Our chat this week was focused on Classroom Design. Participants shared their ideas and insights about creating a learning environment which includes students’ input and adapts to students’ needs.
Participants shared great resources and their experiences of making changes to the classroom that included getting rid of the teacher’s desk, adding standing desks, couches and other furniture and shopping kijiji and IKEA for bargains!
Do you love to learn?
Try new things?
Explore new ideas?
Read books/ebooks about a variety of topics? Search Youtube for different topics? Search the net to learn about something you are doing? Tried a MOOC (Massive Online Open Class)? Participated in a Google Hangout? Done a Mystery Skype? Blogged about your day? Joined a Twitter chat?
Are you trying new things and seeking to learn something new? How about a new summer bbq recipe or some new salad dressing?
That’s What We Do
These are just a few things that I and many of the educators that I know would consider to be just what we do. Learning new things, trying new experiences and seeking out ideas that push our own thinking about the world and our own place in it. Yet, is that what the majority of the population is doing? Are people reaching out to new experiences, trying new things and learning? According to Philip Pape in This Habit Will Put You in the Top %1 of Experts and Money-Makers ,
- 25% of people have not read a book in the last year
- 46% of adults score in the lowest two levels of literacy
- Reading frequency declines after age eight
Yet, when you’re surrounded by people who read, support reading, encourage reading and like reading, it can seem that most people read and are into learning new things. But is that what is happening? It’s hard to tell. In doing some digging, it appears that Canadians are reading.
A 2005 readership study by the Department of Canadian Heritage (PCH), READING AND BUYING BOOKS FOR PLEASURE, found that nearly 9 in 10 (87%) Canadians said they read at least one book for pleasure in the 12 months preceding the study1 and that half (54%) read virtually every day. The average time spent reading is 4½ hours per week (unchanged since 1991); the average number of books read per year, 17 (down only slightly from 1991). Fully one-quarter (26%) reported that reading is the leisure activity they most commonly engage in, as many as cited TV-watching, putting reading and TV-watching in the #1 spot among leisure pursuits in Canada (and dwarfing “Internet activities,” which only 9% cited). These findings support thePCH report’s conclusion that “reading for pleasure remains a solidly established and widespread habit with little or no change over the last 15 years.”
Now, reading isn’t the only way people learn. In fact, through access to information on the internet, learning in some areas of the world is easier via video and audio. I used this video to repair a crack in the windshield.
Learning is available all around us. But as Steve Haragon discusses in his latest post there is a dissonance that he is seeing and sensing in the world around which is impacting people.
In the absence of coherent and engaging ways of viewing and improving our world, and of helping each other, the result may be that we shut down. We surrender our sense of agency. Cognitively and emotionally, our normal awareness and empathy bubbles shrink down to small, individual, spaces.
It may seem like this at times, especially when there is so many things that are happening and change is taking place at a rapid pace, so quickly that, for some, retreating is a way of coping. I know that there are times when the constant cacophony of educational voices imploring the need for change can feel overwhelming. In some cases, it would seem that throwing out the baby with the bath water is not only desirable but the only way for progress.
Teachers are Bombarded
This summer has seen an increase in the number of learning opportunities for teachers and it looks like this will continue well into the school year. For many teachers, summer is a time to recharge and refresh themselves. Learning is definitely a great way to replenish one’s batteries but in the past few years there has been a growing number of activities and conferences which now includes online conferences, edcamps and MOOCs plus weekly twitter chats and book clubs. These opportunities vary, each one vying to get the attention of teachers.
What does a teacher do?
Despite the rhetoric that fills some blogs, most teachers are life-long learners, trying to improve their classroom practice. With so many ideas and options available, trying to cope can seem daunting. The image of teacher-as-superhuman doesn’t seem to be far off!
Go to this conference!
Get this certification!
Get more certification!
Start a blog, write a book, present at a conference!
Embrace makerspace, genius hour, inquiry learning, flipped classroom, flipped staff meetings, flipped professional development, gamification of the classroom and school and professional development – make all things fun and engaging.
At a time when teachers and education seems to be lacking, improvement seems necessary.
Teachers who are learners and work to improve their teaching are being overwhelmed.
“Teachers retreat into themselves, not because they don’t care but because they care so much and so deeply they are being overwhelmed.”
I can’t remember the source for this quote. As an administrator, I would use this as a way to remind myself that part of the role of being an educational leader was to help teachers to manage the constant bombardment. If teachers with whom I was working were becoming overwhelmed by all the demands, it would show in there day-to-day interactions. That meant being with them in their classrooms and working with them on projects. Hiding in the office under the desk only to appear when there were good things happening isn’t a successful leadership style. Were the initiatives and requirements draining the care right out of the teachers? If it seemed that teachers were withdrawing, it was time to realign so that people didn’t disengage.
Are we killing the love of learning in teachers?
Are we becoming over zealous and driving people away? Are we using the excuses of like technology integration and student performance to push our own narrative of good teaching?
“I have seen the light and now you need to or your are a bad teacher!”
In fact, it’s creating a gap. People who just a few years ago weren’t engaged or were just beginning to engage with technology and using social media seem to have made themselves gatekeepers and gurus who proclaim what is and what is not good for teaching and what constitutes good teaching. Teachers are bombarded with someone’s version of what it means to be a good teacher and a lot of it has to do with using some kind of technology or program or …. or… or….!
Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative and Die Empty and creator of the podcast The Accidental Creative discusses in his interview with Ron Friedman, a tendency to only post the positive-self online, the trips, conferences, publishing, accolades and not the more human parts that get people to these destinations so that it seems everyone we view is living these immaculate lives and doing all the great stuff which can lead to some serious anxiety as people think they need to keep up. Todd Henry describes this very well in Comparison and Competition.
Have you ever looked around at the work of others and felt like yours isn’t measuring up? Has this ever caused your passion for your work to wane? Don’t allow the slow ratcheting-up of expectations to paralyze you.
Too often, teachers are being shown a constant stream of what “experts” are doing without being given the time to improve themselves in a meaningful way. Yes, it can fuel people to improve but, just as easily, it can deflate people to give up. Rockstars were once garage bands.
Start with Relationships
Over and over again I’m reminded that whatever needs to change, building great relationships with students, teachers, parents and other community members is the foundation. Whether it’s Seth Godin in Linchpin, Stephen Covey in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Michael Fullan in The Six Secrets of Change or Carol Dueck in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, relationships again and again are the foundational piece to what people do. In his recent piece in The Guardian, Paul Mason explores the end of capitalism in a postcapitalist society. Mason pieces outlines how technology allows information to be freely accessed by anyone. This in turns allows people to work together in new ways that until now were unattainable due to costs and distance.
we’re seeing the spontaneous rise of collaborative production: goods, services and organisations are appearing that no longer respond to the dictates of the market and the managerial hierarchy.
As highlighted by Godin in Linchpin, relationships and giving to others are changing how people and companies interact. We may only be at the beginning of this shift, but for schools and teachers, building relationships with students, other teachers and their community is so important. Teachers and schools no longer control the knowledge and content that students can access. Although many teachers and schools continue to try, some educators are making the shift to helping students to become inquirers, supporting the student as they learn, focusing more on the learning and relationships and less on controlling content and assessment.
Highly Organized and Controlled
As schools, school systems and, to some degree, teachers struggle with trying to control information and content, there is a rise in various methods being used to control what students do, when they do it and how they do it. Highly structured uses of technology and implementation of various systems used to monitor and provide feedback to students continue to dominate classrooms as teachers continue to be required to provide traditional grades and students are required to take traditional tests. Despite these requirements, there are teachers who are pushing for greater openness – Genius Hour, Makerspaces, Gamification, Inquiry Learning, and versions of Blended Learning and Flipped Classrooms all are stretching the traditional classroom to become more learner focused with greater autonomy on the part of the learner.
Stephen Wilmarth, in his chapter Five Socio-Technology Trends That Change Everything in Learning and Teaching from the book Curriculum 21 Edited by Heidi Hayes Jacobs, explores how technology can lead to greater social interaction and learning. As Wilmarth explains
Be assured, I am not advocating that children do not need to learn to read. They do. Or that writing will not be necessary. It is. Or that the process of arriving at sums no longer matters. It does. But all of these things are the outcomes of social adaptation to prior technological change and invention. It is the nature and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is and relevance of reading, writing, and sums that change as we enter the postliterate era. Significantly, it is the way in which we make meaning out of information to create new knowledge that is changing.
The relationships that are created within classrooms are beginning relationships of learning. Through social networks, we now have the ability to expand these learning networks beyond the classroom.
Joining communities of interest and shared values (personal, family, cultural, political, economic) has always been essential to a learner’s identity. In this case, identity equates to where an individual is on the learning curve. And where traditional community relationships once defined a learner’s identity, emerging social networking technologies allow wholly new community associations to spring up organically and globally. These community ties, both strong and weak, exert a powerful influence on learning.
First, keep in mind that social networking technologies are changing rapidly. Second, remember that the technologies are not the point. In social networking, it’s important to concentrate on relationships, not technologies.
Teachers are coping with changes on multiple levels both as learners and, in turn, as teachers. To think that teachers will all be able to move at the same pace is akin to saying all students in the classroom will learn along a linear timeline, at the same pace, with the same tools, doing the same things and arrive at the same time. I don’t know anyone who still believes this takes place in a modern classroom.
Do You Love Learning?
As classrooms and schools move through transformational phases, there will continue to be different degrees of adoption and change. Unlike many who seem to be frustrated by a seeming lack of change, I am optimistic because I have seen so much change in so many areas in the past 4 or 5 years. Twitter, which was once a fairly lonely place for me, is now a fully vibrant learning network with connections of all types of learners and leaders. Interestingly, some of the earlier adopters who were avid sharers are now less involved in the networks, working more in a different avenues such as presenting and blogging or become teacherpreneurs on their own.
What drives all these people? I believe it is a love of learning that is at the heart of what they do which leads them to share and connect with others to share that passion, building relationships with others through learning. I believe their passion for learning fuels their passion for teaching. For others, that spark needs to be kindled and fanned not crushed and blown out by a constant bombardment.
…. what if teachers were supported as learners, trying to move through a myriad of changes along with everyone else? What if their learning was supported and valued, incorporated in the their work and part of a systemic view of learning as work?
….. how educational leaders can support teachers as they transition to a learning system where discovery and asking questions is of primary importance instead of content and knowledge distribution?
…. what if learning and relationships were the primary areas of focus? How might schools change to meet the needs of students and teachers through these two lenses?
…. where wondering and innovation will fit as educational institutions transition from being content and knowledge distribution centres?
How many times have you heard this?
It’s sounds so simple –
Just Do It!
Change is happening all over the place. In fact, so many of us jump into change that is rather life altering — marriage, children, new jobs…. pretty life altering! I mean, these changes are BIG!
Really, it’s not that people are totally afraid of changing.
New hair styles, wardrobe redos, new menu choices…. they’re all changes.
I know I’ve read more than a few blog articles about no longer accepting the “excuses” for not changing — there needs to be a change and we need to move on — NOW!
Sometimes We See that Change is Necessary
I’m transitioning myself through a major life change — one that is extremely exciting — and scary and terrifying and exhausting and ……. but necessary.
I could no longer ignore that change needed to happen. I wasn’t happy, my family wasn’t happy. We made the decision — discussing it with my wife — to move on and try a new path.
To what, I not really sure but the rut was starting to get too deep. I wasn’t seeing things with new lenses anymore. I was starting to look for “easy” solutions at times — not the right solutions. In short, I was not being the educational leader I expected myself to be.
Sometimes we wander across just the right thing at the right time.
A while back on twitter I happened upon this tweet
As I read through the article there were so many things that struck me as being important in the educational context.
1. Healing takes time – change requires healing time
Often I’ve heard “Well, they need to get over it. That’s the way it is and it’s time to get with the times. There’s a new train leaving and either they’re on it or …” In fact, the number of articles that are almost hostile to people who aren’t willing to change as quickly as they it is deemed they should is somewhat surprising given we are suppose to be an empathetic and concerned group of individuals.
As an administrator who has been involved in working with a number of staffs in different schools on improvement and change – I didn’t always understand this and often thought “Let’s move on. We’ve been going over this and rehashing this.” I didn’t understand that, as the educational leader, I needed to listen to where they were in the change process – not where I was or where I wanted to be. But that’s only the start – the next step is empathizing and then help them move forward with the understanding that staying put isn’t an option and support will be in place to transition.
2. Telling someone that change is going to happen doesn’t eliminate the need for time for healing.
As a parent, this has been so real for me and my wife. We have lived in many different communities. As parents, we learned that we needed to discuss the move with our children well before it happened BUT that didn’t mean the children wouldn’t need time.
I recall my oldest boy, days before we were moving. He had never really experienced leaving friends. There he was, with his best friend, walking behind our house in the late evening along the back road. The two of them, arms over each others’ shoulders walking – occasionally talking – stopping to look, point, talk.
It nearly broke my heart as I watched these two friends help one another – tears rolling down my cheeks as I witnessed friendship as it best.
Later that night, before bed, we talked about how he was feeling. LIke it was yesterday, his reply was “I’ll be okay. I know it will be okay. I just need time to get use to this.” He was 8. He taught me that change was okay – but it wasn’t easy no matter how much advanced warning.
As an administrator, I constantly remember this as I have worked with teachers, parents and students moving through the change process. As a prime example, after moving to a new school, our staff was in the middle of a planning meeting as the old school was being demolished. Many of the teachers couldn’t concentrate on the meeting we were having – the old school being torn down! We stopped. Watched. Some tears were shed. Memories were shared. They knew for 2 years that this was going to happen. It didn’t make it easier.
We took a break. People wandered outside. Some had spent nearly 30 years teaching in the school. They knew rationally that it needed to be done – but 30 years of drama, sports, graduations, first days….. you don’t just walk away.
Too often, in the name of progress, the rush to change becomes a litany of initiative after initiative in the name of “Doing what’s best for students” with new ideas coming from all over the place. Telling people that change is coming doesn’t mean you don’t have to help them when it actually happens. Again, empathy is a big part of this and giving teachers a list of 10 things isn’t empathetic. Neither is listing all the benefits or, like I’ve seen, ridiculing those who aren’t changing in forums of those who’ve changed. The last one, sorry to say, is somewhat of a staple in some twitter circles and is so embarrassing that people with fairly large followings talk about other people like that yet do it in the name of “What’s best for students”.
Exactly what would children learn from that?
Another group I’ve especially seen this with is new teachers. “10 things to you need to know as you begin teaching” is a great title but if you’re really concerned about new teachers, you’ll talk to them – constantly – not just at the beginning of the year or during the new teacher follow-up meetings or class observations. Even if it means making a note to yourself to stop by after school or in the morning to “talk” (I mean listen) to them, it’s needed. They need to “hear” from you in more than emails, memos and observations. And, no, you don’t have the answers – they aren’t asking questions but working through change. Give them a wonderful gift, your attention!
3. Change goals are too vague and too longterm.
“It’s what’s best for students” isn’t good enough anymore. For everyone who pulls this phrase out when referring to school reform and the advancement of technology, quit saying it because I can give you a whole grocery list of items that would fall in this category and fulfill the criteria.
And the rationale that “It’s what is happening everywhere outside of school” is another one that needs to hit the dumpster for the same reason as above. Again, there’s a grocery list of things that fit here. Yes “everyone is on ______________” but, that’s doesn’t mean it’s for everyone or that we will find the same fulfillment/satisfaction/learning/growth. This is as ridiculous as saying we’ll teach all the students in our room the same way with the same material and expect them all to learn and be excited about it. How about let’s stop this “one size fits all” for everyone in education and, instead, help teachers with some long-term goals for change and then short-term feedback goals for success. “Everyone’s doing it” is something a teenager says to their parents not something that I would expect in a conversation concerning educational change that is impacting the lives of teachers.
Goals need to be specific – we’re moving to use ePortfolios because….. – and have the people doing the change fill in some of the reasons because there are people who will be ready and accepting of the change and be prepared to move things forward. Constant initiatives from out there “in the best interest of students” hasn’t really worked so far – why do we expect them to suddenly work? Be specific about the change. Set a longterm goal – but then set short term goals and allow people to move forward, make mistakes and work through the changes. Give time for feedback and reflection that can then be integrated into the next step.
Give individuals the assistance they need to move forward, hold them accountable and be expected to be amazed.
As an administrator, one thing I’ve encountered numerous times is the “3 year plan – 1 year mindset”. The initiative is given 3 years to be fully implemented but that is 2 years longer than the timelines given for seeing results. There will always be those people who want to impress and will be willing to “succeed” at all costs – but in education, the human cost – especially when it relates to teachers, students and parents – is just too much. Either live by the 3 years or stop the smoke and mirrors and be honest about the change timeline. People may not be happy but they will know what is expected of them – especially the leaders in the school – and adjust accordingly. Support for a 3 year initiative is much different than that of a 1 year initiative.
4. Not everyone moves at the same rate or has the same needs
Individual needs are not usually part of the planning process when discussing change. People talk about them and acknowledge them but don’t plan for the differences. Instead, whether it’s teachers within a school or schools within a division/district, the expectation is that the change will look and proceed along a certain path and, if it doesn’t, there is something wrong with the person/school and nothing at all wrong with the plan.
Educational leaders talk about students with different learning needs yet I’m still somewhat astounded at how similar so many classrooms look. Talk isn’t action and for the latter to occur there needs to be specific planning and supports integrated to help with the transition. There is a large hue and cry for change – assessment, planning, cross-curricular integration, technology integration, flipped classrooms, blended learning, inquiry learning. Yet, it’s astounding how most of these come with a small range of implementation and time-lines.
5. Not all Teachers are the same!
Planning for different needs and different progress is messy and isn’t without problems – which you would think would be understood given the situation. Yet, it is not uncommon to have educational leaders compare teacher A to B&C&D because A is a “rock star”. The reasons for this are numerous but it’s usually doesn’t have the desired impact. Which, really shouldn’t be a surprise. Instead, leaders should be a) continuing to support teacher A with their work but also providing support for B, C & D. Not being a “rock star” shouldn’t be seen as a negative or be used as a comparison of ability. Instead, plan for individual differences, identify who might need assistance, be open to working with them and provide supports with short-term goals and help to move them along. Too often, the expectation is that with adults, the learning will be similar for everyone and, as organizations, the same inputs will provide consistent results across the domain.
Change isn’t an event – it’s a movement.
Individuals need time to move through significant change. Too often, because teachers are adults, the assumption is that they will not need that much time or they will be able to rationally see the need for change and will “Get on with it.” As Chip and Dan Heath explore in their book Switch.
Why is it so hard to make lasting changes in our companies, in our communities, and in our own lives? The primary obstacle, say the Heaths, is a conflict that’s built into our brains. Psychologists have discovered that our minds are ruled by two different systems—the rational mind and the emotional mind—that compete for control. The rational mind wants a great beach body; the emotional mind wants that Oreo cookie. The rational mind wants to change something at work; the emotional mind loves the comfort of the existing routine. This tension can doom a change effort—but if it is overcome, change can come quickly.
Too often, this mistake becomes costly in terms of the human factor which then affects the school culture and, well, my experience in changing these errors is that it leads to a negative and unproductive working and learning environment. Maybe it’s time that people focused more on the individuals in the change process and less time telling them to “just get on with it.” because “there’s no excuse not to move on.” In my experience, there may not be an excuse but there is a reason and, if you take the time, not only will you find out why but you’ll be amazed at the change that will take place.
The power of one.
How can one person have influence and bring about change?
I often referred to this Margaret Meade quote when I was an administrator – as a small group of educators there was the opportunity to do great things if we just allowed ourselves the latitude to be more and do more.
A small group, yes!
But one person? Can it really happen?
They Walk Among Us
This past Sunday, #txeduchat was discussing ways that teachers could connect students with the world. One thing that I have learned is there are many students who are already doing amazing things – changing the world some who popularized through video or on the internet. But there are many more who are doing amazing things because they are driven to do so. I have had the privilege of having a number of students show me how they, as youth, can change the world.
It is one example of how we are surrounded by people who are taking risks and making changes because they see a need and try to address it. They don’t wait for someone to tell them to do something or to get permission to make a difference. They are risk-takers and innovators.
These people wander at the edge of possibility, creating wonder with others, not afraid to see what might be, undeterred by failure or mistakes; lifelong learners and co-creators, they are passionate and embrace the complexity of life not seeking reward but wishing only to make the world a better place than they found it.
We don’t all have to be raising money or campaigning although some people find that it fits. But, as I indicated in my last post, continuing to ignore the things taking place around us or hoping someone else will take the risk is not helping students address the issues they face today.
Jade Balleck, an educator who is now taking on the responsibility of being an administrator, takes the step of acknowledging that she needs to do more. Her post Principal’s Short Course Part II is a great example of someone not waiting to take a step forward but bolding stepping forward as she seeks to develop a deeper awareness of the need to be culturally aware as an administrator/educator.
Allowing Ourselves to Be Artists
In Linchpin, Seth Godin describes how it is possible to become a person that is necessary, a linchpin, not by doing what everyone else is doing but by being creative at what you are doing, to seeing a problem and beginning to solve that problem. Become the linchpin that holds things together. In doing this, Godin explains that there are choices we have to make about how we approach work and what we decide to do at work. At one point, in discussing the topic of labour, specifically emotional labour, Godin explains
The essence of any gift, including the gift of emotional labor, is that you don’t do it for a tangible, guaranteed reward. If you do, it’s no longer a gift; it’s a job.
Labour as a gift? Working to make a change in the world without worrying about whether you get rewarded? As children, helping others without expecting a reward is something that we often learn from parents or people around us. Somewhere along the way the intrinsic nature of doing something without expecting a reward is often replaced as we seek to get something for our efforts, recognized for what we are doing.
In Invisibles- The Power of Anonymous Work David Zweig looks at how those people who, although anonymous to most of the world, are indeed necessary and highly respected by the people who know them within their industry. These people are linchpins in their industry
…highly skilled, and people whose roles are critical to whatever enterprise they are a part of. … often highly successful and recognized by, indeed deeply respected among their co-workers for their expertise and performance… [they] have chosen, or fallen into and then decided to stay in, careers that accord them no outward recognition from the end user. This is defiantly in opposition to the accolades, or even just pats on the back, most of us desire. And yet – Invisible are an exceptionally satisfied lot.
What drives them?
A passion for the work they do, a desire to make things better, and a meticulousness that fuels their passion. In the interviews and discussions Zweig has with these people throughout the book, it becomes apparent that these people are drawn to make a difference without a need to be recognized. According to Zweig, these people exhibit three common traits:
1) Ambivalence toward recognition
3) Savoring of responsibility
As an educator and administrator, these traits are similar to those I have seen in educators with whom I have worked. Unfortunately, they rarely are afforded the last – responsibility. In classrooms and schools, there are people who are doing meticulous work trying to do what’s best for the students in their rooms/schools but lack the opportunity to demonstrate their responsibility. They have an incredible passion for what they are doing – without it they wouldn’t be able to continue. Yet, too often, they are frustrated and constrained by those around them.
Many people choose to remain doing what they are doing, even if they are unhappy and don’t like it, because fear of the unknown and what might happen, the possibility of failure and the pain associated with that failure are much greater than their desire to change what is happening. Making a change is difficult, in some cases it requires us to learn new things or to maybe admit we weren’t as good as we thought we were at what we were doing.
Just this week I had a great conversation about change, fear and innovation. During the conversation I mentioned that at one point I had switched to tables in the classroom and removed my teacher desk. A common response from teachers is that they rarely use their desk or sit at it, it’s just a place to keep their stuff. So I challenge them to remove it and see how it frees them to envision their classroom space differently, to envision their role in the classroom differently, to begin to revise the flow, the interactions and the space. It brings a change to the classroom that other educators can sense when they walk in. Something is just different.
….. what keeps each of us from being able to bring about change? What if each teacher wrote their fears down and began to address them? What if we shared and worked together, helping each other?
….. recognition isn’t necessarily a motivator but being given responsibility is. According to Liz Wiseman, author of The Multiplier Effect, leaders who expect people around them to do great things and then give them the responsibility to do so multiply the effects of the people with whom they lead. What would happen if teachers were given responsibility, not for grades and assessment, but learning and growth, for supporting their students to make the world a better place?
…. why many school leaders are so enthralled with data that dehumanizes the learning relationship?
…. what data can tell us that a great teacher with strong relationships can’t?
…. why schools are so afraid of risk-taking and innovations if learning takes place in the space of discomfort between what we know and what we want to know, which may, in fact, include failure?
Get rid of grades.
Learners don’t need grades.
Throw out grades.
Over the past few weeks these statements have flittered across my twitter feed.
Many teachers I know are shifting and changing how assessment is done in their classroom. Many teachers I have worked with have already made this shift and are moving on. Although it may be something that isn’t common, it definitely isn’t new.
Ten years ago now, the school division I was working in began to move away from letter, percentage and other similar forms of grading in K – 8. Ken O’Connor’s book A Repair Kit: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades began a conversation about changing grading practices. Removing zeroes from assessment, allowing for flexible deadlines, creating rubrics and exemplars for students, providing formative assessment throughout the learning experience, Student Led Conferences, digital learning portfolios and online reporting were some of the shifts that took place as teachers moved away from traditional grades. It didn’t mean tossing report cards or jettisoning the use of tests but it did mean that teachers had to shift away from traditional grading practices, alter their assessment practices and shift away from testing.
Along the way, some teachers resisted, arguing that grades provided rigour and zeroes were a necessary as an incentive for students who didn’t hand in work. They resisted adopting a different mindset. Parents and students were also resistant – this wasn’t part of their worldview of school and learning.
Resistance Is Futile
Over time, those teachers who were resistant began to make changes to their assessment practices by changing their teaching practices and adopting such practices as peer feedback, self & peer assessment, formative assessment, and continuous feedback. This became the standard mode of operation as teachers shifted their teaching practices and restructured their planning. This happened through supporting and encouraging teachers through various PD experiences including division-wide inservice, conferences and developing PLC’s in schools. School leadership was a vital component of making a shift and helping to develop new cultures of learning in schools.
As a teacher, I have given very few tests over the past 15 years. My classes were project/inquiry based with a minimal amount of lecturing. Final grades were a combination of student/teacher input in senior classes while any middle years classes used a totally different approach to reporting on outcomes. This was not unusual for many teachers I have known who began to shift and integrate technology in the classroom, adopting
As an administrator, providing teachers with the necessary supports so they could transition from the traditional system was important because my own transition was supported through my own PD and learning. In the past 10 years I have worked in two schools were there were no letter/percentage grades in the K – 8. In grades 9 – 12 percentages were still provided at the end of the semester as they are required but assessment and reporting practices shifted to adopt continuous feedback throughout the learning experience. Project Based Learning and Inquiry were used by many teachers with formative assessment being provided on a continuous basis. Rubrics and feedback were used in all grades as was the use of digital portfolios. But assessment was not the focus – learning was.
The Future Has Arrived
For many teachers I work with, the shift away from traditional assessment began years ago. Students and parents have access to online information about student progress, online portfolios are shared with parents with regular updates of student work – they are developing a Portfolio Lifestyle as outlined by Jeff Goin – discussions about learning focus on growth and development not on grades. Student Led Conferences and Celebrations of Learning are opportunities for students to share their learning. Conversations revolve around improvement, learning from mistakes, support and growth. Marks are only discussed because of the need to provide them for reporting in grades 9 – 12. Formative assessment is part of every classroom with teachers using various tools to develop and improve the feedback and discussion that they are having with students.
This isn’t something to look forward to because it’s already been done – across whole divisions – successfully. The grading practices have shifted from the “test for mark” system to continuous feedback where formative assessment is incorporated into the planning, continuous access to growth is provided parents through online portals and portfolios, and testing is not the norm. Granted it’s not everywhere but it isn’t just a few random teachers who are trying to make change – it’s what all teachers are expected.
In making this shift, the discussion about education needed to change. Trying to convince people to change their worldview about grades and grading is very hard if that is where you begin the discussion.
Reward Risk-taking Not Failure
In the podcast the Accidental Creative, Todd Henry explores how creativity can be developed and cultivated. In his recent interview with Ron Friedman, they discuss his latest book The Best Place to Work. One of things that really struck me was the idea that many people and companies say they want people to be risk-takers and innovative yet they don’t reward people for being risk-takers and innovators. Instead, the pervasive climate of efficiency and the bottom-line continue to dominate the workplace. In schools, we hear the same thing. We want students to be innovative and take-risks but instead of focusing on creating the optimal space for doing this and developing a story for students to be risk-takers and innovators, we continue to discuss the same bottom line – assessment. The thru-line of the story is not risk-taking or innovation – it’s assessment and reporting.
Changing the story to allow for teachers and students to be risk-takers and innovators requires a change in mindset. It also requires that the focus of schools be learning where risk-taking and innovation are the focus of the story not the assessment. Maybe throwing out grades eliminates the punitive assessment practices but it still focuses on assessment. To create a climate for risk-taking and innovation, a focus on learning as a whole is critical to helping to change the mindset of people – a new story where risk-taking and innovation are central to the learning needs to be told.
Talk About the Learning
Many people have a fixed mindset when it comes to grading and grades. In other words they have “a set of beliefs or way of thinking that determine’s one’s behaviour, outlook and mental attitude.” It’s part of their cultural worldview and, as Seth Godin points out, getting people to change their worldview is very difficult – it’s admitting they’re wrong.
In my experience over the last 10 years with shifting mindsets and school cultures away from traditional practices, talking about grading and grades is the least effective way to create a shift. Instead, talk about learning.
When you discuss learning, it’s leads to a discussion of including and using formative assessment, the effective use of digital portfolios, the focus on taking risks, making mistakes, creativity and development, the use of differentiation for all students and the use of maker space/genius hour/inquiry/problem based learning.
It allows the conversation to examine the different skills that people will need in the future and how these skills are built into learning through the use of collaboration, peer-assessments, continuous formative feedback, differentiation and the opportunities for redo’s where learning isn’t finite but truly life-long. Talking about assessment and grades misses out on the important part of the story – the learning.
Change the Story of School
Many people have a very static picture of school. Too often I hear/read about students still in desks, where rote copying off the board is the norm and weeks of standardized testing take place every year. Honestly, I have no idea what that is like. My own transition began 15 years ago when I removed the desks from my grade 7 classroom and began to explore Inquiry Learning. I quit giving finals 10 years ago when I once again began teaching senior Social Studies and PAA classes. My own experiences reinforced that talking about grading and grades was beginning with the wrong end of the learning story.
As an administrator, changing the story of what happens in school is important. Connecting parents with classes and the school via social media allows parents to see that the story of school and the story of learning are changing and changing for the better for their children. Helping parents and students who were use to the traditional forms of learning and assessment is essential in helping a school culture transition. Telling a different story allows people to see themselves in a new way within the storyline. Without telling a complete story, but starting with assessment and grading, people are disconnected from the changes taking place in classrooms and the school, imposing their own story of learning which is incompatible with the changing story of assessment.
My work with teachers and their stories of connection and change through connecting online make me more appreciative of the need to listen to the stories that people are telling about school and learning. In a world that is hyper-focused on assessment and grading, the story of learning is a by-line when it should be the headline. For decades the focus has been on test results, so much so that the current educational environment seems to rarely focus on the learning – it’s all about assessment. Maybe it’s time to change the story…..
…. what would happen if learning and development were the focus of discussion rather than assessment and changing grading?
….. why people continue to only tell a small part of the learning story with a focus on the end instead of the journey?
…. what would happen if teachers were asked to focus on learning and innovation as much as they are being told to focus on assessment and assessment practices?
….. what if the assessment rhetoric shifted to focusing on learning, risk-taking and innovation?
Multipliers know how to find this dormant intelligence, challenge it, and put is to use at its fullest. …. They are genius makers. They know that at the apex of the intelligence hierarchy is not the lone genius but rather the smart leader who also brings out smarts and capability in everyone around him or her.
It takes a great deal of hard work and support for people to venture forth and try new things. In my last post I discussed my own experiences with rejection in light of the work done by Jia Jiang and The 100 Days of Rejection. In his vlog, Jia post videos of his encounters with rejection. The entry on day 3 is quite amazing. In this encounter, Jia asks the manager, Jackie, of Krispy Kreme to make a set of doughnuts in the shape of the Olympic rings expecting to be rejected. Instead, she goes to work and fulfills his request. Take a moment to watch the clip.
Jia Jiang, in his interview with Jeff Brown on ReadtoLead podcast states that this encounter made him wonder how many opportunities he had missed because of his fear. How often do we pass on asking, trying, doing, seeing because of our own fear?
Fear Keeps Us from Exploring
In Multipliers Lis Wiseman explores how certain people, whom she calls Multipliers, get more from the people around them, multiplying the effect of their efforts.
They don’t see a world where just a few people deserve to do the thinking; Multipliers see intelligence as continually developing. This observation is consistent with what Dweck calls a “growth mindset,” which is a belief that basic qualities like intelligence and ability can be cultivate through effort. They assume: people are smart and will figure it out. They see their organization as full of talented people who are capable of contributing at much higher levels.
Yet most people end up not using most of their capabilities, stuck in a situation where their talent is not being used to its full capacity, they are unhappy with what they are doing but fear making a change to do something else. In a recent study Gallup Study, 63% of employees were disengaged in their workplace. This has many implications
People spend a substantial part of their lives working, whether in a high-tech startup in Singapore, a financial institution in Australia, or a garment factory in the Dominican Republic. As a result, the quality of their workplace experience is inevitably reflected in the quality of their lives. Gallup’s finding that the vast majority of employees worldwide report an overall negative experience at work — and just one in eight are fully involved in and enthusiastic about their jobs — is important when considering why the global recovery remains sluggish, while social unrest abounds in many countries.
There are many reasons given for this happening in the workplace with a number of different ideas of how to address the situation. Similarly, recent studies of teachers showed that up to 70% of teachers are not engaged at their work while studies of students show a significant portion of students in high school are disengaged. It would appear we have an engagement problem that spans more than just students in schools – it is impacting all aspects of society.
I often hear that if teachers were to employ particular strategies or methods or tools, they would be able to engage their students more fully in the learning experience. As the list below shows, there is plenty of advice on how to engage students in the classroom!
These are just a sampling of the articles about engaging students.
Student engagement is a major topic of discussion on twitter with a number of chats dedicated to this topic. From my PLN @MrH and @MrEhRon are leading #2k15reads, exploring Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz and Pure Genius by Don Wettrick this summer.
It’s a hard to accept.
According to Jia Jiang and his work on rejection, it touches us deep inside and causes pain that is equivalent to being struck, like a slap in the face.
Most of us get the advice to make a plan for our success. 1 year, 3 year, 5 year, 10 year. Each year we are suppose to revise, reflect, make adjustment and move on. But what if our plan runs into the Rejection Roadblock?
What does Rejection do?
I heard about Jia Jiang’s 100 Days of Rejection story through Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative Podcast episode Confronting Rejection In Life and Work. Later, I listened to Jiang’s interview with Jeff Brown on The ReadToLead podcast. In both interviews, Jiang describes how his fear of rejection almost paralyzed him from going out and chasing his dream of being an entrepreneur and how his wife really pushed him to not quit but keep going. In the 100 Days of Rejection, Jia purposefully seeks out rejection in order to become better at dealing with it.
Rejection as Learning and Change
“Sorry, but you’re just not what we’re looking for.”
In a four year span I heard that phrase, or something similar, over 30 times in my attempt to obtain a central office position. Yeah, that’s a lot of interviews and most people when they hear that comment
“Why keep trying?”
I also believe most people think “What’s wrong with this guy? There must be something wrong with him.”
That’s what I began to think too! There must be something wrong with me.
This is exactly what Jia says we do with rejection, we make it about us when it really isn’t, it’s about the other person. I recommend you listen to the interviews and check out the website.
The first couple of times I heard that I had been rejected it was really, really hard. At one point I decided that I wasn’t going to try any more, rationalizing that I didn’t have the skills or ability for such work. Compounding this was my battle with depression into which I would plunge after each attempt. I knew I wanted to do something different but was getting nowhere. Climbing out of depression became harder and harder.
Like Jiang, my wife supported me and encouraged me to continue. Without her love and insistence, I wouldn’t have faced my fear of depression and sought help. Eventually I tried again, only to meet more rejection. I began to wonder what was happening during the interviews. Was it something I was doing? Was it my answers? My experience? My suit? What? I began to ask for feedback. What where two or three things that I could do that would help. I received some great feedback at times. Others times, not so much.
As Jia Jiang points out, we take these rejections as affronts to us as individuals and, usually, we try to avoid such pain, avoiding any chance that we’ll be rejected. As I did more interviews and went through the process it helped me to become much more reflective and honest about my own strengths and weaknesses but, more importantly, what I really wanted to do. I came to realize that, in fact, it was time to do something different.
Maybe’s It’s Time to Quit
Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt book, Freakonomics, is an interesting mix of economics and seemingly miscellaneous and unconnected phenomenon. Their podcast – Freakonomics Radio – hosted by Stephen Dubner, is a continuation of this exploration. The Upside of Quitting explores why people will stay in a job even though they don’t like it and why people who seemingly have a great job quit. They examine whether “Quitters never win and winners never quit” is really a good thing to be telling people when it comes to a job, if quitting just might be a good strategic choice and a good plan, and most importantly, how our past investments keep us where we are.
To help us understand quitting, we look at a couple of key economic concepts in this episode: sunk cost and opportunity cost. Sunk cost is about the past – it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else – something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.
For me, having put a great deal of time and effort into the sunk costs for education, I didn’t think there were any other options for me. However, over time I realized that all I was doing was limiting myself if I continue to knock at only one door. Through a series of events, I found myself in a position where I decided I needed to give myself a push to make change. So, on May 4th, 2013 I sent in my resignation even though I had no other job nor was I certain what was to come. Instead, I was going with the “gut feeling” that such a move was going to be the beginning of a new and wonderful adventure.
Quitting isn’t for everyone but it is for some people. Too often, as both Jiang and Dubner point out, we limit ourselves because we are afraid of rejection, of failing, of looking to other options and not trying. We are afraid of people saying to us
“Why would you do such a thing? I could never do that, it’s too risky. What about you pension?
Like so many, I was working in order to put in time so that at some date in the future I could retire and start living and doing the things I wanted to do. By stepping out of the rut, I pushed myself to look at life and what I was doing from a new perspective.
It’s Not Easy to Fail
I imagine many people have seen different versions of this. Or heard that schools and teachers need to be risk takers and innovators in environments of trust and safety. It’s easy to say –
“Take risks. Fail fast. Be innovative”
It’s completely another to actually take risks, “fail forward” or innovate. That’s hard. Really hard. Harder than most people will let on.
Seth Godin in Icarus Deception discusses how our Lizard Brain, that portion of the brain that developed for survival, is still keeping us from taking risks because risks are scary, lead to failure and failure leads to pain which is to be avoided. It’s easy to say we need to take risks and be risk takers but, in reality, many people would rather stay in a situation that was not doing them any good rather than venture into the unknown and change. Recent studies show that approximately 60% of employees worldwide are disengaged from their work but many stay where they are rather than make a big change. Like Jia Jiang, fear keeps many people from striking out on their own or taking risks. In a society where playing it safe is the norm and taking chances is for a few select who are brave enough , suggesting that schools, places that have traditionally been slow to change and embrace innovation, do an sudden about face and becomes places of innovation, experimentation and embrace failure as learning is a tall order.
Yes, there are teachers who will embrace these concepts and a few schools will begin to blaze a trail of their own but without a titanic shift in the worldview of parents, many who are reluctant to allow their children to face too many negative experiences in their childhood, schools are in tough.
Tell A Different Story
If we want schools to be places of innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation where “fail forward” (whatever that actually means) is acceptable for students and teachers, then the stories of school must change. The current hierarchical system inhibits people who are innovators and risk-takers, both students and teachers, through policies of conforming and norming. If our stories are still similar to what they have always been about learning and school, how can things be much different?
My experience is that most teachers were pretty good students. The story that comes from school is very similar to what it has always been, to what the story was for them as students. As someone who hasn’t had that story, even my story as a teacher wasn’t similar to other teachers. Is it possible to change this story?
…. how we can change the story that is told about learning that will embrace risk, failure and change?
….. if people who call for more risk and change fully understand what they are asking of people in schools?
….. if we don’t change the story we tell about learning whether innovation and risk-taking can ever be part of a majority of schools?
…. if people who ask others to be risk-takers and change agents have ever faced their fears of rejection or know what it takes to step boldly to the edge of possibility and look around?
I spent the last year at home, each morning with my 6yrold son. Together we’ve had some great adventures, built some pretty amazing pillow forts, conquered lands, baked cookies and cakes and eaten many a bowl of chicken noodle soup. As I described earlier, it was through spending time together that I was able to rediscover my wonder.
During this time I’ve been reading, listening to podcasts and immersing myself in various literature. One of the authors I’ve been following is Todd Henry. His books The Accidental Creative and Die Empty offer many ideas and suggestions about creativity and being creative. One of the areas Todd focuses on is the whole area of being effective vs being efficient. In his podcast The Accidental Creative, Todd explores this during different episodes, examining how we often
“sacrifice being effective on the altar of efficiency”.
Learning isn’t Efficient
My 6yrold and I have spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen baking. We’ve also spent an equal amount of time gaming. In the kitchen, it would be much easier and much more efficient for me to do everything, showing and telling. However, it’s not as effective for his learning if all he does is watch and listen. So, when we make cookies, what would take me about 30 minutes takes a whole morning for the two of us. No, it’s not an efficient way to make cookies and if one looked at the expenditure of time versus the results, it’s neither cost-effective or the best use of the resource of time. I could use the time I saved doing it myself for other things like playing or reading or other ‘educational’ pursuits. At 6 he probably won’t be baking cookies, or anything else for that matter, by himself for a while so it’s not an immediately transferable effect.
Nope, this is definitely not efficient.
But is it effective?
The time put into these activities will bring so many other benefits later on in terms of self-esteem, memories, skills for life but, most importantly, it builds our relationship which is the foundation of all the rest. So, yes, it is effective but I can’t tell you right now how it will pay off other than I know that it will because it is building a stronger relationship.
It’s not quantity of the time I know, it the quality but having time to do different things adds to the quality.
Let’s tell a different story
So often I’ve been involved in initiatives and new programs that speak the language of effectiveness but are implemented and reduced to creating systems of efficiency. Often, programs and initiatives are brought in and in the name of efficiency all teachers or schools are required to follow the same timelines and processes. It’s the efficient use of time, money, resources. Eventually most of the schools have the same look with similar programs and initiatives.
But is it effective?
Some times. But not as effective as it could be.
Many times the program or initiative isn’t nearly as effective as it was described or proposed when first begun because the drive to be efficient overshadows allowing time to be effective. Too often initiatives start with a 3–5 year implementation period only to be efficiently implemented in 1 or 2. Decisions are centralized and distributed from the top, stages of implementation are mandated within particular time-frames and implementation effectiveness is done through comparison of who has and who has not successfully completed implementation. Standardization is the metric of success.
When the story is directed along the efficient timeline people are rewarded for bringing changes the quickest, competition is the norm for initiatives with data being used to demonstrate implementation successes. Data is used to tell the story of efficient implementation and use of resources. Success stories are framed around conformity and levels of implementation.
But is it effective?
In a recent article by Mother Jones entitled What if Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong? the work of Dr. Ross Greene is highlighted. I have read both his books The Explosive Child and Lost at School so was familiar with what was being discussed in the article and recommend you take a look. Too often, as is mentioned in the article, the most efficient process is selected instead of the most effective. In this case
They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain — momentary peace in the classroom.
We look for programs and systems that will bring “control and management” to the classroom. Implementation processes focus on system-wide metrics which allow schools to be compared to each other. The same way that standardized tests are used to measure and compare schools. No matter how it is spun, the comparisons happen as educational systems are closed with a finite amount of resources so competition is part of the distribution process.
But is it effective?
As an administrator, I’ve worked through a number of different school-wide initiatives that have involved parents, students and staff as co-creators. The process is not efficient and it takes a great deal of time. But it is very effective and the relationships that are created and develop add to the effectiveness. When timelines and artificial constraints and parameters are placed on this process, which has happened, then the effectiveness is diminished. Efficiently implementation will bring about some change but it may not be long lasting or effective but it will provide data for analysis. But, as in the case of behaviour, the methods that are used will provide different outcomes and some require a different story to be told about school.
As schools and teachers are going through a tremendous amount of change, with a new program, app, tool or strategy being introduced almost weekly and all of these competing for the finite resource of time, it would appear that efficiency is the only way to deal with the onslaught. And so teachers are busy trying this and that program, seeing how this or that app will augment their lessons, examining how this strategy or that will work and allow them time to still prepare for exams. Busy, busy, busy.
Summer is the time to ramp it up, go to conferences, read books, take in chats, get connected. Busy, busy, busy.
Is all this busyness productive? Are we sacrificing effectiveness again and again at the altar of efficiency?
What story of learning do we need to begin to tell in order that being effective becomes primary?
Why is being busy so important in education? Does the sound of quiet reflection scare people? Or is the noise of joy and fun while learning that offensive?
How can we make being more effective a priority in a efficiency dominated society?