Category: Teaching and Learning

Post Mortem Reflection: Autopsy of a Failed PYP Unit (Sharing the Planet)

Post Mortem Reflection: Autopsy of a Failed PYP Unit (Sharing the Planet)

It doesn’t matter if you have been teaching for 8 months or 18 years, you will experience a bombed lesson from time to time. But a bombed unit-well, that I have yet to experience until now. And it has been the most frustrating 6 weeks of my life, as I have worked relentlessly to cultivate their conceptual understanding. Most teachers don’t share their failures, they only blog or tweet about all the “cool learning” that’s going on but I think it’s equally important to reveal and reflect on our failings. So in an effort to be vulnerable, I humbly submit that this unit has yet to meet its central idea and only narrowly developed its lines of inquiry. And I can’t stop asking why.

Our actions can make a difference to the environment we share.

  • how we use resources (function)
  • the impact of people’s actions on the environment (causation)
  • choices we make to care for our environment (responsibility)

I hold some very strong beliefs when it comes to creating curriculum in the PYP, one of which is having a solid central idea that a teacher can anchor the learning in.  If you pulled out the keywords–what would they be? I chose to focus on “actions”, “environment” and “share”. Other key ideas were from the lines of inquiry: resources, impact, and choices. The assessment is really quite simple–we document student action that has occurred over the unit. And herein lies the problem: student action. Students are not taking action because they don’t have enough conceptual understanding to appreciate a need to act. They literally do not see pollution-even if a coke bottle flew out of the sky and bonked them on the head, they wouldn’t notice. Oh, and if that same coke bottle then got buried in the ground, one of the students said it would sprout a Coke Tree. No, I’m not lying–this was an actual prediction during one of our engagements.

At first, this put me in a panic and I went in the wrong direction. I thought, oh my gosh, this future generation, they are either absolutely oblivious or litter and pollution (particularly in Asia) are so endemic that it’s like wallpaper and thus hardly take notice. So we began inquiring into endangered animals and the impact on habitats. We worked through key vocabulary and food chains. The kids put together wonderful ChatterPix presentations which summarized their library research on the animals. But during another provocation when I showed a picture of a turtle that had been deformed due to garbage in the water, I had 3 kids tell me that it looked like that because it was farting, clearly articulating (with a straight face) that gas can make you bloated and you feel bubbles are in your belly. I could see his thinking but I felt deeply concerned and it was at this point that our unit started to take a turn for the worse.

One of the Segel pictures that the students examined. They thought they were just “having a picnic at the beach.”

So then, to make a stronger link about humans and how we use resources, we explored the work of Gregg Segal,  which started as a provocation but since the students made no connection between the garbage and the people who were lying in it, we examined our “home” garbage and collected our classroom garbage, including snacks, for a week to analyze. I had also gotten one of our Secondary Art and Design teachers who is an avid photographer on board to help us orchestrate an attempt to do a photoshoot with our students in this garbage. It was going to be awesome, right?! –They were finally going to “get it” so we can move into learning about the 3 R’s–Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Nope–the day before the photoshoot, our cleaners emptied our bins. Deflated, we decided that we would “follow the garbage”, trying to pull together this idea of how individual and collective choices can add up to make a difference in the burden that ecosystems might have to shoulder. So we went down to our school’s dump area and examined our rubbish. Next, we made a day of it and went down to the Vientiane Landfill.  Although they were absolutely disgusted by it, they had seemed unchanged.  This week we are going to meet people whose “choices” to care for our environment are having a  positive impact on our Vientiane community. We are still hopeful that a handful of them will be moved into action but I know now that it’s a foolhardy job to try to assess them on this central idea. We will have to create unit grades based on their academic skills in language and math that have been developed alongside these conceptual understandings.  

The moral of the learning debacle boils down to these things:

  • Doing a bunch of “cool stuff” is not as important to properly pre-assessing basic knowledge and skills. Sometimes we get so preoccupied with launching a unit with instant student engagement, that we forgo necessary assessment which can be documented and examined. I think in heavy science-based units, it’s important to probe into common misconceptions and vocabulary that may be misunderstood. I did some of it, but I missed some big ideas–simple stuff like living vs. non-living because I had assumed it had been “covered” in previous years.
  • Furthermore, provocations that reveal severe inadequacies in student knowledge means that the unit probably needed to be scrubbed and rewritten immediately instead of trudging through the painful experience of trying to get students to arrive at mastery and develop knowledge that is beyond their experience or developmental appropriateness is asinine.
  • And the third thing is that the sequence of units matters A LOT. In our case, we were asking that students take their knowledge and apply it by taking action. We should have had a How The World Works Unit beforehand that developed the key information and scientific principles to really appreciate the need to act. Our unit implied that kids should “reduce, reuse, recycle” without understanding why it’s important to do so.
  • Also, a unit whose central idea demands that students assimilate knowledge and then adapt it to behaviors needs to reconcile with the developmental stage that they are at. Most of the students are at the cognitive stage in which they are transitioning from concrete to abstract thinking and operational thought. This unit would have been better served when most, if not all the kids, were 7 years old because cognitively they would have understood the concept of conservation. This was a second term unit. It was too early in the school year to introduce these ideas.
  • And of course, the old PYP coordinator in me wondered why I didn’t go back into last year’s POI to see what scientific ideas that they had been exploring when I first saw warning signs. Although I had interviewed past teachers who did the unit, I should have dug deeper into the curriculum that my current classes had been working on in the past years. I needed to research my learners more. I would have seen the gaps and been able to re-route the unit sooner instead of “following the garbage”.

So, I would suggest that educators ask themselves a couple of important questions before embarking on units of inquiry in which student action should be the hallmark of successful learning outcomes:

  1. What previous knowledge and skills should we look for? What was their most recent learning (last grade level’s POI)? What conceptual understandings will students need to understand in order to really apply knowledge? (Go deep on Box #3 on the PYP planner)
  2. What misconceptions do you predict students may come with? How will we know if they have them?
  3. What is the age of the majority of the students? Will they have access cognitively to the concepts and related concepts in the units?
  4. What action is already taking place? What can we expect young children to be doing, feeling and thinking?

 

I can see now that words like “action” and “choices” are too subjective to be put into a central idea for this Sharing the Planet Theme. They are great in the lines of inquiry, but if you take the stance that you assess the central idea in your summative and formative assessments, then you are setting students up for failure. Although student action is the proof that real learning has occurred, this unit would have been better served with related concepts in the central idea. (Here is a great blog that demonstrates how units can be analyzed in this way.) With that in mind, I would suggest rewriting the unit to look like this, with the related concepts in bold:

Human interaction with living things can have consequences on the environment.

 

Although this unit is going to be seared into my mind and will haunt me all year, I will remember the lessons learned here when it comes to analyzing my grade level’s units of inquiry. Perhaps this will also help you to reflect and consider how your units are structured and be more critical in your understanding of your learners.

So I ask you, dear reader, what other suggestions would you make regarding this failure? What takeaways did you get from this? Please comment below.

#IMMOOC: Finding Opportunites for Innovation

#IMMOOC: Finding Opportunites for Innovation

I was recently reading Dave Burgess’ blog about how change is built and not announced. He used this beautiful analogy of building a snowball that really resonated with me and how I think about innovation:

No matter what your position, you can create change. If you are struggling to do so, maybe you’re trying to pick up all the snow at once. Just grab a handful, pack it tight, and then start pushing. Change is a lot easier when you’re rolling snowballs downhill.

-Dave Burgess-

In this week’s IMMOOC, we are exploring our definitions of innovation and what they can look like in our school’s context. Change is an inherent part of innovation. In the book, Innovator’s Mindset, George Curous shares some of the challenges he faced with defining it as he took on his role as the Divisional Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning. He contemplated Simon Sinek’s ideas on leadership, ruminating on how impactful organizations are when they dig into and articulate a clear “why” behind their existence and then move toward changing the what and designing their system of how to match their cultural values. Cultivating an innovative culture doesn’t require transformation -it requires information on what is ideal for our unique group of learners and school context, refining the current practices and classroom spaces so that it is optimal for learning. “Change for the sake of change” is not the point of innovation. George explains that “Innovation is a way of thinking that creates something new and better“, as we consider what would help spur the intellectual and emotional growth of our learners. When we keep the focus on the kids, innovation happens organically and with purpose.Anytime teachers think differently about.png

As I step into the classroom this week, I have the intention to think differently about our learning community and find the opportunities for innovation. If I think back to Dave’s snowball analogy, I’ll need to keep my awareness on the “small handfuls of snow” that I can pick up and build upon so that I can create some momentum with the innovative ideas that will best serve our students.

The Future of Homework

The Future of Homework

HOMEWORK!-There is probably not an area of education that is more hotly debated than this. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent or an educator, opinions will vary. There is the 10-minute rule that a lot of schools use that comes out of the research done by Harris Cooper due to the positive correlation between student achievement and homework. Following this rule of thumb, a child in the first grade would be assigned 10 minutes of homework, while a secondary student would be assigned no more than 90 minutes of homework. However, this principle is not helpful in differentiating based on the needs a child because not all children take the same amount of time on each assignment. So this complexity makes it difficult to make generalizations about how much homework should be given. And, quantity is not the same as quality. There’s been a huge trend towards “Flipped Learning” in which teachers assign a video for students to watch at home and then they do the practice problems at school. Math is a particularly popular subject for this type of homework. In the latest season of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC,  George Curous interviews Jo Boaler,  a personal math hero of mine, who surprisingly dismissed this approach to math learning.

She explains that, at the end of the day, all this fuss over homework doesn’t matter. In fact, according to research done, it has a negative impact when you look at access to the internet, meaning that disadvantaged families or families without technology in their homes suffer from a “digital divide”. The research on this rather reminds me of the book Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in which one of his main ideas was how technology will create a post-industrial age revolution that will create an economic and psychological chasm. Although back in 1970, these ideas were radical, now in 2017, it has come to past with the era of the “knowledge worker”. And so one has to wonder if our traditional approach to homework is actually serving our students in preparing them for their future, especially as I ponder one of Toffler’s infamous quotes from this book:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -Alvin Toffler  

At many PYP schools, there has been a shift toward reframing homework as home learning, and parents who have had more traditional educational backgrounds have mixed opinion on this. In a place like Asia, in which students usually take classes after school or attend academies, parents really cringe to hear that there isn’t homework being assigned. And in many ways, sending home worksheets or assignments really helps communicate the learning that is being done in the classroom to families; because parents can see that their child is doing 10 homework problems with expanded notation, they have an obvious idea of the learning that is going on in the classroom. At our school, we send home “learning overviews” that detail the conceptual understanding and learning outcomes of the units of inquiry, adding ways that parents can support the learning at home. Also, since we use we use the app SeeSaw, we post a lot of photos of what we are doing in class. And I wonder if this fills the void that parents feel while meanwhile achieving the aims of preparing students for this “future shock”, that, in many ways, is already underway. At the end of the day, both teachers and parents just want the children to feel successful and equipped for their unknown careers ahead.

What I found most interesting about Boaler’s interview is how she articulates the importance of cultivating students’ genius. More homework? No!-more brain connections!  Jo explains that “when you have a piece of knowledge that you see in different ways”, you can be more of a creative problem solver. And how can homework really achieve that unless it is a passion project or conducting personal research that fosters divergent ways of thinking? More importantly, valuing their ideas helps children to develop confidence, autonomy, and a work ethic. And it can be gymnastics, baking a cake or playing a game. Doing this, rather than a page of math problems, surely will pay higher dividends in the long run. That’s the problem with homework–it’s rarely authentic or inspiring. And if students don’t have an intrinsic drive to learn more, there is absolutely no way that forcing a student to conjugate verbs or memorize the rivers in the world will improve that situation. Getting kids to be deeply curious and willing to try and fail at something is loads better-  that is the only learning that needs to happen, inside or outside the classroom.

So I think that the future of “homework” might just be extinction.

What do you think? Post comments below.

My Flawed Thinking: Confessions of A Digital Immigrant

My Flawed Thinking: Confessions of A Digital Immigrant

Perhaps you haven’t considered lately how far we’ve come in the journey with computers in the classroom. I recently was watching an interview with Hal Abelson about the history of Logo, the first computer programming language that was taught to kids. In it, he shares the philosophy of Logo and the determination that the father of constructionism, Seymour Papert, had in bringing computers into the classroom:

Well, one thing I learned from Seymour Papert is that he used to talk about developing technology with a low floor and a high ceiling, meaning it’s easy to get started, the low floor, and you can do more and more sophisticated things over time, a high ceiling. We sometimes also talk about having wide walls, meaning you can have many different pathways. It’s not enough just to have everyone doing the same thing and doing more complex things, but people doing different types of things.

I know Hal is talking about computer programming, but that is only one aspect of how we use computers and devices in our learning environments. It is fascinating to think about what an impact these pioneers have had in creating a generation of “digital natives”. Once a computer was a huge expensive noisy machine, but now it ubiquitous. Our young learners have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computer video games, digital MP3 players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other tools of the digital age. As an enthusiastic educator,  it’s hard not be inspired by where technology has taken us and where it will take us in our students’ learning.  I am always searching for how we might cultivate deeper thinking and creativity in our use of iPads in the learning to demonstrate this “high ceiling”. However, I recently discovered that I have some preconceived notions about my digital natives. The cartoon really summarizes my error in thinking and that I need to appreciate that, although technology can provide this low ceiling, I have to still lead them into the “learning environment”–even if I am a Digital Immigrant.  

During this last week of learning, we have been working through the transdisciplinary theme, How We Organize Ourselves, inquiring into the central idea: Community Spaces provide people with opportunities to connect. We have developed “expert” groups for different community spaces at our school and it came up that we may need some signs to help us know about the appropriate behavior in different areas. So we considered how technology can help us to augment or extend the learning by this project and decided to use Adobe Spark Post to explore how we might create the visual message.  However, I noticed that the students are accustomed to using iPads just for consumption purposes instead of using them for creativity or collaboration. Before we can shift into higher levels of purposeful use in the classroom, they need to get into habits of taken active roles as learners of technology. They required a lot of handholding to start the project and I began to think how I might have given them more support in orientating to the app before beginning. Even though it wasn’t a total flop, I wanted a lesson “do-over” so that students could make better connections and be empowered. With this in mind, I recognized my faulty logic in assuming that because they are digital natives, they are naturally orientated to using apps. I started to think about what my next steps need to be and how might I approach it differently.

After reflecting, I see these as the basic concepts and ideas that they need further development in:

Learn….

  • What do different icons mean?
  • How to problem solve when they can’t spell a word?

Understand….

  • How their projects are seen and can be shared on the device (co-use and collaborate).
  • How that double tapping is an editing command.
  • That changes made on a project happen in real time.
  • A design can be improved upon and their current model or idea is just one iteration.

In hindsight, these outcomes seem like a natural starting point and should have been obvious in the lesson design;  but as a digital immigrant, I think they implicitly know how to get started with technology. I assumed that so much of their experience has exposed them to these things and thought that the app could teach itself. My design checklist and quick demonstration of the app was simply not enough to draw out the nuances that students needed to develop when creating a product. If I want them to go into higher levels of their learning and creativity, I have to remember that, although I am not a digital native, I am their teacher and I need to make sure they have a clear picture of the power of the tool before them. There’s a careful balance of making sure that students are finding problems that they can solve, and that they have the skills to use technology to solve these problems.

I am sure my confession resonates with many educators, as they think back to a lesson that should have gone better than it did. But sometimes you do the teaching and sometimes you do the learning. (:

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Leveled Reading Vs. Love of Reading–The Struggle is Real!

Since I’ve taught in a variety of school settings, both in America and overseas, what is “best practice” when it comes to reading can be a bone of contention for educators. I’ve worked in some settings whose leaders think guided reading has become blasé and we should do more conferencing with student selected texts, others who feel that “independent” reading is not really reading at all and we should give them leveled texts so that students understand what is a “just right” book for them. It’s hard to argue with either side because each have their points. Although student selected texts show real agency, student chosen texts don’t often expose them to new ideas and challenges which make it difficult to develop strategies to conquer increased demands in an instructional level text. On the other hand, there aren’t too many leveled readers that win book awards and really engage readers to the point that they can’t put the book down. So trying to both instill a love of reading and yet have learning intentions that encourage the growth of skills is a balancing act.

Lately, I’ve been reading Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book, Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More,  and they tell a story of an enthusiastic reader who gets deflated by leveled reading, citing the kind of message it sends our learners:

Accompanying these instructional choices are subtle and obvious messages to students. Think about what …book selection communicates..

• I think of you as a reader almost exclusively in terms of your reading level.

• I trust reading levels absolutely and generally don’t consider the nuances of your reading process, the text, or your motivation to read.

• Although you think you know how to select a book for yourself, you really don’t.

• You are not as good at selecting books for yourself as the others.

• The confidence you have in yourself is misguided.

• Don’t get excited about the books you want to read until you check with me.

• I’m in charge of your “independent” reading.

Burkins, Jan, and Kim Yaris. Who’s Doing the Work? : How to Say Less So Your Readers Can Do More, Stenhouse Publishers, 2016. ProQuest Ebook Central, .
Created from vientiane on 2017-09-08 20:11:57.

 

Ouch!-Right?  As I ponder the hidden message that leveled texts send, it’s driven my head into a frenzy. How can I do both?–help cultivate the identity of a learner, seeing themselves as “readers” while at the same time, pushing them out of their comfort zone and into the “learning zone”, where their skills are enhanced and extended. Knowing that my school is committed to guided reading, I am thinking about how this concept of “best practice” can be developed in the classroom. Here are 5 ways that I intend to merge what is great about these approaches to teaching in a guided reading group:

  1. Pick texts that reflect the reading interests of the students in the guided reading group.  In the beginning, when we are developing trust in our teacher-student relationship, I think it’s important to honor their interests. I have started off with a reading interest inventory and had a discussion about what their favorite genres might be. It doesn’t always have to be the next book in the DRA or PM reader series (or other level texts series), instead, I can draw from other sources like online magazines or online reading sources like  ReadWorks,  RAZ Kids, and Epic.
  2. Their ability “level” is none of their business. It’s not that I don’t want students to make good informed choices about selecting texts, but all they are not a letter, a number a color or a name. They are a reader. That’s all they need to know. Those levels are for me, the teacher, to ensure that they grow into more challenging and sophisticated texts.
  3. Tool and strategies over pre-reading and post-reading “activities”. When I first read Edgar Allen Poe, I had to sit there with a dictionary. I struggled with all the “big words” but I loved his ideas so I dug in and did the work. I had to go back and reread, but at the end of the story, I felt fulfilled. So during guided reading, I want to expose them to a strategy or introduce them to a tool that can help them solve problems with meaning and print that they encounter in the text.
  4. Encourage them to get a life– a reading life- beyond the group! As an end of week reflection, I want to spend some time discussing some great books that they might have read independently. I don’t want students to choose books because they think they are easy but instead, I want them to really want to find books that excite and interest them. Taking the time to talk about books why we like a book not only gives me data but also shows that I value their choices.
  5. Value questions over answers. A sign of a good book is that it lingers in your mind a while. It leaves you thinking and asking questions about the concepts and ideas in it. I want my readers to apply critical thinking skills when encountering texts and having them evaluating the characters and the information in the book/article closely.  This develops the mindset of a true reader, which I am sure will show up on their running records later.

For any of you who teach reading in the primary/elementary grades, the struggle is real, as we grapple with what is really “best practice” for our unique group of learners. Hopefully, my 5 ideas will give you some pause for reflection as you consider what it is that you believe is paramount to developing your readers. Please share any ideas or take aways, as it helps all of us grow as professionals.

The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development

The Educator’s Companion to Professional Development

Anyone who knows me realizes that I am ridiculously committed to my craft and am always looking at how I can improve teaching and learning. For the last year, I’ve been hemming and hawing about doing a podcast, partly as a challenge since it gets me to step out of my comfort zone and partly for a fun exploration experience so  I can bring this media format into classroom learning. It took me ages to come up with a topic, learn the basic skills, record and launch it. I didn’t want it to be some meaningless content that was clogging up the internet. I wanted it to be useful for fellow educators. As someone who easily spends $200 USD a month on professional development, I began looking for free and inexpensive ways to increase my professional learning. The resources and insights I have gained in my quest to uplevel my practice is the basis of the podcast.

So without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to the Educator’s Companion to PD podcast! Its whole purpose is to provide ideas for personalizing your professional development so that you can master the concepts and skills that can make the impact that you want to make in your school communities.  The resources are free and my commentary is my own. I have 5 episodes recorded and ready for your ears with much more on the way.

To help facilitate personalized professional development, I made an infographic to help people through the process. I am hoping that this will get people to consider how they might structure and begin a learning journey in pursuit of updating and expanding their skills.  I have nearly completed the ebook that expands upon personalizing your professional development but for now, consider this little cheat sheet a taste of what to come.

 

 

Your Cheat Sheet to Personalized Professional Learning. (2)

Also, I have created a guestbook for you to share your favorite professional learning resources. It’s incredibly helpful for fellow educators to learn more about these fantastic opportunities and it lifts up the whole profession when you do so. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience!

Share a tip: What's one free professional learning resource that has impacted your teaching and learning?

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

Last month I finished up the MITX Design Thinking for Leading and Learning course, and I’m still assimilating the profundity of these ideas and the impact they can have in classrooms. It’s actually really hard for me to articulate since I’m in the midst of a paradigm shift as ideas are colliding between developing empathy, creativity, and critical thinking in students. It’s been a “perfect storm” in my mind and I’m still trying to erase my former notions about design as a cycle instead of it as a creative process–which was probably my key take away. When I learned about how schools of poverty and underachievement are transformed by using it, I was impressed, to say mildly.  And I have been chewing on how this is possible when it occurred to me that it wasn’t all the great knowledge that was gained, it was the mindset that was cultivated. In particular, it made me think about the work of Brene Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability.

The REVOLUTION will not be televised. It will be in your classroom! You are working on the hardest edges of love.

Do not ever question the power you have with the people you teach!

Learning is inherently vulnerable and it’s like you got a classroom full of turtles without shells.  The minute they put their shells back on, they are protected–from their peers, from their teachers, from whoever–no learning can come in…so we really have to develop ‘shame resilent’ classrooms.

-Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly

I agree with Brene Brown about developing “shame resilience” and have found the usual tug of war between with teaching and mistake making diminishes when we introduce students to a mindset in which they appreciate the importance of recognizing our errors and strive for constant improvement. When I think about design thinking, I believe it could beinnovation a powerful way for students to experience their vulnerability and develop perspective taking, all the while creating real cool stuff–whether it is a piece of writing, a t-shirt, a rollercoaster, an app or, in my Early Year’s classroom, a garden. They learn how to fail forward and create another prototype. This design sprint is not a destructive but constructive element because, although they spent a lot of time developing their idea, the focus shifts from the product itself to the user–who will reap the benefits of this redesign. It gets the kids to detach from what they are making to who they are making it for. This nuance has a relatively big impact on the process of improvement.

So, it’s been in the midst of implementing it at a deeper level, that I had a moment of clarity in which I connected Brown’s ideas to that of design-thinking. Design-based learning creates a space in your classroom in which different “gifts” from the students’ learning can emerge:

  1. Love Of Ideas
  2. Belonging (in their collaborative groups)
  3. The Joy of creating something and learning new ideas.
  4. Courage to try new things
  5. Problem-finding by thinking future forward and considering what the possible issues might be with their design.
  6. Innovation by using different strategies and materials to solve a challenge.
  7. Ethical decision making by considering the different perspectives and considering if their solutions will be harmful to the environment or hurtful to others.
  8. Trust in each other and themselves
  9. Empathy for the users.
  10. Accountability to finish the job
  11. Flexibility with our time table and dealing with challenges.
  12. Creativity in designing.
  13. Listening to Feedback from others
  14. Hard conversations with each other

As my class is still in the midst of this design-based unit, I continue to be fascinated by their growth as the process reveals another level of their thinking and feeling about issues and ideas related to our current unit. I’m enjoying observing this process and love how it fits so well with the inquiry-based learning model of the Primary Years Programme (PYP). I definitely look forward to implementing this approach in future.

I’m wondering if others who have more experience with design thinking would agree with the “gifts” and/or add different ones to the list. Please share. I’m genuinely interested in your perspective.

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

How to Avoid Being Napolean Bonaparte

I’ve long held a suspicion that there is a difference between an administrator and a leader, but now I know it is the truth. My current school has suffered through major changes several times since I’ve been here and now it looks to restructure again with its expanded campus. Needless to say, this has provided a lot of fodder for me to consider what is my role at the school and made me reflect on what is the distinction between someone who sees themselves as a someone who “ticks off the boxes”, my definition of an administrator,  or someone who is in fact in command of the school, my definition of a leader. As I see, you can’t lead people who don’t want to follow you, but you still can be an administrator who manages things lovelessly.

Music Genre

And the difference between the two is what are the values of the person in charge: completing paperwork or developing trust. Whether or not someone at the top is an administrator or is a leader, they influence the culture of a school, but the outcomes of their decisions permeate all areas of school life. The perspectives they hold about education plays a major part in how school policies and procedures are shaped and implemented.

Some of the fault in exercising power comes from the fact that the higher you climb in a hierarchical structure (which most schools ascribe to), the more you are the target of criticism and complaints. How you handle being the target of these remarks and gossip makes a huge difference. You have to ask yourself: Do I want to be liked or do I want to be trusted. The nuances in this perspective cannot be underscored enough. To put simply, if you think of your title like winning a popularity contest then you will always be defending your title. If you think of your title as earning a vote of confidence, then you continue to work toward maintaining and developing the strengths of your organization.  When you are in a “title”, there is hubris and then there is humility that becomes the norms of a school.  You get to decide which will define your use of power.  Douglas MacArthur said it best:

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

As I wrap up my school year and prepare to move to another school, I will store away the memories of these experiences. Although I will not be in a leadership title next year, I have come to understand that “words without actions” are meaningless, so I feel strongly that titles without real leadership qualities are void of any value. I am a bit disenchanted with any grabs at power at the moment because I have witnesseleadershipd first hand at how detrimental it can be when people thirst to be given power or maintain control over others. I have come to feel relief in taking some time to redefine what I am and how I can best serve my new school community and the field of education at large. Alas, that will be my new focus–out beyond the 4 walls of my school–and look to how I might contribute to making a difference, not just in the International Baccalaureate, but in the larger conversation that is taking place in education: What really matters for our learners as we look to the future?

What about you? What are your thoughts about school leadership? What perspectives am I missing?

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

2 Questions Worth Asking To Determine Your Professional Fantasy?

Have you ever been asked by an administrator a question like Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Well, a close colleague and school leader posed a different flavor of the question to me: What is your professional fantasy? I was absolutely startled by the question and fumbled through my answer, mostly because of the word fantasy- something that is defined by the Cambridge dictionary as:

a pleasant situation that you enjoy thinking about but is unlikely to happen.

So now that I have had a few days to really process this question, and it got me really thinking 2 things:

  1. What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?
  2. And does it have to be “unlikely to happen”?

 

Before I go into a state of mind wandering,  let me provide the current context of most educational systems around the world:

In the past, we heard about the “digital divide” between those who had access to technology and those who didn’t. We are now seeing a new divide emerge–a Creative Chasm between those who actively create…Our current model of schooling amplifies this Creative Chasm. From the bell schedule to the grading system to the lesson planning and pedagogy, our students inhabit factory-style schools. Phrases like  “content delivery” and “delivering a lesson” treat education as a commodity to be collected and then used in the future. This model might have worked in developing compliant factory workers. So here are now, well into the twenty-first century. The factories are gone … Yet, this industrial model remains.

Excerpt taken from LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by A.J. Juliani and John Spencer

So how do I, as an educator who has been raised and trained in a factory-model system of education lead students into the future whose workplace values has shifted? This is highly personal–will I cling to the past or participate in the future? Well, this is where my fantasy begins, as  I cannot stand by and stagnate in my practice and continue to leave technology to the “kids”.

To answer my first question (What ridiculous thing would I like to do in education?), I’d like to be involved in a revolution in education–in which paradigms are shattered and we rip into the sacred cows of education. What sacred cows do I speak of? Mainly, that, as an educator, I am the knower of all things and I hoard that knowledge wisely and dispense it in time through a scope and sequence or a curriculum map.

Some of you might have gasped aloud–if that responsibility of our profession was downsized or completely eliminated, then what? Well, don’t be silly. The universe abhors a vacuum, something innovative and necessary would undoubtedly emerge to replace it. I daresay it already is. Read The Future of Professions  or gain insight through this video:

 

In my former career as a scientific researcher, I used to experiment on animals. I have sometimes joked that my students are like my “lab rats” with whom I manipulate and observe the results of my prodding (aka, “the black box of best practices”). But now I have come to see them, not as “animals” that I “experiment” with, but as fellow researchers. They are right along siding me, poking at reality and questioning its very nature. That’s the paradigm I wish to infuse in our educational systems: Students are Teachers; students can recognize what is worth knowing and develop effective ways in which these ideas can be transferred and shared.

I  understand that many of our students grow up immersed in a consumer culture and then attend schools where they consume rather than create knowledge. In my professional fantasy, I enlist an army of educators who plot and scheme an offensive to drive out students’ resignation and apathy towards their learning. Instead, these students join us and become generals themselves, crippling this very infrastructure of this archaic industrial age model.

Truthfully I believe that this revolution is presently underway and this army is already amassing with innovative and passionate educators. Educators like you.  And so I have to wonder if this is really a fantasy at all? Maybe through this blog and other ways and means, I can connect and engage with fellow concerned and diligent educators who do not wish to stand by and allow the old to become new again; but instead will we engage and empower our students, who may very well rewrite our job descriptions and redesign the frameworks and goals of our institutions.

Say you will join me!

 

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10 Reasons Why I Can’t Wait to Teach 1st Grade Next Year

10 Reasons Why I Can’t Wait to Teach 1st Grade Next Year

My school year is winding down–4 more weeks left of school! (but not that I’m counting) And instead of thinking about all the great adventures we will have this summer, all I can think about is how much fun I am going to have to teach 1st grade next year. Teacher Nerd ALERT!next year After bobbing back and forth between the Early Years and 4th grade for the last couple years, I will be happy to settle in 1st grade for a while, where you get the best of the Early Years mindset (unfettered creativity and imagination) and yet starting to gain confidence and competence in Literacy and Numeracy skills, making it possible to go deep with developing their knowledge and thinking skills. Plus their minds aren’t as sullied with “can’ts” as the older grades are, making them so wonderfully teachable. Oh, the joy of learning!-for both me and them.

Here are the 10 things that are keeping me up at night that I am so dang excited to do with 1st graders:

  1. Meditation: Cultivating calm in one’s mind should be a skill taught early in life. If I was being honest, I have been a bit chicken to really make it a part of my classroom routine in a serious way. But I really intend to push myself and introduce mindfulness and meditation in a more intentional way. I think 6-7 years old can manage a brief moment of calm.   
  2. Book Snaps: Although I am not sure about introducing SnapChat to little ones, how I do love this idea by Tara Martin, in which kids take a “snap” of the book they are reading and post the questions, ideas, and quotes from the book as annotations. I think the excitement of posting these “book snaps” are a unique way to cultivate an interest in close reading when you share them in a public forum. Love of close reading–oh yeah, let’s do that!
  3. Podcasting: I dabbled with podcasting before but for the last couple months, I have taken a serious interest in it and have been working on my a personal podcast for a while. Audio content is a whole other art form so this project has really made me think a lot about creativity, word choice, and voice (literally). Which is preciously why I want to do with little kids, and I was inspired by an idea that the music teacher shared with me about read alouds. So I’m hoping to do read alouds of books and their writing and publish it to an authentic audience, all the while nailing fluency in the process.
  4. Blogging: The online world is where most of my digital natives will be probably making their greatest impact as they grow into adults. I’ve always admired the philosophy of the Writer’s Workshop as it develops the mindset of a writer. What could be more authentic and meaningful as a blog, as they articulate their ideas online?
  5. SeeSaw: I have been dying to seriously mess around with digital portfolios. Currently, we use Class Dojo, which is focused more on classroom management, but SeeSaw has oh so much more going on and has a lot more opportunity for engagement and interaction.
  6. Math Workshop: Did I mention that I like the workshop model? Ah, yes, and it works for math too! Workshop + Talk Moves + Math Tools = a deeper exploration of number concepts.
  7. Math as Art: Okay, I’m a math geek, but through a series of serendipitous events, I’ve come to see art as an integral way to show the “beauty” of math. I don’t consider myself arty, at all, but I’m super interested in how we can represent math (and science) in artistic ways.
  8. Number Talks: This is probably one of my favorite things, ever, in developing mathematical mindsets, in which students get to explore a myriad of perspectives as they look at solving a problem.  So, it creates a bank of strategies for mental math and develops mathematical fluency.  If you don’t know about it, check out the video below.

9. Design Thinking: Have you ever found that you thought you knew something but then as you start really working through it and researching it, you realize how absolutely ignorant you are. Well, design thinking has done that to me, and I want to use it more often in my classroom, not as a one-off in a STEM-like unit, but I think it can be superimposed into so many aspects of learning, even writing. I want to launch it early in my class and use it often, whether we are going through the design process or doing design sprints.

10. Writer’s Workshop: Although I am not a die-hard Lucy Calkins fan, I so do love this approach to writing because it creates “authors” with writing that is worth sharing and publishing. They get to study good writing, practice these devices, go through the writing process and get peer feedback. I think it cultivates a practice of deep reading of a text and cultivates a positive mindset about writing, dare I say a buzz about their writing. I want to remix this model a bit, with the use of technology and design-based learning through. So I reckon that this experiment will be the fodder for blogs later.

If you are a 1st-grade teacher, I’m wondering what you really love challenging your students with. What am I missing? What have you done that you think is the bee’s knees? I’d love some insight!!

Nevertheless, it is fun to sit upon the precipice of something and feel the exhilaration of possibility.

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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