Our school staff has reason to be grateful when it comes to available technology in our school and to our access to bandwidth. Our school division does put both as a priority for student learning. Even though we have many devices and we have the bandwidth to provide us access, a lot of what we were seeing in our classrooms was based on consumption of programs already available rather than creating new content or collaboration with others. Many were trying all kinds of new things, but we still had some that were using the laptops and I-pads for consumption only.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I feel like consumption is an important and acceptable part of our day, but I also feel like without stretching to creation and collaboration we were missing out and so are our students. So since we have also been blessed with very capable, strong teachers who are willing to try new things, it seemed like a good time to move forward.
At the beginning of the last school year, we required all of our teachers to set a professional goal based on using technology for creative or collaborative endeavors. It was so fun and rewarding to see what everyone chose to do and to watch it all play out for our students. We shared our progress at staff meetings and helped each other along the way. We did not want this to be a one and done kind of idea, so this year we had all of our teachers set another goal that was the logical next step from where they left off.
Today we Skyped with an author. His books are influenced from Minecraft. His writing tips to us is, “the best ideas for writing, come from writing about things you love.” He also said, “thoughts and feelings separate interesting stories from boring stories” #Pdale#goodtipspic.twitter.com/CVaQtaWDR6
One thing I have learned over my time as a school principal is an importance of accepting people where they are and helping them move along the growth continuum. As adult learners, just like our students in the classroom, we do not all start at the same place or grow at the same rate. I have also learned that change takes time and it does not happen overnight.
In my own growth and experience gained through being a classroom teacher, I am starting to realize what my students are capable of, if they are given choices, chances to make mistakes without repercussion, and opportunities to demonstrate their learning in many ways. They show me time after time what they can do when I just step back and let them.
When we limit our students with close control of what they read, what they learn, how they learn and how they demonstrate their learning, we may be comfortable, but we are also limiting their chances for growth. I have just started reading the book, The Wild Card, by Hope and Wade King and was struck by the idea that excuse making can become a habit. “Every less than ideal factor can become another reason why your students aren’t achieving more-and why you can’t do anything to change that.” I am sure I have used many excuses for not changing my comfortable pedagogy throughout my career and some of the ones I hear most often as a principal and colleague are:
I do not have enough time.
I do not feel like I can “teach” that to my students.
My students are too young and can’t possibly do that.
I have been doing it this way for years and it has been working.
I do not have parent support.
I do not have support from my administrator
I want to do that, but…
All of these may be true at some point, but if we never force the first step, the journey never starts. The challenge of being a teacher is a big one. It is a very difficult and very rewarding job. We will not change everything tomorrow, but perhaps a good first step would be to say, “No more excuses.”
I have learned so many things since becoming a school administrator 8 years ago. One of the most important lessons that I have learned is to respect the reality that teachers are all at different places in developing their craft. They are certainly at a different comfort level with using technology and with reaching out beyond the way we have always done things in the classroom.
One of the favorite parts of my job as a school administrator is that I can see a little piece of everyone’s classroom and the learning going on within, pretty much whenever I want. What a treat!
I feel like I see the most wonderful and often innovative things happening, but teachers do not think they are being innovative because they are “just doing what teachers do” in their minds.
Our school division puts a priority on technology and encouraging innovation and engagement. We do not lack in bandwidth or devices. For that, I am extremely grateful. A few year’s ago my vice-principal and I decided we wanted to push our teachers a bit out of the comfort zone and have everyone set a goal to have a way to use technology with their students that allowed their students to be creative and make connections. It did not have to be anything crazy, but just taking one step away from using our devices for drill and practice activities.
I was so proud of all of our teachers. When given the chance to start from wherever they were and take a small leap, most of them really shined.
Since we did not want this to be a one and done, this year we have challenged them to take some activity or learning lesson they have done with their students before and reflect on ways to tweak it or add to it or change it to make it even better for their students through making connections or creative endeavours using technology.
Are they being innovative? I think so! To quote the blog post mentioned earlier in the post, “Small changes, big difference.” I can’t wait to see what they all come up with.
If I could use one word to describe my attitude in the reflection of the school year it would be “uninspired.” It shocks me to say it, and I certainly do not blame it on anyone but myself. What I realize now is I allowed myself to slip back into a place I vowed never to return and had become complacent with my actions and thoughts.
I don’t really believe that I did a horrible job or caused any permanent damage, but I know for sure I didn’t do everything I could to have a positive effect on my staff and students. Years ago I had an experience that knocked me to my knees professionally and left my self-esteem reeling. I took the time I needed to recover and in the end felt it was one of the most life changing and attitude adjusting experiences I have ever had. Out of the negative came many positives. Out of the negative came the realization that I was in control of my life and how I was going to react to my experiences.
What I have realized lookng back now on my “unispired” year is that I lost sight of my passions. The things that really drive me through each day took a back seat and, instead, I was caught up in moving through each day in survival mode. I allowed things around me and decisions that were out of my control to dictate my attitudes.
Writing this first blog post is only the beginning of my new journey. This is the first of, what I hope will be many, blog posts to come. I want to refocus, learn from others, change my mindset so I can charge back to my students and staff with the attitude and drive they deserve to have from me.
Here I am being prompted to write another post because of something I saw on Facebook. I am not sure if that means I should spend less time on Facebook or not, because it does lead me to think of some important topics. Growth mindset is a topic that comes up often in educational discussions these days. Growth mindset for teachers, growth mindset for students…what does that even mean?
The particular post I was reading on Facebook was a person venting out about city planning here in the City of Estevan. I am not sure why people continue to vent things out on social media using a string of curse words to get their points across, but that is the subject of another post perhaps. The thing about this post and the number of comments that followed, was the attitude that we can just post something, get others to join in a negative tirade and then feel that some positive change might come out of that. I know schools and school principals are sometimes the target of these posts and if the truth be known, most times we don’t even see them. It is difficult to promote positive action or change when the right people do not even receive your thoughts or concerns, which is probably what happened in this case.
I have to wonder, if we stopped for a moment before venting out the negative and spent some time, sharing positive solutions or possibilities, what a difference that might make. I don’t know much about city planning and even though the railway tracks going down the middle of the city cause me some frustration at times, it seems to me, if I want a voice in decisions, I need to get involved in a positive way.
We could accomplish more if we spend less time complaining and more time seeking positive solutions together. #naysayers#getinvolved
I came across a blog post on the weekend titled, “Quit Complaining”. It caught my eye, because it was exactly what I was thinking in response to the Facebook post. The author of the blog post explained that complaining negatively impacts the energy of the complainer and everyone around that person. The post goes on to say, after 30 minutes, the effects of complaining actually start to change the ability to problem solve.
In my last post, I mentioned the opportunity I had, recently, to listen to Tom Hierck speak on student engagement with the rest of our school division admin team. Our grades 4-12 teachers then spent the day listening to him at the beginning of October. One of the messages he left with us was the opportunity we all have to judge the actions of others in a positive or negative light.
For example, the person who cuts you off in traffic…
Is that person really being a jerk, who is irresponsible or has that person simply made an error in judgement that we all make at different times while driving? Mr. Hierck was trying to get the point across that we should consider giving the benefit of the doubt in these simple situations and moving on without misplacing frustration and energy on negative paths that truly lead no where.
It makes sense when you think about it. The time spent stewing in frustration or anger is lost on the person who cut you off, but takes away from the ability we have to move on with our day and focus our energy on much more important things.
Having a growth mindset, seems to be the ability to focus on the process of learning rather than the fixed end result that cannot be changed. Is it possible there might better way to do something I have done a million times, if I stay open to the possibilities? Can I truly stop and consider someone else’s perspective and be a better, more informed person because of it? Can I make a mistake and look at it as a pathway for growth, rather than a failure? Can I tackle something difficult and not give up in the middle of the struggle? Can I look at my weaknesses as opportunity for growth and not be discouraged?
So, what does this mean for students in the classroom?
We used to believe that intelligence and ability was fixed. A sort of-you either have it or you don’t when it came to intelligence and talent. When I was in school, we were all given intelligence tests and our overall ability was judged looking only at that number. Over the years, research has shown us that is not the case. All of our students have the ability to grow in different areas given the right circumstances and the right motivation.
I was watching a TED Talk presentation by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University, psychologist who specializes in research studies based on motivation and “growth mindset”. In her presentation, she is talking about the power of “not yet”. Her theory seems to be, we are always on a continuum of growth towards achieving our goals. Students who have been taught to have a growth mindset, look at challenges much differently than those who are just aiming for a passing grade or the end result. Students with a growth mindset will not give up when given a difficult challenge, but rather look to it as being “not yet” there.
She offers many studies that show having a growth mindset can make a huge difference for our students and their ability to problem solve. Her advice to parents and teachers is to stop telling our students how wonderful they are.
Now, we might say… “What? We are trying to build up their self-esteem?
She does not want us to stop praising them, she just wants us to think about how and what we are praising. Instead of always telling our children and students that every little thing they accomplish is the best, she believes we should praise the struggle, the quest for understanding, the process needed to stretch and solve problems.
The “Quit Complaining” blog post, I mentioned earlier, suggested a quick strategy that might benefit us as adults, but seems to me could be a habit that might benefit our students as well. The strategy was to simply add the word “so” to the end of our complaints or frustrations followed by the actions needed to make a positive difference.
If we go back to the complainer I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it might go something like this…
I get so frustrated by many of the decisions made by the city planners, so I think I should try to contact my city counselor and explain my frustrations and find out why certain decisions are made or think about running for city council so I would have a voice in the decisions that are made.
Now, I know, that sounds a bit optimistic, but again, if we do nothing, we get nothing.
Is it possible to change our language in classrooms to promote positive mindsets in our students? Rather than praising the student for doing well, can we instead, praise the process or the struggle? When a student makes a mistake or does not quite achieve to the level he or she needs to be at, can we promote a “not yet” there atmosphere instead of a “you failed” atmosphere? Can we focus on the problem solving or seeking positive solution, type actions in our classrooms, rather than on end results?
We cannot do this alone. Like most things that happen in schools, we need parents and families to be an equal part of the team. Can parents also promote the idea that learning and growth is a process and perhaps it is okay if we are “not yet” there, “so” how are we going to get there? Our first response may be to solve problems for our children, but imagine the benefit to them learning to solve problems for themselves.
Learning from the struggle.
Our students do not need to be praised for every move they make. They do not need a reward for every step they take. Instead, they need encouragement to build a growth mindset that will take them into the future. If we model and encourage growth mindset, we could be well on our way to having a group of young adults that might not be discouraged when challenged and might not expect to be rewarded for completing the simplest task.