Swimming Lessons

Sunday afternoon, 90+ degrees and two cranky kids.  We headed to the pool.  I made 3 very interesting observations.  Thanks to Garr Reynolds’ book Presentationzen Design, I was reminded just today to: “…notice the lessons.  But in order to see and take note, you have to be aware.  Awareness is the first step to personal kaizen [Japanese term meaning ‘improvement’]….Find a time during which you can slow down long enough to see the lessons around you and take special note of them.”  The local pool was the perfect observation station.  Here’s what I got:

1) A toddler WILL figure out a way to open the gate because he/she desperately wants on the other side.

2) A patron knows that there are chemicals in the pool but still can’t help but be horrified when they see the actual bleach being dumped in next to their swimming child.

3) Children love to show off, whether it is a new scar on their foot or a skill they just picked up from swimming lessons.

What lessons did I learn from those observations that I can relate to education?

1) If a child has a personal connection to finding the answer, they will stay determined enough through the learning process (failures, setbacks, frustration) to see it through to the end.

2) Adults like to stick their heads in the sand.  We like to have things done for us but we don’t want to know the messy details on how it happened or occurred.

3) Showcasing is key.  Kids love to brag and be in the spotlight.  If we can focus that energy and motivation towards a passion project, kids will make amazing things, be amazing and that amazing energy will spread.

Slow down, take it in, learn.

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Up or Down?

A colleague and I had a conversation the other day about my previous trickle down prescription statement regarding the needed change in our educational system.  He challenged me with a question similar to: Do you think the systemic change should come from the bottom up instead of the top down?  Yes. No. Maybe. Both.  I went through all of those answers in about 5.5 seconds (my brain is trying to stay on top of the front load of information I’ve been blessed with recently).  I’ve settled on the answer: both. 

I compromised on a “meet-in-the-middle” model.  A grassroots movement of self-motivated teachers curbing the focus from low-level thinking with teacher-led classroom to high-level thinking where students are the center sounds fantastic…however, teachers need comparable support to what we want our students to receive.  The movement of project-based learning, passion projects, maker spaces, STEM/STEAM, etc. have a facilitator/coach (teacher) hanging back supporting the learning by providing resources, spaces, materials, guiding questions, and criteria for success.  Leadership on all levels needs to work hand in hand.  This reminds me of my previous school’s motto: Working Together, Achieving Success. Yes to lots more teacher autonomy but also yes to positive, meaningful leadership. Teachers will feel supported to do the right work the right way.

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Broke

Our educational leadership system is broken. I used to think that the majority of schools have supportive, thoughtful administrators that communicate with staff in a humane, decent way.  If you were a school without that support, you were rare. Right?

Wrong.  It’s a systemic problem that needs to be addressed and fixed.  Like, now.

How can I make that sweeping statement today when just a few weeks ago I was a naive teacher thinking everyone was “keeping on keeping on”?  I just witnessed something incredible.  It goes like this:

I am attending an international educational technology conference and my focus has been school redesign.  How can we transition our school systems to move from the traditional teacher-led classroom to student-centered, creating classrooms? This afternoon, one session in particular grabbed my attention. It’s focus was bridging the administrator barrier in our digital age.  Since strong, effective leadership is a prescription to educational change, I thought it appropriate to catch this session which was presented by three US principals.  Within minutes after starting the presentation, the audience was instructed to recite a SAMR cheer.  Yep, I typed that correctly.  It went something like this: Ok, give me a S (repeated S), give me a A (repeated A), etc., etc. 

The rarity I thought existed only sporadically throughout our educational system managed to present itself on a very important platform.  I do not think this is a mere coincidence. Something, very important, is broken. 

I’m going to go get my toolbox.

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Reality

Day 2, ISTE 2015. Jaded.  No, that’s not fair.  I am still amazed by this world, every turn there is something impressive and innovative.  There are poster sessions upon poster sessions of educators doing amazing things in their classrooms, excited about sharing their work.  There are playgrounds full of passionate people sharing their experiences that could look awesome in classrooms.  And then there is the Expo center I haven’t even made it to, filled with 4,500 industry representatives anxiously wanting to sell me something incredible for my school(s). All amazing and I am very thankful for these eye-opening experiences.  
However…

Reality check.  I am seeing possibilities but I’m wearied by the fact that I just left the classroom and see a major lacking component for these crazy (in a good way) innovative educational ideas to be successful in our classrooms: leadership.  As much as I would like to say teachers can make this happen, they can’t make the shift alone.  To be effective on a large scale, we need a trickle down effect.  The change has to be prescribed to our educational systems starting with state, administration, and then to the soldiers, our teachers in the trenches*.  Why prescribe?  If you’re sick, you are prescribed a remedy, a treatment to “fix” your ailment.  Our schools are sick.  They NEED the medicine, they have no choice.  Our kiddos need their classrooms to change with the times, challenge ALL of them in new ways.  We need our leaders to step up and administer the formula of enhancing the learning by transforming our classrooms to provide more personalized learning through student-centered, project based/real world experiences.  

*The buy-in from administration to teachers is another conversation. This HAS to be a combined effort of teacher leaders and admin…will post more on that later.)

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Firsts

The beginning. Where do I start?  I sit here at ISTE Central on the first official day of the conference, off to the side, coffee in hand and soaking it in.  I am in full immersion of this world I was aware of existing but not a part of until recently.  Aside from my amazing team (rethinkredesign.org), the educators I have been exposed to these past couple of days have inspired me more than I thought possible.
I packed up my music and computer classrooms last week to begin my next adventure, instructional technology consulting.

My head had been stuck in the sand for the past nine years. I had tunnel vision.  I was a good teacher with successful programs and wonderful kids and fantastic experiences but my sight didn’t go much past the next concert, the next unit, the end of the quarter.  Rather, my eyes were half open to the possibilities of education and have been snapped open and to my delight, wow.  What a world!  Passion, innovation, future, diversity, love, trust, excitement, kindness, and possibility.  One can not sit idly by without getting an itch to dig in and start working toward a common goal in this world when the door has been held wide open for them.
I think back at my teaching nine years and question the missed opportunities but realize that I was doing everything I was taught/thought to do.  The stars have now aligned, given me opportunity and I’m taking it, head on.  I am going to my use my past half-open eyed experiences.  I will pass on as much information, excitement, awesomeness to the me’s circa 2010, 2012, etc.  I’m going to light fires, question, LEARN, dive in.  Head first.  I’ll come up for air eventually but for now I am strapping the tanks on and exploring the depths.  Stay tuned.
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