Byron's Babbles

A Scholar’s Book Of Life

Yesterday, we used pumpkins in our leadership development workshop in Georgia. Participants carved out an image of their leadership mantra on one side and their leadership legacy on the other. I always love seeing these and hearing the explanations. They were all very meaningful and inspiring, but one really caused me to pause as an educator and leader. The participant had carved a book into the pumpkin (the featured picture of this post).

The teacher leader then went on to explain that the book represented each students’ book of life and she wanted her legacy to be entered in the book as having taught the student something and having positively influenced her or his life in some way. I thought this book was a pretty great metaphor.

In some professional development at another school this week we discussed how every teacher needs to own every scholar in the school regardless if she or he is in your class or not. The pumpkin carving reminded us that we are impacting students even when we don’t know it. Here’s the best part: to make it in a student’s book of life, teachers don’t have to be perfect.

Students remember teachers for all kinds of reasons. Students might be inspired by teachers who were kind, funny, brilliant, or passionate. The kids we serve remember the teachers who really cared about them. Our scholars remember teachers who were supportive or encouraging or saw something in them no one else did and then challenged them and made them think. Finally, our students also remember teachers who were maybe just a little quirky. Thank goodness!

Every staff member in the school represents the next entry or chapter of our scholar’s stories. Let’s fill up the pages of those books!

I Was Needed!

I love that a lot of what I do is helping teachers get better at their craft. Teaching is such a beautiful cross of science and art. Leonardo da Vinci would be having great fun if he were around helping us improve our teaching for learning today. He believed science and art were very tightly connected. This week I have had the honor and pleasure of facilitating professional development for teachers at Nashville Collegiate Prep and Knowledge Academies in Nashville, Tennessee. I have truly been inspired by this group of professionals. Every day I am excited to get the day of learning with them started.

“Change the audience, change the meaning.”

Leonardo da Vinci

On Wednesday I did a session entitled “Engagement Strategies: Teachers As Facilitators, Knowledge Navigators, and Co-Learners. At the beginning of this session I do an activity that begins with the prompt question, “What do you want students to say at the
end of the week about your facilitation?” The groups got five minutes to write everything that came to mind on Post-it® notes. This is part of a larger activity and participants get to share out after each part. I love walking around and looking as they are writing. There were literally hundreds of sticky notes being made, and I was inspired by all of them. But, one caught my eye and required my attention (the featured photo of this post).

On one of the Post-it® notes of Jamie Martineau, Kindergarten teacher at Nashville Collegiate Prep she had written four bullet points:

  • I was part of something
  • I was important or needed
  • I am a part of this class
  • We did it

I was blown away by the thought of every student feeling this way. After getting to know Jamie this week, I have no doubt that her students will feel that way. Going through school is where many of students begin learning to be part of something bigger than themselves. It’s during this time in our classes that we can help make our students feel valued as individuals. The developing personalities of our students need a strong and secure environment in order to flourish in academia. Let’s face it; our students learn more and behave better when they receive high levels of understanding, caring and genuineness.

We cannot underestimate the importance of cultivating a classroom culture in which students feel valued, respected, heard, and an important part of something. One way we can build this solid foundation for learning is to listen to our students. Fostering conversations about real world and relevant issues, topics, and problems ensures that our classrooms become places of academic inquiry and collaboration founded on a sense of fairness and mutual respect.

If a student considers their teacher to be caring and accepting, they’re more likely to adopt the academic and social values of their teacher. This, in turn, influences how students feel about their school work and how much (or how little) they value it. Here are some tips on how to make sure our students belong and are part of something:

  • prioritising high-quality teacher-student relationships
  • creating a supportive and caring learning environment
  • showing interest in students
  • trying to understand students’ point of view
  • respectful and fair treatment
  • fostering positive peer relationships and mutual respect among classmates to establish a sense of community
  • positive classroom management
  • Giving students a voice

We all want to belong. ALL of our students deserve to be an important and needed part of our school communities. We can do it!

Loving Teachers

As we close out Teacher Appreciation Week for 2021 I wanted to weigh in with my thanks and call for us all to love our teachers year round, not just a designated week. During a presentation I recorded for ASCD’s Annual Conference this week, I talked about how we needed to love our teachers if we wanted to stop losing great teachers and change the trajectory of teacher retention in a positive direction. I do not take the term “love” lightly and learned about this form of “love” from Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, authors of Love ‘Em Or Lose ‘Em. To love our teachers we must be providing opportunities to grow and develop and be the best at carrying out their purpose of serving students every day. I am a former teacher and school leader who has shifted to creating and developing meaningful learning environments and transformative professional learning opportunities for educators and leaders, both in my day to day professional life, and as a citizen leader and policy maker. As a believer that everyone is a leader, we need to make sure we are doing everything possible to love our teachers, listen to their needs and desires, and honor them every day.

We have learned much about leading through a crisis during the past year. The pandemic has challenged us to be more agile in educating our children. Our teachers have met the challenge. Responding to new conditions and new data prompted us all to see school as no longer a single place. My hope is that we will double down on rethinking what success looks like in education. I also want to acknowledge the adjustments that teachers have always made every day to increase equity, access, rigor, and engagement for all students. As I write this I am reminded of the great teachers I have had over the years and continue to have. I am very fortunate to work with teachers every day and must say that I still learn from them each and every day. I was blessed to have teachers who had amnesia for the mistakes and my sometimes (okay, maybe more than sometimes) less than perfect actions. My teachers were pivotal figures in my life. They not only educated me, but set me up for a life of success.

Thank you teachers for inspiring our students to think outside the box, outside of the classroom, and into the future. We need to be guiding students toward their largest, best, life-long interests; not just the narrow obstacle course we now control. Therefore, I stand committed to showing you love by continuing to push for, advocate for, champion for, and be a cheerleader for creating space and flexibility for creativity, curiosity, and innovation you deserve.

Pathways To Quality Principals

Yesterday I had the opportunity to be part of a great National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) webinar where Susan M. Gates presented findings from research conducted by RAND Corporation. Click this recording link to view the recording of the webinar entitled Using State-Level Policy Levers to Promote Principal Quality. I was honored at the end of Susan’s presentation of the findings to, along with NASBE’s President and CEO Robert Hull, provide some thoughts, observations, and feedback.

First of all, this is such an important topic for state boards and all policymakers to contemplate. Leadership matters. The research suggested, as we might have all guessed, that there is no “one size fits all” policy that will miraculously place quality principals in all schools. Another point that came out in the research was that professional development alone is insufficient. Highly effective pre-service development must also be a part of the pathway to quality principals. As a former principal, I reflected as I was reviewing this report and was thinking about the complexity of being a principal. Ultimately, the principal is a leader of learning, but there are many parts to that. Highly effective teachers and facilitation of learning and leadership define how successful any school is. A school without a strong leader will likely fail the students it serves.

The RAND report gave us four key levers to use as policymakers. Those four levers are:

  1. Standards
  2. Licensure
  3. Program Approval
  4. Professional Development

Interestingly, four things came to mind as I was reviewing and listening to Susan’s report. Here are my thoughts, observations, and feedback:

  1. As state board members, we need to take the approval of teacher education and leadership development programs very seriously. In my own state, our department of education does a tremendous job of evaluating and providing us reports for revue prior to approval of programs. We still have an obligation to study these reports and make sure the programs meet the test of equity and excellence. We also need to make sure that any pathway to the principalship is not rewarding the person who can best meet meaningless requirements.
  2. As I listened, I wondered if there were ways to leverage the attention we are now rightly giving to teacher leadership. Teacher leaders are so important to building the capacity is schools and it seems to me we could better leverage identifying those teachers with the leadership dispositions and develop those skills. Notice I said dispositions, because many teachers are very interested in being teacher leaders but not, at least in the present-tense, being a principal. As a believer that everyone is a leader and that leadership should happen where the data is created, in this case the classroom, it makes sense we would be developing teacher leaders to make decisions that traditionally have been cascaded down to teachers. This real-time development would give teachers practical pre-service development that would be important to effective leading for learning whether a teacher or principal. I would argue that a well developed and highly effective teacher/teacher leader could be the best bet to become a high quality principal. You’ll want to check out Susan’s response to this point in the recording.
  3. Another point made was the fact that sometimes we need to look at subtraction as well as addition when formulating policy. We deal with this a lot in education where we continue to place mandates without taking anything away. We need to allow for more flexibility. Additionally, how can we more effectively use incentives or information sharing in the place of mandates?
  4. Finally, there was a suggestion in the report of finding opportunistic ways: “Be opportunistic: link principal initiatives to key state education priorities and build on related initiatives.” By doing this we might find new ways to streamline, provide flexibility, or identify those things that can be removed.

I really appreciate the research and this report. Again, it provides levers for us to consider using as policymakers as we contemplate how to better prepare and provide quality pathways for the development of our critically important principals.

“Sticky” Learning

Screen Shot 2020-08-26 at 11.35.50 AMI made the comment last week that relevance makes the learning “sticky.” This really caught on and caused quite a bit of discussion. As an old Agriculture Science teacher I have preached about using relevant and real-world contexts for facilitating learning for years. In fact, I even wrote a book about it: The Hand In The Back of  The Room: Connecting School Work To Real Life. This book is all about how we (four agriculture science teachers at one school) went about teaching science in the relevant context of agriculture. The great part of the story is the statistically significant impact leading learning in a relevant context had on student learning. In other words, there was proof that relevance makes learning “sticky.”

41mQxC0XQNL._SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_ML2_In the book I state, “It has always been my belief that there are three worlds that a student exists and learns in; school world, real world, and virtual world. While these three worlds can be drawn as three separate circles, I believe that for true learning to take place we must, as educators, help connect the circles for them. This means finding a way to facilitate learning in a way in which the student uses real world contexts where the student plays an active role” (location 320 on Kindle). Right now, during the Global Pandemic (we are in day 165) we have some real opportunities to make use of these world colliding. I wrote about this yesterday in When Worlds Collide. I also argued in the book that, “…facilitating learning in a relevant context enables the work to be student centered and for there to be a connection made between the student’s real world and school world for learning” (location 331 on Kindle). This connection is what makes the learning so “sticky.”

“We have to make sure that all our students have access to these kinds of challenging and hands-on activities. Although much of the focus has been on the new technology that is fueling the maker movement, even more important are the values, dispositions and skills that it fosters, such as creativity, imagination, problem-solving, perseverance, self-efficacy, teamwork and “hard fun.” ~ Secretary of Education, John King Jr.

I proposed at time of writing the book and would still advance six ideas for improving learning (Ernest, 2016):

  1. Knowing what the end product needs to be before practicing the parts
  2. Study content and apply it to authentic real world predictable and unpredictable problems/issues
  3. Applied learning opportunities must be afforded to the students
  4. Students must participate in active exploration of real world problems
  5. There must be opportunities for students to make adult connections
  6. We must make schoolwork more like real work and real life.

If we intentionally use the six ideas, we will make the learning be what former Secretary of Education, John King Jr. called “hard fun.” The nature of using relevant contexts makes the learning more rigorous. I love the term “hard fun” over rigor. If our students are learning to adapt what they have learned by addressing real world situations they will be more motivated and the learning will stick with them.

The bottom line is that education can be inspiring for our students. I believe agriculture education has an important place in creating a real world context for our students to learn in. I also believe that there are many ways for cross-curricular collaboration to be done in all subjects. At the very least, we have an obligation to our students to find ways to give our students hands-on, real life lessons that answer the questions of the hand in the back of the room and make the learning sticky for our students.

 

More Smithsonian Exploration

As a former Smithsonian Teacher Ambassador, I am very excited to be partnering with the Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) to provide a webinar in our series of Noble Education Initiative opportunities for learning. Back in April we partnered with the Smithsonian Learning Lab and had two fantastic webinars and were able to provide outstanding resources to educators. I blogged about these webinars in Bringing The Smithsonian To You. Since then, we have continued to be asked for more from the Smithsonian Institution.

Tomorrow, May 20th, we will do just that with More Smithsonian Exploration: A Journey To The Smithsonian Science Education Center. We want educators and caregivers to join us to learn to use the resources that provide tremendous opportunities to learn with their students. The SSEC offers curriculum and digital resources that support educators and caregivers in providing authentic STEM experiences. EVERYONE is welcome and can still register here: https://m.signupgenius.com/#!/showSignUp/60b0b44a5a92ca7fe3-more.

I am really proud of this partnership to bring make this free webinar possible because of the aim of the SSEC to transform and improve the learning of science for K-12 students. Click here to view the SSEC fact sheet to learn how the world’s largest museum, education and research complex is bringing an interdisciplinary approach to education using science, history, art, and culture.

The SSEC is also providing tremendous resources and support to teachers who work with newcomers from all over the globe and English Language Learners (ELLs). Our webinar will be engaging and inquiry-based to model the strategies that are effective for effective learning with our ELL students. We will also get a first hand experience with the SSEC’s real world and relevant featured curriculum dealing with COVID-19: COVID-19! How Can I Protect Myself and Others.

Join us tomorrow and see how the Smithsonian Science Education Center is transforming science education.

Life Is A School As Well

img_8394Today, during our “best of week” of educator professional development, I repeated my webinar, “Angry Teacher 1: What Can We Learn from Angry Birds About Engaging Students?” During the webinar a teacher made the comment in one of the discussions that “Life Is A School As Well.” This comment really struck me as we were discussing student engagement and making sure we were teaching students to adapt and use concepts to solve real world challenges and issues. We really have this opportunity right now because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. We have a socio-scientific classroom at our fingertips right now that can be easily accessed virtually with our students. Our students are living this right along with us. Therefore we must consider the intersection of our students real life and education. Right now the lines are pretty blurred.

Living through this time has taught us the that “life is a school” and that “school is no longer a place.” We need to make sure and honor living as part of the educational process. Henry Adams taught us this when he said, “Your life’s journey is your education.” I blogged about this in Your Life’s Journey is Your Education. We need to remember we are preparing citizens. Part of the answer for improving education is improving the sense of calling and commitment of students to take ownership of their learning and development. Burdens can many times create blessings and we need to keep in mind that our students have lives outside of the traditional education “walls” that we see the kids. We are learning to deal with this now more than ever. We cannot take this learning lightly and must use what we have learned to guide our path forward while we are on this path with no footprints.

If we really use “life” as part of education then we need to begin to reverse engineer how we educate using fulfilled adult lives and careers in the here and now to help inform the education content and process. We are not really doing this if we are honest. Most curricula are not designed by people who have experienced world-wide success in the areas being taught. This is why I am such a believer in the need of involving business/industry as partners in education. We must break through the barriers of:

  • Teaching to deliver on, rather than change, expectations.
  • Teaching to redeploy old ideas rather than originate and ideate new ones.
  • Teaching about the dangers of originality.

These are the reasons why we get compliance instead of student engagement. Much of our education system teaches kids to be very good at being outwardly and entirely obedient. We need to provide an education where school work looks like real work and we have more than just very narrow parochial outcomes in mind. We need to be guiding students toward their largest, best, life-long interests; not just the narrow obstacle course we control. Life truly is a school as well.

Bringing The Smithsonian to You!

During the COVID-19 Pandemic and the many webinars we have been doing to support teachers as they facilitate learning virtually, I keep commenting that the Smithsonian Institution is a tremendous resource. Or, should I say, plethoras of resources and services. Then I got to thinking that if I was going to keep saying that educators needed to check out the Smithsonian, we needed to do a little “show and experience” for them. As a former Smithsonian Teacher Ambassador, I really value all the resources available for educators. So, I decided to reach out to Ashley Naranjo, Manager of Educator Engagement at the Smithsonian Learning Lab, and ask if she would be interested in doing a webinar together. She was quick and enthusiastic to respond in the affirmative. Needless to say, I was excited.

Ashley and I had a great planning session where she had great ideas for engaging webinar participants in actually navigating and using resources. In fact, she and I will be modeling an activity at the beginning – I can’t wait! As I mentioned earlier in the post, I was a Smithsonian Teacher Ambassador back in 2010 and 2011. During that ambassadorship I was talking to groups of educators and organizations about the over 1,600 Smithsonian resources available. I told Ashley this asked how many there were now; she laughed and said, “Over 5,000,000.” Boy did I feel outdated.

Bottom-line: educators won’t want to miss this free webinar. This interactive and engaging webinar will include an overview of the Smithsonian Learning Lab and how teachers can curate their own digital collections of resources across subject areas and grade levels. The great part is that educators will learn, by doing, how to use Smithsonian Education museum resources in their own teaching and learning contexts. Please join us for this journey of bringing the Smithsonian to you!

Angry Teachers 2

Today we started the second part to a great professional development webinar that I am calling Angry Teachers. The title of this webinar is “Angry Teachers 2: Interactive Lessons and Engaging Tools.” The through-line of the webinar is the game Angry Birds. At the beginning of the webinar I always say, “Everything you need to know about teaching you can learn from Angry Birds.” In Angry Teachers 2 we pondered the question, “Many people believe that learning should feel like work.” We then discussed the Finnish model of education where learning looks like play.

During the gathering, we actually play the game and we do a “design the solution” activity where the participants actually design a lesson while playing Angry Birds. At completion the groups had to answer the following:

  1. Explain your lesson’s objective(s) and standard(s) covered.
  2. Explain what teaching strategies will be used.
  3. Explain why you chose what you chose.

With over 25 groups in some of these webinars time does not allow for all groups to share out. So, I offered to the groups that if they would send me their designs I would post them in a blog. Since I’m facilitating six sessions of Angry Teachers 2, I will add to this after each session. So keep coming back to check it out for the next week or so. Here is what has been sent in as of 04/28/2020:

Group 7 (04/28/2020

7th Grade Geometry

Essential Question: What is the right angle and trajectory to hit the correct structure(pig)
Standard- MAFS.7.G.2.5- Facts about angles multi step problems…
With this play the students could feel the difference among some angles, acute obtuse, right, straight and their effect on the game and which angle will be most appropriate.

Group 4 (04/23/2020)

  • Small groups based off of levels (scaffolding of groups with high, medium, low in reading and math)
  • Social and Emotional (ok to make mistakes, but we have to learn from them our next chance and how to recover from failure)
  • Rewards chart (every so many levels gained, trip to treasure box on Friday’s)
  • Balance of wanting to play, but must get work done first
  • I Do (model on board, discuss elements), You Do (choose children to go to board and take 1 turn), We Do (small group break up)
  • Respect (each bird is a different shape and size, but have their personal strengths, so they work together as a team for best practice of the task ahead of them)
  • Build on lessons taught (can go back and retry lessons to practice a skill needed in level)
  • Feedback (given as an OREO method (GLOW, GROW, GLOW))
  • Include cross curricular ideas
  • Rigor (levels get harder the further you get, so have to use critical thinking skills)
  • Incorporate the 4 C’s (collaboration with group, critical thinking of what to do next, creativity to beat the level with what birds are given, and communication amongst group members to help those struggling succeed)

Group 5 (04/23/2020)

This group made a great Doodly® of what their lesson would be. Check this out:↓

Doodly® created by Dawn Eibel of Manatee Charter School in Bradenton, FL

Group 11(04/23/2020)

Objectives/Standards:
  • characterization
  • social-emotional: anger/empathy/hidden feelings, etc
  • compare/contrast video game with movie segments
  • mapping/sequencing/ordering (steps to get most boxes, etc)
  • groupings of characters by traits
  • writing a backstory event for a character – a childhood moment, embarrassing situation, etc
  • LOTS of writing: setting, events, characters, develop themes or moral of story
Strategies:
Include groups/partners, sharing out, gallery walks, art representation, comic/storyboard, etc
We chose these objectives and strategies because they
were an EASY, NATURAL fit!  🙂
Group 16 (04/23/2020)

Our objective had to do with a 3rd grade standard of sequencing order of events.  The objective specifically stated that SWBAT provide a sequence of events in order for each level of the Angry Birds game that they have gotten through.

This quickly turned into what we said could eventually be a “strategy guide” of sorts that the students could collaborate on because we don’t do work just for ourselves but we are creating for the world to see and consume.  An extension activity that we thought would be beneficial is if the students could do a STEAM ativity to where, over time, they create a real world Angry Birds level to test out different scientific principles.

On a personal and professional note I have enjoyed your PD’s so much because I’ve been a proponent of looking at different mediums to promote  and incorporate into education.  I actually started a You Tube Channel for parents that covers different pop culture references and relates it back to education.  If you have any amount of time please check it out.  www.youtube.com/c/jeremywhiteeducation (It’s called LIFT Tutoring)

I hope your blog post for this specific idea of incorporating Angry Birds into the classroom is beneficial to a lot of educators as we continue to rethink what education is, especially during this time of remote learning.

Let’s Talk Student Engagement: Part 1

IMG_8490This morning I started a new iteration in supporting teachers and administrators during this time of remote learning due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. We are now doing 30 minute small group supports. I made two different types of support and one of them is called, “Let’s Talk Student Engagement.” The idea is to have groups of five teachers working together, coming up with solutions to increase student engagement and share expertise. I have to say I really enjoyed my first session. We had a great discussion around how to do better at engaging students.

One teacher stated that she has done away with worksheets and switched totally to projects. She is giving the students three to four choices of what project he/she wants to do. I am a huge proponent of student choice and agency when it comes to education. We also discussed the value in staying a little more general or broader in topic. In other words, don’t get to specific. Also, chunking content into smaller pieces is a best practice. Learning online can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. Use of long reading passages or big projects is not advisable, unless chunked very intentionally. I philosophically believe in the Self-Determination Theory,  which holds that we are most deeply engaged, and that we do our most creative work, when we feel that we are acting according to our own will on behalf of goals we find meaningful.

From a pedagogical standpoint it is very import to remember it is very important to allow for:

  • in-depth discussions
  • group work/projects
  • both watching and creating video/audio clips
  • hands-on projects
  • individual time to work

“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” ~ Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” We should not forget to look at the opportunity in front of us. One of the great advantages right now, teaching virtually, is the ability to individualize and personalize like never before. There must still be the opportunity for students to have peer/group interactions and very clear expectations.  We must enable our students to work autonomously, but yet develop and enjoy learning relationships with others, and feel they are competent to achieve their own objectives.