On Pacing

I recently had another “aha moment” as a result of reading Seth Godin’s blog. Check out this passage:

“I didn’t let the dough ferment long enough.

And then I made the oven hotter, in an effort to get the loaves finished so I could leave to meet someone.

That’s not how great bread works. It’s ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be.”

Pacing was my biggest opportunities for growth in the classroom. I’d plan on a “mini lesson,” only to find myself talking at my kids for 20 minutes before letting them get started. Or I’d try to keep it brief, and then find myself interrupting them again and again as I added additional thoughts.

Of course, pacing isn’t just about the length of our lessons. It’s also about gauging our kids’ learning and development in general. How soon and how fast do we push? How much room is there for students’ voices and inquiries amid the curriculum we have “to cover?” This is where the fear can also come in that Seth mentioned in his post; how often do we allow our fears to keep us letting go of control?

Either way, when our pacing is off, it’s often because the focus has strayed more to our timetable than our kids‘ timetable. Just as great sourdough is “ready when it’s ready, not when you need it to be,” kids are ready when they’re ready. The best way at being more in-tune with our kids’ needs is by listening to their voices. This might include:

  • using a suggestion box/holding class meetings
  • using wrap-ups at the end of our lessons to reflect collectively on the understanding thus far
  • co-constructing rubrics and soliciting kids’ definitions of success (both for specific units and for learning in general!)
  • talking less
  • inviting kids in on the planning
  • tapping into kids’ process for work (rather than focusing solely on compliance)

Even when we think we’re too short on time, when we choose to seek out students’ voices, we will more often find ourselves uncovering great learning and great learners.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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 Goal-Making

We’re in the business of growth as educators. But the act of actually setting tangible goals can be intimidating for us all. Why not start by investigating with your class what it means to set goals to get the dialogue going?

Resource #1: What’s Stopping You From Achieving Your Goals by Soul Pancake

Resource #2: One Little Word by Ali Edwards

Resource #3:  Kids Health Facts on Setting Goals

Resource #4: Kobi Yamada & Mae Besom’s books (these are wonderful provocations to help students consider growth and progress through problems and ideas).

Provocation Questions: 

  • What is a goal?
  • Why do people set goals?
  • What are the different perspectives on setting goals?
  • What is our responsibility to grow?
  • How does an individual’s goal-setting impact their life? Their community?

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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.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto