reading list. 2.4/16

I’ve been a busy bee these last few weeks but I’m never too busy to read and share fantastic articles with my PLN buddies. Here are a few that have stuck out in recent weeks:

When a Child’s Friend is in Crisis, NYTIMES

Becoming a Math Person, HGSE

Rethinking College Admissions, NYTIMES

The Math Class Paradox, The Atlantic

Why Identity and Emotion are Central to Motivating the Teen Brain, KQED-Mindshift

Harnessing the Incredible Learning Potential of the Adolescent Brain, KQED-Mindshift

How to Raise a Creative Child, Step One, Back Off., NYTIMES

On my book list is Jo Boaler’s amazing new book, Mathematical Mindsets. I recommend it to all teachers and administrators to help us reconsider the power of mindset for learning.

What is on your reading list these days?

 

modeling kindness 101

“It’s not polite to talk about politics, religion, or money”, so the adage goes. However, I can’t miss this opportunity in our anger-ridden political cycle to consider the message being sent to the youth of our country. A few weeks ago, during a press conference, Donald Trump was asked about the example he was setting for children by calling people, among other things, “loser.” His response was “the kids love me.” I have been mulling over this and can sit idly no more. He is repeatedly disrespectful, dare I say hateful, to large swaths of humanity all in an effort to raise the stakes and dumb down the level of discourse in our election cycle. No matter your personal political beliefs, I just can’t abide the example that Mr. Trump is setting for our nation’s youth.

We teach our children from the earliest ages to use their (kind) words, to talk through their problems, to think before they speak….these tenets have seemingly lost their place for one (or more) of our loudest voices. It doesn’t help that the 24 news cycle ramps it up and provides a microphone for such things but that shouldn’t make a difference. Name calling-even in the interest of plain speech-is not ok. Discrimination has no place in our political process.

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We face an uphill battle every day in teaching our children, both at home and school, to be kind. We place quotes on the wall, use teachable moments, and read books like Wonder, all in efforts to build a society of thoughtful, intelligent, dare I say, peacemaking, citizens of the world. This battle has become more difficult and we must fight against it.

In his op-ed in the NY Times this weekend, Frank Bruni, writes “Obnoxious Is The New Charisma.

“IN a typical presidential campaign, the most successful candidates lay claim to leadership with their high-mindedness. They reach for poetry. They focus on lifting people up, not tearing them down. They beseech voters to be their biggest, best selves.”
(Frank Bruni, New York Times, January 10, 2016)

Oh, to go back to this place. Where our (potential) world leaders use intellect, thoughtfulness, and challenging discourse to move our country forward. Rather than sinking to immature name-calling and unrealistic promises that not only model inappropriate behavior for children but belittle our position in the world as a leading nation.

So take heart, dear teachers and parents, press on towards kindness and continue to model what we know is right. Hopefully, the mic will turn off soon.

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#edcamp5

Happy Anniversary Edcamp. You have made a tremendous impact on my professional career and personal life. From my first Edcamp Philly in 2011, I knew that this kind of professional development was going to be different. Four years, thirteen edcamps, four organizing teams, and hundreds of tweets later, I know this for sure. Edcamp is a magical form of connecting educators to each other in a way that honors their passion for learning and growing around the topic of education. Kids are always at the center of our conversations. Collegiality emerges but so does friendship.

During the worst week of my personal life, after the death of my fiance last year, my Edcamp family was with me. My edu-sisters, Chris and Shannon, were some of the first to arrive as I greeted visitors in a grief-induced haze. My edu-friend, Kristina, found her way from a conference in town to show her love and support. These aren’t just edu-friends, they are true friends–the ones who show up. Tweets, messages, and love were poured out over social media and, upon my next Edcamp “after” I was embraced by the deep hugs of these incredible humans.

Edcamp is more than education. It is a powerful force for connecting humans in a world that has so many ways to connect, but does not always does so in a way that is deep and authentic. I am passionate about the power of Edcamp for PD, but even more for the power it has to bring intelligent, driven, and enthusiastic humans together for the greater good.

This is why I chose to give to the #edcamp5challenge today and I encourage YOU to do so. And if you haven’t yet “Edcamped”–don’t wait, find one near you and jump in with two feet. (www.edcamp.org, www.edcampmgm.org)

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the magic of unstructured play.

I am a strong advocate for unstructured play time. As a child, we lived for recess–red rover, kickball, soccer, swings, sandbox castles. We experienced play differently in the 80’s, we were screen free and allowed to roam without a microchip. There wasn’t a name for it like “free-range kids”; we were just kids. We didn’t need adults to guide us-just fresh air, open space, a friend or two, and perhaps a little dirt now and again. Through our play we learned so many important lessons about life.

Multitudes of studies point to the power of play on child development. Some structured…some not. (Ooh, and here is one more resource that is just fabulous.) I can argue both sides of facilitated play and unstructured play, especially for a generation of children who have grown up on playdates as opposed to “hey, wanna ride bikes?” However, this week, I saw first hand the power of unstructured play and its many rewards.

Our 6th Grade trip to Tybee Island started well–we enjoyed Beach Ecology class, Shark Dissection, Maritime Forest research, Marsh Ecology (for some groups), and a Night Walk on the Beach. (If you’ve never sat alone in silence on a beach at night–I highly recommend it.) The next day, as we enjoyed our breakfast, the tide started to come in..and it kept coming. It washed up over the sidewalks, the dock, the basketball court, the campfire, and into the main classroom buildings. Luckily, it did not touch our dorms. However, the depth of the water necessitated a road closure and a power outage, canceling our morning classes. We punted a bit, met a baby alligator, learned about Herpetology and then, the best two hours of the trip came to life….

All of us marched our way to the beach with the 4-H counselors in tow, in our rain boots. No plan was laid out, no list of rules was handed down. (“Stay out of the waves”was for safety—huge riptides.) And so 69 children were released to the beach. What happened next was beautiful. Play ensued. A group went shell hunting in the naturally formed tide pools. One declared a portion of the sand bar their kingdom and worked to defend it. One child stood at the edge of the waves and stared out for a long time; when I asked how he felt he said, “very happy.” A group had a fish foam fight that was full of giggles and mud. (Do not google what is in fish foam.) The largest group, by far, was determined to build a canal from the tide pool to the ocean. They worked valiantly–digging in the sand, building a dam, pushing water to flow uphill then down to the shore. It was amazing. Not a single fight, not a single whine–teamwork, encouragement, engineering, trial and error, physical exertion all ruled the work. By the time they were finished, half the grade was involved, all were invested. Not a single adult intervened. 

They had no idea they were engaged in higher order thinking. They were just “playing in the sand.” However, the lessons they learned are invaluable to them as humans. The power of collaboration, the gift of failure, the impact of encouragement, and persistence in a task, plus a healthy dose of laughter. This is what they will intrinsically take away. It was hard to fight back tears of pride as I watched them work through this hard work of play.

As we work toward rigor and excellence, we simply cannot forget the value of play in the cognitive and social development of children. It is where some of our greatest lessons will be found.

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giddy for a faculty meeting

Yesterday, we had our first divisional faculty meeting since August. Our busy Head of School search left us all weary and a canceled Sept meeting was just the ticket. (I flipped the major content instead using youtube and showbie.) I wanted our short time together yesterday to be focused on learning and felt affirmed in my agenda choices by reading this blog from Glenn Robbins.  We always start with a sharing stories time (as modeled by Matthew Gould at Norwood) and we had some hearty laughs. As we are are in report card comment season, we went through an exercise inspired by Angela Maiers wherein we identified a child who was struggling for us (on an index card) and named their strengths. This yielded graceful silence as our teachers put such thought into affirming their students value.

THE BEST PART (for me) was our small group time. Teachers broke into subject area groups to share ideas in their content areas. They had time to TALK to one another in a professional context. As I walked the hallways, I heard engaged conversation, energy, and teachers taking the initiative to lead their own learning. Colleagues were the experts. Ideas were shared. It made me simply GIDDY. It made me feel like this:

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As we walk our journey as educators, we simply must have time to talk through practice with colleagues. If I can do nothing else for my faculty but make this time and keep the extra stuff for an email, I will totally do it. I hope they will hold me accountable to this and never feel this way after one of our meetings:

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Onward, friends!

you matter. you are enough.

I had the opportunity to join the Alabama Independent School Association community this week to participate in the annual PD day. It was local and featured a keynote rock star. I have “known” Angela Maiers via my PLN for years but had never seen her IRL, as the lexicon goes. Her Choose2Matter movement completely aligns with my beliefs as an educator and a school leader. She inspired a room of teachers to first, believe that they matter and second, believe that students matter.

While this might seem to some as cliche or fuzzy, it is paramount to serving children as educators. We must believe in the innate belonging and worth of our students for no reason other than they exist. (Read that again.) Whether or not they get the material, make the A, score the touchdown, run the fastest, draw the best picture, solve the equation first, or sing the best does not matter at all if we do not believe in their worth as a human. They matter. Just because they are themselves.

And so do we. As teachers, we might be amazing at inspiring kids to work hard, we might be experts in project based learning, we might run all the little programs behind the scenes, coach the winning team, or we solve the tech problems for everyone else. However, we matter just because we exist as humans. We matter and we are enough.

Angela showed us with science, including the Laws of Primacy and Recency, how important it is for us to feel valued before we can learn. We need in those first few seconds of interaction to be valued as a person before the brain can take over and retain or process information. We need to know at the end of each class or day that we matter. We need to believe that teachers believe in us to be successful. Our limbic system (the feels) is what is going to help us move past the frontal lobe and into the part of our brains dedicated to learning.

Beyond science, she showed us her heart. She gave us a charge–build the habit of telling ourselves that WE MATTER and WE ARE ENOUGH, every day for 30 days. When we build this habit in ourselves, we will transform our own lives as the adults. When we believe this for ourselves, we can believe it for others.

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People sometimes say, “I don’t have enough time to teach character in my classroom.” I always come back to, you don’t have time NOT to.” In the long run, the time we spend investing in our children’s sense of self-worth will yield us time in teaching and learning of content. Our relationships will yield learning. In the end, we will all be better for taking the time to tell each other we matter.

Thank you, Angela. You, too, matter.

rites of passage

This past weekend was our first Middle School Dance of the year. As the children arrived in their fancy dresses and colorful khaki’s, I couldn’t help but swell with joy that this rite of passage remains the same despite decades since my own adolescence. The MS dance is a sweet tradition. The shoes come off, the dancing basically consists of jumping around in circles, with the occasional “dance of the day” (whip/nae-nae, anyone?), maybe a bold boy-girl slow dance, and lots of running to the bathroom in groups. It was the same in 1992 and I hope that it will be the same in 2022.

As much as I talk about the reimagining of teaching and learning in this age, there are some traditions that are “sacred cows.” I believe there is comfort in knowing that despite the vast changes in brain development of our children that this coming-of-age still exists. We push our children academically and athletically to a much higher degree now but they are, truly, still children and it is these moments that we can rejoice in their childhood. It is events such as this where they build their own sense of self; will they be the brave boy who does the splits or the girl who leads the conga line? These small moments shape their journey of identity in fragments that will lead to their wholeness.

As the children left on Saturday night there were smiles, dirty feet, and sweaty hair and the comfort in the knowledge that some parts of being 12 and 13 are just as they should be and always have been.