My Most-Read Posts of 2017

Last year, I shared 20 of my favorite blog posts that I read from educators around the world during 2016. With the help of a great bookmark Chrome extension to help me chronologically sort my bookmarks, I am excited to be working on a similar post for 2017 to help me search out patterns and reflect on my biggest aha moments this year — and of course, to thank the teachers who have taken some of their precious time to share!

But meanwhile, I’m inspired by George Couros’ recent post in which he shares the 5 most-read posts on his own blog. I appreciate the chance to create, as he puts it, “an archive for my learning as well as an opportunity to share with others.”

#5: TPT: On Teacher’s Personal Generosity: I continue to ponder this debate as I watch the headlines on providing tax breaks for teacher spending. I can’t help but speculate over certain “what if” scenarios, but I remain firm in my view that there are so many deeply personal layers to this issue that we need to make compassion a priority.

TPT Debate: On Teacher’s Personal Generosity

#4: Change: A Where We Are In Place & Time Provocation: I’m so glad that what started out as a way for me to archive and organize the most thought-provoking resources I find has proven helpful for so many teachers!

Change: A “Where We Are in Place & Time” Provocation

#3: A How We Express Ourselves [In the 21st Century] Provocation: I wrote this provocation as a way to help us remember that self-expression is a truly boundless endeavor in our 21st century world. I enjoyed the chance to revisit the video, “The Adaptable Mind” that I included here; I found it fascinating view at how the world is shifting, and what skills will empower us and and our students.

A How We Express Ourselves [In the 21st Century] Provocation

#2: 4 Reasons We Just Can’t Break Up With Basals (& How to Finally Move On!): I think many of our fancy new computer programs are the new “basal reading program,” but with the stamp of “personalized” tech, they are not held to the same scrutiny. My biggest concern rests with the notion that our struggling readers especially need such programs for remediation, but I think Pernille Ripp put it best in her currently-pinned tweet:

4 Reasons We Just Can’t Break Up with Basals (& How to Finally Move On)

#1: Inquiry: What Trajectory are YOU On? I’m actually quite pleased that this one gained the most views of posts I wrote this year because it’s a wonderful showcase of thinking and growth from a group a teachers I hold dear. It was also a great opportunity for me to synthesize all my resources and understanding on what it means to be an inquiry teacher so far. I know I still have a long way to go, but I am proud of mileposts like these along the way.

Inquiry: What Trajectory Are YOU On?

Thank you all so much for reading and for sharing your own work! It is such a gift for me to be able to continue my professional learning through this platform and through interacting with my PLN.

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What’s The Difference Between Skills & Mindsets?

A friend in my PLN recently responded to one of my tweets with some thought-provoking questions.

My initial response was to say the difference between a skill and a mindset is that mindsets are more of an innate part of us, whereas skills are not necessarily fundamental to our human experience. But let’s take a look, for instance, at the approaches to learning skills encouraged at in the PYP Programme:

  • Thinking skills:
    • Acquisition of knowledge
    • Comprehension
    • Application
    • Analysis
    • Synthesis
    • Evaluation
    • Dialectical thought
    • Metacognition
  • Communication skills: 
    • Listening
    • Speaking
    • Reading
    • Writing
    • Viewing
    • Presenting
    • Non-verbal communication
  • Self-management skills:
    • Gross motor skills
    • Fine motor skills
    • Spatial awareness
    • Organization
    • Time management
    • Safety
    • Healthy lifestyle
    • Codes of behavior
    • Informed choices
  • Research skills
    • Formulating questions
    • Observing
    • Planning
    • Collecting data
    • Recording data
    • Organizing data
    • Interpreting data
    • Presenting research findings
  • Social skills:
    • Accepting responsibility
    • Respecting others
    • Cooperating
    • Resolving conflict
    • Group decision-making
    • Adopting a variety of group roles

Clearly, many of these skills are crucial parts of the human experience, that could well be thought of as a mindset, such as metacognition, listening, and respecting others. Meanwhile, the PYP Programme also includes attitudes we work to encourage, including:

  • Appreciation
  • Commitment
  • Confidence
  • Cooperation
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Empathy
  • Enthusiasm
  • Independence
  • Integrity
  • Respect
  • Tolerance

These are certainly what I would consider fundamental mindsets, or ways of thinking, along with Agency. I think it’s clear that we are always working to cultivate all these skills and mindsets. It’s just that skills are the means by which we cultivate mindsets. 

All that said, because these mindsets are innate, fundamental parts of us all, I believe that if we make room for and honor student voice in our classrooms, they will show us additional, unanticipated means by which we can create a culture of agency, empathy, enthusiasm, etc.

What are ways you seek to cultivate mindsets in your classroom?

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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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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

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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?

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“Watch Me” (An Extra Provocation Into “Can”) #TeacherMom

At long last, my youngest has started walking. Really, he seems to have started more in spite of his parents’ encouragement rather than because of it. But now that he’s at it, he simply radiates delight in this new ability.

There’s nothing quite like a newly-walking baby to get you pondering the concept of “CAN.” So in his honor, and for teachers and students everywhere whose sense of CAN might have become somewhat diminished, I’d like to share this provocation.

Resource #1: Casey Neistat Samsung Commercial: The Rest of Us

Resource #2: Ode to CAN 

Resource #3: This Could Fail by John Spencer

Provocation Questions: 

  • What are the different perspectives people hold when it comes to trying new things?
  • Why does discouragement happen?
  • What perspectives help people try again even when they fail?
  • What is our responsibility to tell ourselves and others “you can?”

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The Storm Cloud When Growth-Mindset Meets Stress #TeacherMom

True to form, Seth Godin recently shared one of his short, sweet posts with universal applications:

“Change is a word…for a journey with stress.

You get the journey and you get the stress. At the end, you’re a different person. But both elements are part of the deal.

There are plenty of journeys that are stress-free. They take you where you expect, with little in the way of surprise or disappointment.”

I sit here at my computer and nod and think, “Preach the growth-mindset goodness!” But when it’s your child tearing up because that math problem doesn’t make sense (yet), how in the world do we help them appreciate that the stress of a confusing math problem can actually be positive because it means she’s working toward growth as a mathematician? That that discomfort in learning is actually a good sign?

I’m learning so much about stress through Dr. Stuart Shanker’s book, Self-Reg. Something that I’m learning to stop doing is responding with exasperation in such moments. Just because we’ve extolled the virtues of a growth-mindset and positive stress in the past does not mean that the distressed child before us is currently able to recall such principles at that moment.

I’ve also learned that simply telling the child to take a few deep breaths may not be at all productive either. What’s most important is teaching them to regulate their own emotions. As Shanker states:

“[when] the child is so overwrought or angry that nothing that you say or do seems to help…this happens not because a child’s “braking mechanism” is defective and certainly not because she isn’t “trying hard enough” but because she is so aroused that she can’t register what she or we are saying or doing.”

So in that moment, instead of trying to remind the child of the joys of the growth and the learning, we need to help her “focus on the three R’s of emotional regulation: Recognize. Reduce. Restore. Recognize the signs of escalating stress. Reduce the stress. Restore energy.”

I know I can sometimes take for granted my grown-up ability to regulate stress. This means I need to do a better job of viewing practices and principles through the lens of developmental context.

The point is, yes, teach growth mindset and model the virtues of discomfort for progress. But also teach kids to recognize when their stress levels have become excessive, and to discover personal coping mechanisms to help restore them to healthy energy levels. 

Only then will our young learners be able to choose and embrace journeys of stress and change, rather than only choosing the risk-free routes.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto