Celebrate Everyday Moments

 

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As I prepare for our New Years Eve festivities, I cant help but reflect on 2016.  My “one word” last year was …more. I was hoping for “more” in different aspects of my life; more travels, more learning,  more advancement, more family time. This year, once again, I am reading my PLN’s fabulous blog posts about their one word. I’m hoping for a word that I can blog about and embrace throughout the year. I don’t want a “one and done” type of post. I want something that I can write about and revisit time and time again. I want to live it, breathe it, be inspired….every day.

This holiday break, I find myself thinking about my learners a lot. I miss them tremendously. I miss hearing Maia’s stories, Aidyn’s silly jokes, Sarah’s thorough explanation of concepts and I miss talking Eagles football with Nye.  I think about the learning that happens in our live lesson room. Everyday my learners bring it. Some learners come to me excited, happy to absorb new discoveries. Some learners come to me in the most extreme circumstances. They may be homeless, hungry,and in troubled times. And yet, these learners come, try and give it their all. I like to think of learning as a wonderful celebration. My learners and I celebrate our writing and blog posts each month by dancing to Celebrate by Kool and the Gang.  Shout outs are given for their math fact accomplishments on Reflex math, we give props and kudos for their JGB projects, and I send them reading certificates for their achievements. But, as I write, I realize that we’re only celebrating their successes.  Would my learners accept their failures better if we acknowledge and, in a way, celebrate them too?

I also miss the team of teachers and colleagues I work with. There are many wonderful and talented professionals I come in contact with everyday. They push and challenge me to do and be my best. I often think about the challenges they work through and the risks they are hesitant to take, but do. When I close my laptop for the day, I still see them…logged on and working into the night. I’m sad to say, I’ve missed opportunities to celebrate them and their hard work. Often times we acknowledge their work and success after the fact. Why don’t we celebrate our colleagues and acknowledge their work more often?

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

-Dr. Seuss

Our lives are filled with millions of simple moments, everyday occurrences that we won’t remember tomorrow. We get through each day while looking forward to and focusing on the big moments: family vacations, friends’ weddings, the arrival of children and promotions. These milestone celebrations are indeed fabulous, but then we turn back to our normal, everyday lives.We all have celebrated moments that are unforgettable.  We freeze special times and make sure we will never forget a treasured experience.

Administrators may hold off until the end of the year to praise teachers on a job well done. Most teachers will celebrate big moments in their classroom from time to time.  Who says that celebrations should only be limited to one day? Who says celebrations should be limited to certain milestones or successes? What if we celebrated a small speck of magic in those everyday moments?

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There are opportunities to celebrate the wonderful little things in our life and in our classrooms, all the time. Sometimes the big things wouldn’t have happened without the accumulation of smaller events along the way. Taking time to celebrate the little things is an opportunity to create strong bonds and relationships; not to mention lasting memories. Acknowledging and celebrating the good, the bad and even the ugly (yes, celebrate the ugly!) helps to make others feel valued, accepted and loved. It may also provide a great model for turning a negative event, an error or mistake, into a positive learning experience. Years into the future, you may not remember the exact reasons for all your small celebrations, but others will remember the joy and ease of being a member of your class or learning network.

 

Don’t wait for a special moment or milestone; celebrate the magic you see in everyday moments. My one word for 2017 is Celebrate.

How will you celebrate everyday moments with your learners and colleagues?

Scratch the Itch

I have a love/dislike relationship with running. I love taking to the road and feeling the wind on my face. I especially love running during the season of autumn. I dislike running on the treadmill during winter and I dislike the hills that make my knees hurt. Recently, I have been feeling the itch to try something new.

Hiking is not something I thought I would be excited about. When I think of hiking I think of the Alps, walking sticks and backpacks. I think of absorbing nature, slooooowly. Slow doesn’t appeal to me. I am not a fast runner, but I love speed. Would hiking satisfy this need?

This past weekend I decided to hike a trail near my home. Mt. Tammany is a trail that appealed to me because of the views I had heard about from others. There are two scenic overlooks on the “red dot” trail. When I researched the hike, I saw it was a moderate hike with a steep incline and an elevation of over 1,400 feet. I’ve run many miles, so therefore, I felt I could do this.

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I set out on a sunny, but cool autumn morning. I was surprised how many other hikers were there mapping out their hike, checking their backpacks, and getting their walking sticks ready. I felt sort of foolish at first, looking for the “red dots” on the trees and rocks. As I began, I kept hearing this annoying yodeler from the Price is Right game “Cliff Hangers”. How did this pop into my head?
Up and up I went. I felt good at first, but a bit later I began to tire. How many more boulder stairs do I have to climb? They all began to look the same. Other hikers were passing me, “Good morning!” they cheerfully  said. “Morning” I said back to them out of breath. I began to count my steps and rest after 20.
Finally, I reached the first look out. It was so worth the grueling hike. I felt victorious and this victory fueled my energy to climb to the next look out.


I was on such a high & rush from the view, I set off for the top of Mt. Tammany. I was pumped! I can do this!

img_1495Higher and higher I climbed eager to get to the top.

But then… I began to lose steam once again.

The boulders looked the same.

The hiker I had said “good morning” to earlier, lapped me!

“Hey you’re almost there!”, he cheered.

“Did you just lap me?” I asked in disbelief.

He smiled an easy smile.

What did he mean almost?

 

I kept looking for the bright blue sky, knowing that would mark the closeness of the lookout. So many doubts swirled in my head. Maybe hiking isn’t for me. Why did I think I could do this? I am so out of my league! Should I turn around? Yes, sadly, I had even thought of going back. I am not a quitter. I have never quit anything (or backed down from a dare) in my life! It seemed like forever before I found that blue sky. Once I did, I crawled, on hands and knees, to see the view.

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I sat there admiring the view for quite some time. This hike  provided an opportunity for me to reflect and come to terms with a few things. I thought about my life, family and my passion. I thought about the similarities between this journey  and teaching.

At the base of the mountain, I see complacent conviction. I see teachers who have a stride and pace they love. They have lessons and units that they’re comfortable with. They are not interested in change and they don’t climb mountains. They do not scratch the itch.

Some teachers at the base will want to scratch that itch of change. They don’t ask for permission. They start off excited for a new adventure, when difficulty causes a bump in the road, they will question themselves and be filled with doubt. This is such a critical point. Without encouragement and support from colleagues and administration, some teachers will go back to the base of the mountain, longing for that familiar stomping ground. Only a few will persevere through. These teachers are educational pioneers, true leaders.  They are never stagnant. They don’t ask, they do.

What will you do when the itch of change calls on you? Will you scratch that itch? Will you take that risk? Will you see it through? As for me, well …I will be looking for another trail and mountain to hike. I suppose, a mountain that can induce a modesty in me …and really kick my ass!

The Importance of Building Bridges

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Directions were given. Materials were handed out. I walked quietly as to not disturb them.

Our learners were working in groups. They had numbered materials and images of various bridges. Their task sounded simple; create a bridge connecting 2 tables in the room.

Some groups began brainstorming ideas, other groups began construction immediately. There was one group…the second grade/third grade group…who had questions. I proceeded to assist.

Can we build from the floor up?

No.

Can we use pre-existing structures?

No.

Does it have to be a certain length?

No.

What if we run out of materials, can we have more?

No.

Can we choose more than one bridge design and blend them together?

Sure.

Is there a weight requirement?

Yes.

“We’re done!” I hear from across the room. I walk over to see their bridge. This group of fourth grade boys used 2 sheets of paper taped together to reach the other table, no support of any kind underneath. They mentioned it was “pavement”. I noticed the group of boys fooling around as I examined it. How would you lay the pavement down if there is nothing, not even land, to support it? I asked. They looked at each other, unsure of how to answer. “Keep thinking my friends”,  I said.

I proceeded to the fifth grade group which consisted of all boys. These boys partnered up within the group. Unlike the fourth grade group, the two pairs seemed confident. Each pair were discussing ideas and occasionally would share info with the others . They constructed a rope and wood (popsicle stick) bridge. The bridge seemed well constructed but the group had difficulty deciding how to attach it securely to the ends of each table. They decided on tape,  one piece of scotch tape at each end. They asked for the weights to see how they did. The rope and wood bridge held one weight. However, when a second was added it fell between the center of the two tables.”Don’t be discouraged, you all showed great thinking, keep working on it”, I said.

I watched my second and third grade girls work on their woven truss bridge. They used popsicle sticks for the base, that spanned the length of two tables. They wove Wikki sticks…like a woven basket… and attached them to the sides. “I think we need to add arches underneath for more support” one student said. “If this was a real bridge how would they know how much it would hold?”  another student asked. “They probably would just drive cars over it to make sure”, another answered. “Nah, I think they use some sort of math to figure it out” someone else said matter of factly. “How could we make sure this bridge stays in place? Tape isn’t strong enough for this!”, a member chimed in.

This second-third grade group does not ask for assistance. They do not rush. They are on the floor, on the table, upside down and viewing their bridge from every angle. They were thinking out loud, experimenting and trying various ideas. They were accepting of ideas and willing to take risks. They discussed and talked throughout.

As I observe these groups, I can’t help but think of the different approaches each group took. I can’t help but think how, as teachers, we can fall into similar groupings. Some teachers will rush just to be the first to try out the latest idea or buzz word. These teachers hardly ever collaborate, only because they see collaboration as competition, they may also feel intimidated by others. Inevitably, they will also have to back track and reteach alone. Other teachers will construct and execute good solid lessons with a partner. Their lessons are student centered and teacher driven, but they may have missed the target on an area or two. Two is better than one mentality can bring success as well as oversights. Other teachers will work together as a team to examine all avenues and ensure success. They communicate and share ideas; they take risks and work through problems. Most importantly they continue to question it all, seeking answers together.

I’ve been apart of these groups during my career in education. I’ve been on amazing teams. Teams that worked together, each of us playing a pivotal role in our grade level’s success. I’ve partnered with another teacher. This partnership of helping and guiding each other through new curricula, a new frontier. This partnership can be non threatening, simple and so powerful.  I’ve also worked alone, not by choice. I worked alone because others did not feel the need to progress or to seek change. Choosing to abide by the status quo. This isolation is the most difficult to bear. I often wonder why teachers would want it this way.

If there is something I believe in when it comes to collaboration, I believe in this…

“The greatest resource that teachers have, are other teachers”

 

But sadly, teamwork and collaboration are not commonly found in schools. What keeps teachers from supporting their team and being a team player? Building a team based culture requires administration to set aside time and emphasize the importance of teacher teamwork instead of simply suggesting that it occur on its own. These meaningful conversations can open doors for sharing, for encouragement and insights while establishing the empathy that drives all great schools. Teamwork should not be optional.

With all the change that teachers are implementing in their classrooms, isn’t now the time to increase collaboration opportunities, be they formal or informal?  Does your school make space for teachers to engage in deep conversations about teaching and learning? Where and when do your best conversations with colleagues take place? I think the time has come to build bridges between teachers to strengthen their teams. How else can our students use us as their support structure?

Grow Their Brain

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How do you grow a brain? It’s Saturday morning and I’m deep in thought. I’m revising a growth mindset unit for the following week. After 18 years, I still begrudgingly work on Saturdays. Why is it that teachers don’t like to write lesson plans, but like to be prepared?

This week was the kick off to our Growth Mindset unit.  This inquiry based mini unit focuses on praise, empathy, grit, risk taking, reflection and feedback. It also includes collaborative projects and team building activities.  My learners become familiar with Kid President Pep Talk videos and his words of wisdom and encouragement. It will also be the foundation for our creativity and innovation (creativation) sessions for George Couros‘, The Innovator’s Mindset Online Course #IMMOOC.

Why begin our innovation course with Growth Mindset?

Well, I think about a fixed mindset and growth mindset this way: If teachers or learners subscribe to a common belief that things are good…right here, right now…and not progress forward in any way, the result will be, okay at best (fixed mindset). This way of thinking will most likely not produce anything innovative. If teachers and learners think freely, embrace change (rather than the status quo) they are more likely to create environments that produce risk taking and creative solutions. In other words, a growth mindset will lead to innovative solutions.

When it comes to innovation, I feel a fixed mindset will squash creativity. If my gifted and talented learners believe their innate skills and their current level of intelligence is what helps them succeed, they will fail to recognize the power of continuous learning. They will fail to recognize what they may become.

Can we change a learner’s mindset? How can we best cultivate, nurture and operate a growth mindset within our classroom of learners to drive innovation?

I enjoy constructing units of study. My previous school district did not have a “textbook series” for Language Arts, Social Studies, or Math, when I first started teaching 1st grade, 15 years ago. Our lessons reflected best practices, our learners interests, and each individual teacher’s unique style. They were authentic and real. It’s easy to ditch a textbook, when you never relied on one.

This Growth Mindset unit is called “Growing Our Brain” and it begins with a mini lesson which focuses on the impact of praise. We discuss what praise is, why we give it, what phrases we’ve heard, and how it feels when we work hard on something and then DON’T receive praise. You know, you put your blood, sweat and tears into a project and your work is over looked. OUCH.

As we were discussing this, the conversation turned towards failure and how our learners deal with it. So, I shared two quotes about failure, one from Michael Jordan and one from Thomas Alva Edison. I asked my learners to analyze and interpret these quotes. Some wrote down their ideas, others struck up a conversation. When their responses began to sound similar (they’re about not giving up); I asked them to go deeper, and use their critical thinking skills. I waited patiently. Then, a learner’s profound statement came. He said…

“If we keep trying, and keep trying, and don’t stop trying then we don’t fail. We don’t fail because we’re still trying…we’re still working it out! Failure is when we stop, when we give up. We gotta keep going. Don’t let failure win.”

~ 3rd Grade learner, G&T, Commonwealth Charter Academy

Whoa. My learners “get it”. They understand an important part of Growth Mindset is grit and perseverance. It’s about the process, and sticking with the problem until they figure it out. They begin to understand that their “giftedness” is not so much an innate ability they have, but they can grow their intelligence, continuing their learning. Challenges and working through them will grow their brain. Most importantly, they realize they can succeed in areas that they don’t feel strongly in. They just need to stick with it and grow their brain.

How do you help your students grow their brain? What foundation will you lay for your learners to innovate? How will you do this? Will you adopt a growth mindset? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Failure is An Option

“That’s not how Mrs. Sanchez did it in class! I’m going to get all confused if you help me! That’s not the right way!”

My daughter Sophia struggles in math. She will be entering 6th grade and every year she becomes frustrated while completing math homework. She often wants to solve problems the way her teacher has modeled it in class. Her notes are meticulous, and well organized. She tries over and over again to solve the problems. She is convinced that only one true method exists and her notes are a pathway to that successful solution. Although I was a Math major (undergrad) and have a Masters of Ed degree in both Reading and in Curriculum & Instruction, my assistance is unwanted. She sits annoyed, biting her pencil.

Fear of failure is one of the biggest obstacles my own children and students in my G&T cyber classroom face. Year after year, I see the hesitation to take risks, try something new and share their ideas. They are intently focused on being “right”, finding the “right”answers, and doing it the “right way”. Failure is such an important part of life and of learning. I can’t help but wonder, have we conditioned our learners to fear failure?

Are we grooming learners to only focus on correct answers?

Our current educational system is essentially a series of questions and responses. The all knowing teacher asks a question and our learners sift through information to find the “right” answer. From a learner’s first year of school we focus on that right answer. We give praise, shout outs, stickers, and high fives for a correct response.  Instead of focusing on the process of learning, we place emphasis on the product; that end-all-be-all “right” answer.

Often when a learner responds with a wrong answer, we pour on some shame of being incorrect by giving additional work. We ask our learners to review, reread, rewrite, or memorize some more. We say “You were close, but need to study more”.  With this method, we not only crush their self esteem, but we diminish their thirst for innovation. We flat line risk taking and we rob them of the opportunity to whole heartedly embrace their attempts at being vulnerable.  We’re telling our learners that making mistakes and taking risks (which might lead to failure) is shameful. This can restrict our learners creativity and imagination, leading to a fixation of always being “right”.

By focusing on correct answers, are we assisting our learners to reach their full potential?

Failure is such an important part of life. When I was a kid and tried out for sports, you either made the team or didn’t. If you were cut, you tried harder the following year. You practiced and honed those skills every chance you got. There is a sense of vulnerability when trying out for a team position. You put yourself out there. The risk of trying out, was real. It’s quite different now. In some districts, children automatically get a spot on the team; tryouts consist of just showing up. This “we all win”, “we all get a trophy” mentality is puzzling to me and I have questioned it a lot with my own children. Where is the challenge, the determination and the perseverance? Where is the practicing and learning of skills? Where is the resiliency and grit that attempting and failing provides?

 “Your biggest risk isn’t failing; it’s getting too comfortable.”

~ Drew Houston

As teachers, we constantly reinforce and correct learner behaviors.  We try and mold students into something we feel is academically sound, socially acceptable and age appropriate. This constant guiding, shaping and grooming is evident in our lessons and in our assessments. When we set up our learners to “play it safe” and answer correctly,  we short change them. We make it too comfortable for them. We are teaching them to fly under the radar, and to settle for the status quo. Where’s the learning and growth in that? Our learners need to think big, and push themselves out of their comfort zone. Great learning depends on great risk taking. Success is a part of a character building process, and learning from failure is a piece of the puzzle.

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Many educators say, vulnerability leads to great innovation. As we begin developing this generation, we need to ask our learners to question, to be curious, and be risk takers. We need to tell them it’s OK to fail, and not to solely focus on their achievement. Our learners must have a no fear attitude. Experimentation will lead to empowerment and an accepting attitude towards vulnerability in and out of our classrooms. This will promote  confidence and courage in our learners, and enable innovative and creative thinking. When teachers allow experimentation, what they are saying is “we trust in you, we believe in your thinking and want you to feel confident with taking chances. Challenge the status quo and learn from the mistakes you make” This is a critical step in the learning process. As the great one, Wayne Gretzky, so eloquently put it: “You miss 100% of the shots you never take”.

“Its not the mistake that matters. It’s how you deal with it, what you learn from it, and how you apply that lesson to your life.”