are daily routines (meals, storytime, etc).

In addition building his functional concept of time (including the ability to tell what comes “after” or “before),” it’s already building his comprehension of his personal autonomy over how he can spend his time. He can more clearly see the choices within his reach, and he is learning to understand where those choices fall among the non-negotiable pursuits of each day.

This exercise in building autonomy is precious. It is laying a foundation for better self-awareness and self-determination.

However, almost similar to the way that discussing power is sometimes frowned upon, the concept of honoring and building kids’ autonomy is often misunderstood. So I’ve been thinking lately about what it is not. Autonomy is not

letting kids do whatever they want. As described in the above daily picture magnets, there are activities that are non-negotiable (meals, brushing teeth, etc). But even within those non-negotiables, we spend considerable time discussing the why behind them. And we also allow kids to feel the consequences of their choices without rescuing them every time to better help them understand their importance.

never forcing them. Sometimes, kids do need a nudge for their own safety and development. However, we prioritize intrinsic motivation and “letting them in on the secret” of their development. This helps them to self-regulate their needs so they are not reliant on others for treats, stickers, praise, or compulsion in order to make the very choices that will most benefit their lives.

the absence of hard concepts that kids might avoid, such as work ethic. Instead, we help kids cultivate a broader view of who they are and who they want to become, allowing that strong sense of identity to drive themselves through hard things.

What obstacles have you encountered in advocating for kids’ autonomy? What benefits have you seen in honoring their autonomy?

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Inquiry Into Learner Profiles: Principled

This is part of a series of provocations for essential elements of the PYP, including individual attitudes, learner profiles, etc. For more, click here.

What does it mean to be principled? This one can be so broad and abstract, that even my fifth graders struggled with it from time to time. Most know that it has some correlation to honesty, but beyond that can get a bit hazy. Here are some resources that might help your students identify some of the nuances to being and becoming more principled.

Resource #1: Randy Pausch — Live the Right Way (part of a talk given during the terminal stages of Randy’s cancer).

Randy Pausch – Live The Right Way

This is the wisdom a dying professor shares in his last lectureRandy Pausch's moving book ,"The Last Lecture", will inspire you to live each day with purpose and joy. Buy it here: http://amzn.to/2gDpWjO

Posted by Goalcast on Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Resource #2: “Dear Report Cards, You Suck” by 6th grade student, Lynton, who is a student in Abe Moore’s classroom where they strive to focus on the learning rather than the grades (click image to link to Lynton’s work).

Resource #3: Penny & Her Marble by Kevin Henkes

Resource #4: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

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Because I Stayed–Thanks to A Teacher

My senior year of high school, I decided to take AP Calculus. I was taking some other advanced classes as well, and it wasn’t long before my math grade started to lag. Anxious about upcoming college applications and the desire for nothing to mar my GPA, I approached my Calc teacher, Bob Burns, to tell him I should probably drop his class. It was a small school, and between the fact that he had taught several of my previous classes, and that he had coached for a couple of my teams, we had a established a solid relationship.

Given that background, I expected that he’d respond to my concerns with reassurance, telling me I shouldn’t do anything to jeopardize my grade and supporting my decision to drop his class.

I was, um, wrong.

Instead, Mr. Burns declared that if I chose to drop his class that day, I would be setting myself up to drop every other difficult and important thing that arose in my life.

Needless to say, I stayed. That was the single most precious skill I gained from his course that year: learning to stay even when the stakes are high.

As a tribute to Mr. Burns, I’d like to list other pivotal moments since then when I stayed where I might otherwise have very easily left had it not been for his bold words that day.

When I was so homesick my first month of college that I thought there was no way I could live so far from home, I stayed. And earned a teaching degree from a wonderful school.

When I was sure there was no way I could continue waking up at 4 am for a custodial shift, I stayed. And was able to navigate the world of college financing.

When I felt I simply could not handle my commute and daily goodbyes to my baby girl as I left to teach, I stayed (until bedrest and a couple more babies prompted my current sabbatical). And gained irreplaceable experiences, perspectives, and professional development that would inform all facets of my life, including my current blogging and child-rearing.

When I felt I would surely run out of ideas and should give up blogging, I stayed. And have discovered a remarkable PLN that has continued to push my thinking as a teacher.

Mr. Burns may not have caused all these events to unfold exactly as they have. But I know that without his bold lesson in persistence, I would have been much less likely to stick around for the hardest, but ultimately, most rewarding aspects of my life. And that is certainly thanks to a teacher.

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How Did We Come to Playground Rubber Wood Chips? #TeacherMom

This was my inquiry on Google. Which then changed to “history of playground surfacing.” I earnestly wanted to know how we went from the sand and grass of my childhood to rubber mats and engineered wood fiber. Was it really, as comments on the currently popular image below would have us conclude, that today’s schoolchildren and their parents are over-protective “snowflakes?”

Turns out, there’s quite a bit more to the issue than nostalgia for the good ol’ days of tough kids and tough love.

An element that especially caught my attention was accessibility. In 2000, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed as a civil rights law to prevent disability discrimination. Sand and gravel do not allow wheelchair-bound children to access playground equipment. Suddenly, I find the nostalgia fading for times when public funds only served able-bodied kids.

The much more slippery slope here, of course, is safety. I know I look back at my playground-sand “rug burns” with some strange fondness, and I’m certainly the last to suggest that preventing all cuts, bumps, or bruises is of a higher priority than play and exploration (I tend to congratulate my kids on “battle scars” when they get hurt while playing).

But I see nothing wrong with taking measures to mitigate serious injuries, especially when they are brain-related. Consider these figures from the CDC:

  • 200,000 children under age 14 visit hospital emergency rooms each year for playground-related injuries
  • 20,000 of these children are treated for traumatic brain injuries each year
  • The rate of hospital visits for traumatic brain injuries has recently increased significantly

While there are those that scoff at the fact that grass isn’t considered a safe playground surface, it’s important to remember that its “ability to absorb shock can be affected greatly by weather conditions and wear (via American Association of Orthopedics)–in other words, it becomes worn, compacted, and ultimately dangerous if you’re going to swing upside-down by your legs above it.

And again, it’s important to note that when we’re talking about brain injuries in children, it’s a serious conversation. According to the Brain Injury Association of America, “The assumption used to be a child with a brain injury would recover better than an adult because there was more “plasticity” in a younger brain.  More recent research has shown that this is not the case. A brain injury actually has a more devastating impact on a child than an injury of the same severity has on a mature adult.”

Of course, all precautions can be taken to an extreme — when we put kids at greater risk for childhood obesity than brain injury because we’ve so associated so much fear with rigorous play, for example, we still put them in harm’s way.

But when we wonder why things have changed since our own childhoods, we should remain curious, careful not to let our reminiscence stray into assumption and generalization.

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Noticing What Kids Can Do #TeacherMom

As I scanned the library cart of shiny new books, I noticed it: a brand new copy of “Leo the Late Bloomer” by Robert Kraus. With a wave of childhood nostalgia, I quickly added it to our bag, relishing the idea of sharing it with my kids for the first time.

My daughter picked it out for us to read over breakfast. But when I finished, that warm sentimental feeling I expected was no where to be found.

For those for whom it’s been a while since reading about Leo, here’s the gist of the story. Leo can’t read, write, draw, or eat neatly. His dad worries there’s something wrong with him and watches him closely for a while until mom convinces him to be patient. Then, when dad stops watching and some time passes, Leo blooms — suddenly reading, writing, drawing, and eating neatly. And that’s when Leo finally smiles, too (he’d had a morose frown throughout the rest of the story).

My daughter and I talked it over for a bit.

“…It’s like the author is saying that Leo couldn’t be happy until he could do everything the other kids could do.”

“…It seems like you go from not doing anything to suddenly being able to do everything.”

“…It makes it sound like the only  important things are reading, writing, drawing, and eating neatly.”

Then we started talking about other things kids can do that are really important, too. After throwing out a few ideas, we decided to write it down in a list. Here’s what we came up with:

I like her list. To me, these aren’t “consolation prizes” for not being able to read, write, draw, or eat neatly yet. It’s just a wider lens for recognizing what it means to grow up and finding ways to be proud of that growth.

I have a few more conclusions of my own to add:

  • It’s not that parents should just stop hovering in order to give kids space to grow; it’s that they should help create a joyous environment for learning and growth and then let kids take it from there.
  • It’s not where you are on a trajectory of growth; it’s that you’re on a trajectory of growth — and there are milestones worth celebrating all along that trajectory.
  • See this timely picture quote from George Couros’ latest blog post that sums up my last conclusion:
via George Couros

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Attitudes: Curiosity

This is part of a series of provocations for essential elements of the PYP, including individual attitudes, learner profiles, etc. For more, click here.

In college, I took a course called “The History of Creativity and Innovation.” It was a fascinating review of the entire history of mankind from the perspective of creativity, innovation, and curiosity. So it’s an interesting paradox that though curiosity has ever been pivotal in the advancement of our species, we still tend to still prioritize status-quo-preservation. This week’s provocation is meant to encourage that very curiosity that has brought us the wheel, the compass, the printing press, and the Internet.

Resource #1: Tweet from Astronaut Randy Bresnik:

Resource #2:  Mirror, A Short Story of Similar Objects by Tanello Production via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Pioneering Scientists Journeys 1000m Deep in Antarctica by BBC Earth, via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: Pond by Jim LaMarche

Resource #5: The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater and The Fan Brothers

Provocation Questions: 
  • What does it mean to be curious?
  • What is the connection between curiosity and questions?
  • What is the connection between curiosity and action?
  • How has curiosity impacted humans over time? How does it impact your community today?
  • Does a person’s perspective on curiosity change over their lifetime? Why or why not?
  • What is our responsibility to be curious?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto